It’s that time of the year when many online retailers and distributors are discovering that their returns handling leaves a lot to be desired. 

An unmanaged, uncontrolled returns process not only puts tremendous strain on available space and labour, but the associated return handling costs are staggering. 

An automated returns handling system provides a predictable and repeatable process to handle returns; reducing time, labour, space, costs and more importantly, increased customer retention and satisfaction.

Returns Processing Operators trained in quality control will normally inspect and test the returned item(s) based on a variety of factors—including the condition of the item, its age, visible defects or damage, seasonal category and others, returned items are then assigned a disposition destination. Classifications might include: 

Restock and return to inventory for immediate sale

Repackage for re-sale in a secondary channel, such as a discount retailer repair, refurbish or remanufacture.  This is used particularly in electronics such as mobile phones and tablet computers

Return to supplier, vendor or manufacturer – most frequently seasonal items Recycle, reclamation or disposal for high-tech devices utilising rare earth metals – gold, palladium, silver, copper, titanium and more…

Once returned items have been inspected and assigned a disposition destination, things tend to fall apart for many returns operations. Inundated with a potentially overwhelming number of discrete items, managing their sortation and routing can be a real challenge. Boxes and totes of returned items can quickly overwhelm both the space allotted for their temporary storage and the labour assigned to their management. Sending an operator to physically return one item to its stock location can be a time-consuming and an ergonomically fatiguing task. 

To move returned items through the disposition process quickly, utilising an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) can speed up the processing time to maximise asset value recovery in a compressed footprint while reducing cycle times and labour-associated handling costs. 

While there are a variety of AS/RS technologies offered in the market—including capital-intensive, multi-million-pound robotic installations—the most affordable and flexible solutions are horizontal carousels, vertical carousels and vertical buffer and vertical lift modules. These self-contained systems offer higher density storage in a more compact footprint than manual storage equipment can provide. 

Automating Returns Handling offers a combination of software and hardware. With benefits such as: 

  1.  Significant reduction in inventory costs 
  2.  A reduction in returns handling time 
  3. Ability to reduce the amount of labour required to process returns 
  4. Significant reduction in the amount of space required to house returned items and
  5. Fast and simple sortation of items per their disposition destination with faster crediting of customers leading to higher customer satisfaction

Contributor: Kardex

Kardex Remstar UK a company of the Kardex Group, is a leading provider of automated storage and retrieval systems for manufacturing, distribution, warehousing, offices and institutions. For information about the company’s dynamic storage solutions click here for a white paper on How Automation improves return handling. You can contact Kardex UK at