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Interview: Jonathan Gorst, principal lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, talks about returns management


It is increasingly recognised that better managing returns offers a valuable opportunity for improving both a retailer’s business and the customer experience but how easy is it in reality?
At this year’s eDelivery Expo (EDX) happening on April 5 and 6 at Birmingham’s NEC, Jonathan Gorst, principal lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, will deliver a presentation that addresses where the challenges are and what needs to be done to overcome them.

His session, Why Retailers Need to Work Harder on Their Returns, takes place from 10.30am to 11am within the Operational Excellence conference stream. Ahead of the event caught up with him to find out more:

Are retailers doing enough to drive efficiencies from their returns?

“There is a mixed practice across the sector. It also depends on the products. For example apparel tends to be OK (rates of number of products returned to good stock are quite high (95% plus), whereas returns for larger items – furniture etc – can be very mixed in terms of asset recovery.”

What’s holding retailers back?

“It’s a mixture of things that can include legacy systems; different systems for different routes to market; no one being in overall control and data held in different places around the business. Targets and promotions in sales can also inadvertently drive returns, especially where nobody had thought through the full consequences.”

What are the opportunities around improving returns management?

“There is the opportunity of more returned stock back to good stock. There are also opportunities around higher asset recovery of returned stock either through re-working to make it pristine, or re-working to achieve higher asset recovery values through B grade channels.”

What robust strategies should retailers be putting in place?

“First identify how big an issue are returns for the company and therefore identify if you need to do anything differently. If you do need to do something then identify what is currently happening throughout the returns process. Identify how big the problem is. Is suitable data available within the organisation to report on the issues? Is someone senior enough within the business responsible for improving return rates / efficiencies?”

How important is customer communication and why is this an area that is currently lacking?

“Companies are operating as omnichannel businesses to their customers, but their systems behind the scenes are not omnichannel.”

How can better returns improve customer satisfaction?

“Lots of customers now seem to buy online based upon a company’s returns policy. Therefore, slick easy to use systems are more likely to engender higher purchase rates. It’s also about keeping customers informed and speedy refunds.”

Catch Jonathan Gorst, principal lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University’s presentation Why Retailers Need to Work Harder on Their Returns, at eDelivery Expo. To find out more about the show and register for free, visit

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