UPS introduces new reverse logistics offering

UPS has rolled out a new consumer-to-business returns service, representing a step forward in reverse logistics.

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UPS has rolled out a new consumer-to-business returns service, representing a step forward in reverse logistics.

Dubbed UPS Returns Flexible Access, UPS said the new offering allows consumers to drop returns at any United States Postal Service (USPS) location or personal mailbox, as well as UPS locations throughout the country. They added that it leverages the USPS’ Parcel Return Service, which provides ways for customers to return items to retailers, in conjunction with UPS’s own drop-off locations and delivery network.

UPS New Product Development Director Linda Shepherd West told LM that this offering provides UPS customers with the convenience of added postal channels to its existing ground return product.

“Our customers, in particular online merchants, have been asking UPS to help them improve the service they provide to their consumers,” she said. “By allowing consumers to drop returns with either UPS or the Postal Service, we are providing the most convenient, consumer oriented return service available.”

UPS first offered UPS Returns Flexible Access on a limited basis in February 2009, and the success of the limited offering, and requests from its customers, led the company to expand the availability as it moved to the full launch of the offering in July.

When asked to provide an example of UPS Returns Flexible Access at work, Shepherd West said it begins with special package labels that customers of participating retailers receive which can be included with merchandise when originally sent to a customer, sent via e-mail or postal mail, or created by the customer at a retailer’s Web site.

With the label in hand, a customer may then decide to place the return package in his mailbox for the postal carrier to pick up. The label, said Shepherd West, makes it clearly distinguishable for the carrier to identify as a valid package to accept. The carrier brings it back to the local postal facility, where it is scanned and made available for UPS to pick up.  That first postal scan will show up in UPS tracking and visibility systems, giving both the customer and the retailer/shipper assurance that the package is on its way. Once UPS picks up the package, it moves back through the UPS ground network all the way back to the retailer/shipper, and can be tracked in UPS visibility systems just like any other package.  And if a customer chooses to drop off the package at a UPS Store or other UPS drop off location, it simply moves back through the UPS ground network to the delivery location, with regular UPS visibility. 

“The greatest benefit of the service, and what makes it a game-changer in the market, is the unique label that provides consumers with an unparalleled network of U.S. Postal Service and UPS return entry options,” explained Shepherd West. “This convenience increases a return customer’s satisfaction with the transaction, which in turn makes the customer more likely to do business with the retailer or shipper again.”

She also noted that with UPS’s visibility systems, both the customer and the retailer can track the package’s return progress. And this knowledge of where the package is on its journey back eliminates the need for many customers to call the retailer or shipper to ask about the status of their return.  And, for those customers that do call, the retailer/shipper can easily access information about the return and quickly provide answers. 

“Regardless of where the customer enters the package – with either the Postal Service or UPS – the bulk of the transportation and the final delivery is made via UPS’s consistent, reliable ground network,” said Shepherd West. “So, once a package is on its way back, the retailer/shipper can plan for the arrival of the merchandise to its facility and back into inventory, creating both workforce and inventory planning benefits.”

While she would not provide a specific number as to how many retailers and shippers are using UPS Returns Flexible Access, Shepherd West said that there is a growing trend by online retailers to improve customer service as a way to obtain market differentiation.  And the number of customers using this new service and the volume has grown steadily and is expected to grow more rapidly following the official product launch. 

“This is the ultimate return solution,” said Jerry Hempstead, president of Hempstead Consulting in Orlando, Florida. “Everyone has convenient access to the Postal Service. The USPS is in every town, village and hamlet. But try to find the UPS terminal. I think UPS has a little work to do yet with its scanning and visibility on the pieces [being returned], but the logistics has been fully tested and vetted. It’s the best of both worlds, with the coverage and convenience of the USPS for the consumer and the network, efficiency and visibility of an integrator like UPS.”


About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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