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From return to resale: Navigating recommerce fulfillment challenges

Jun 19, 2024 - Alyssa Wolfe
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Navigating recommerce fulfillment challenges | Reverse logistics challenges


Recommerce and the circular economy are emerging as pivotal concepts driving sustainability and profitability for forward-thinking brands. Recommerce is the process of buying, refurbishing and reselling used products, extending their lifecycle and reducing environmental impact. This approach aligns perfectly with the principles of the circular economy, which promotes the reuse, repair and recycling of resources to minimize waste and optimize resource use.

The importance of recommerce stems from its ability to meet consumer demand for more sustainable products and practices. With increasing awareness about environmental issues, customers are actively seeking brands that demonstrate commitment to sustainability. This is especially present in younger generations: According to a recent eBay report, 71% of consumers ages 25 to 34 say sustainability is important to them, and 74% of shoppers say buying pre-loved items is sustainable by nature.

Embracing recommerce not only helps brands fulfill these expectations but also opens new revenue streams through the resale of refurbished goods. However, brands must be aware of operational recommerce challenges such as reverse logistics, refurbishment processes and inventory management. Although transitioning into recommerce involves overcoming logistical complexities and integrating new technologies, the potential benefits in terms of brand reputation, customer loyalty and financial sustainability are substantial.

Understanding recommerce

Recommerce offers significant benefits, including reduced environmental impact by extending the lifecycle of products through reuse and refurbishment. It caters to the growing consumer demand for sustainable practices, enhancing brand reputation and customer loyalty. Recommerce can open up new revenue streams by capitalizing on the resale of refurbished goods, while also contributing to a circular economy that minimizes waste and optimizes resource use. By embracing recommerce, brands can achieve both financial sustainability and a positive environmental footprint.

Some brands have already made great strides in recommerce. Eileen Fisher’s Renew take-back program has collected two million garments since its inception in 2009. Of those, one million have been resold, donated or remade. Brands like Patagonia, North Face and REI all have well-established programs. And for consumers looking at a company’s efforts, ThredUp lists an independent review of branded recommerce and potential impacts different retailers may have on the planet.

For brands exploring recommerce as it gains traction in the global market, the statistics are positive. In 2023, the recommerce market in the United States was estimated be worth more than 188 billion U.S. dollars, an increase from nearly 140 billion in 2020. That growth is expected to continue in the future, with a forecast close to 276 billion dollars by 2028. Now is the opportune moment for brands to explore its potential and capitalize on the growing consumer preference for sustainable business practices.

Recommerce fulfillment challenges

Navigating recommerce fulfillment challenges is crucial for brands looking to thrive in the circular economy. These challenges range from managing complex returns and ensuring product quality, to handling fluctuating inventory and implementing eco-friendly packaging. Addressing these hurdles effectively can set your brand apart and build lasting customer loyalty.

Logistics of returns management

Managing returned products in recommerce can feel like navigating a maze. Unlike traditional fulfillment, which deals mostly with uniform, new items, recommerce involves handling products that come back in all sorts of conditions. Imagine the difference between a brand-new pair of shoes and a pair that’s been worn for a year – each return is unique and needs special attention. This means having a strong reverse logistics system is critical. For instance, Zappos has excelled in making their return process smooth and efficient, ensuring that returned items are quickly inspected, sorted and refurbished if needed. Your team will need to be trained to handle these variations and equipped to process items individually, rather than in bulk. The key differences include the need for more robust reverse logistics infrastructure and the ability to process items on a case-by-case basis. This requires specialized training for staff and a more flexible operational approach.

Quality control and refurbishment

Ensuring product quality in recommerce is like being a detective and a craftsman at the same time. Each item that comes back needs a thorough inspection to meet resale standards. For example, Apple’s refurbishment process for their products is highly detailed, ensuring that each device is as good as new. Challenges include finding and fixing defects, sourcing the right parts and maintaining a consistent standard across diverse products. Implementing standardized refurbishment protocols can help, along with investing in skilled technicians and advanced diagnostic tools to streamline the process. Your goal is to make sure every refurbished product meets customer expectations and upholds your brand’s reputation.

Inventory management

Fluctuating inventory levels in recommerce can be like trying to hit a moving target. Unlike the predictable flow of new products, recommerce inventory can vary greatly. Think of how Patagonia handles their Worn Wear program, dynamically managing inventory based on the unique items they receive. To handle this, you’ll need a dynamic inventory management system that can adapt to these changes. Advanced forecasting tools can also help anticipate trends in returns and sales. Balancing new and recommerce products means making sure neither category overshadows the other. Real-time tracking and clear categorization are key to keeping everything in balance and meeting customer demand.

Packaging and labeling

Eco-friendly packaging in recommerce is not just a nice-to-have; it’s a must. Customers appreciate when brands go the extra mile to use recyclable, biodegradable or reusable materials. For example, The North Face uses eco-friendly packaging for their recommerce line to reflect their commitment to sustainability. However, labeling these products can be tricky. You need to ensure that refurbished items are clearly marked and comply with all regulations. Accurate labeling informs customers about the product’s condition and history, building trust. Addressing these requirements involves understanding industry standards and setting up robust labeling systems to ensure transparency and consistency.

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Building a recommerce strategy

Building a recommerce strategy is essential for brands aiming to thrive in the circular economy. This strategy involves developing clear policies, forming strategic partnerships and engaging customers to build successful and sustainable recommerce operations. You’ll want to:

  • Develop a recommerce policy: Developing a clear and effective recommerce policy is the foundation of your strategy. This policy should outline the conditions under which products can be returned, refurbished and resold, ensuring consistency and transparency. Communicating this policy to your customers is equally important. Clear guidelines on your website, in marketing materials and at the point-of-sale help set the right expectations. Transparency about your recommerce practices builds trust and encourages customers to participate in the circular economy.
  • Create partnerships and collaborations: Collaborating with a third-party logistics provider (3PL) can enhance your efficiency and expertise. These types of strategic partnerships can handle the complexities of reverse logistics, allowing you to focus on your core business. Building relationships with refurbishment and recycling partners is also crucial. For example, working with certified refurbishers ensures that returned products meet high-quality standards before being resold. Establishing partnerships with recycling firms helps manage items that cannot be refurbished, ensuring they are disposed of responsibly and sustainably.
  • Marketing and customer engagement: Promoting recommerce products requires a strategic approach to marketing and customer engagement. Highlight the benefits of buying refurbished products, such as cost savings and environmental impact, in your marketing campaigns. Engage customers through loyalty programs and incentives. For instance, offer rewards for returning used items or purchasing recommerce products. Patagonia’s Worn Wear program is a great example of how to engage customers by celebrating the stories behind their used gear, encouraging a community of environmentally conscious consumers. for your fulfillment needs…and more works to meet clients where they’re at. If that means helping them implement new fulfillment processes or offering them best-in-class order and inventory management – then we’re there. Our goal is to support your success and help you thrive in an omnichannel world, whether you need fulfillment, marketing, marketplace management or state-of-the-art retail software. Contact our team today to find out more. logo, B2B Portal title, hands pointing at POS system screen, box icon