With online business on the rise, the number of returns is bound to increase. This includes not just clothes and shoes, but also – for example – electronics goods. For many online retailers, returns are a necessary evil that comes at a considerable price and this makes professional handling of the returned goods correspondingly important. With easily-integrated, cross-belt sorters for versatile deployment, BEUMER Group ensures that mail order retailers or service providers can rely on efficient, end-to-end returns handling and rational goods processing.
The customer’s purchasing behaviour has changed. Printed catalogues may still be popular, but most customers only browse them for information before purchasing online. Technologies such as smartphones and tablets are pushing this trend even further. But, according to forecasts by market researchers, up to 30 % of all articles ordered are returned to the retailer. For example, customers ordered TV sets before the World Cup, and then sent them back immediately afterwards. Clothing is often ordered in three to four sizes and colours. Germany’s customer-friendly remote retailing legislation supports this behaviour by allowing free returns without stating a reason within 14 days. Trying out is permitted; articles can be checked in line with their “intended use”, TV sets can be connected, clothes tried on and electronics articles tested.
However, this costs retailers a huge amount of money as they are not only forced to bear the costs of returns, and in case of a full return also the shipping costs. They also need to unpack the goods in question, check whether they are soiled or damaged, and then possibly re-pack the goods and put them back onto the right shelves. Targeted returns management can be a major factor in ensuring your business’s success.
Keeping pace with volume growth
To ensure fast re-stocking and availability, a major mail order company optimised its returns handling and relies now on sorters designed by BEUMER, the intralogistics specialist. Prior to this, returns were handled in line with strict tayloristic principles – the work was divided among the staff in very small units. However, this prevented the kind of productivity gains that would have been necessary for handling future volumes and the retailer in particular wanted to be able to react to seasonal fluctuation. On top of this, the work was extremely monotonous for the staff. The requirement was thus to find efficient and flexible systems with low maintenance requirements and a fast return on investment.
As a system integrator, BEUMER Group sees its strength in technology and supports its customers from planning to commissioning. Through its Logistics Systems Division, BEUMER Group bundles the competencies of BEUMER and Crisplant with the aim of leveraging and developing the best solutions from both companies in terms of technology and processes. The product base includes modular high-speed sortation systems that enable fast, safe and accurate sorting, distribution and control of high volumes of very different goods such as parcels, bags and bulky goods.
Up to 90,000 items of merchandise per day
The returns process, of which BEUMER planned, installed and commissioned the key components, covers more than 28,200 square metres distributed over three floors. On a workday, around 90,000 items of merchandise can be inspected, processed and returned to shipping. The products are low-volume products such as mobile phones and digital cameras, textiles, shoes or jewellery.
In the goods receipt department, laterally movable telescopic belt conveyors provide a discharge capacity of 1,500 packages per hour for bulk unloading of returns. The staff place all the packages, bags and packages with the returned goods on the flat belt conveyor. This comprehensive belt conveying system, measuring some 2,000 metres, allows smooth transportation of goods within the building to the goods preparation department. The returned items are then automatically distributed via the chutes on the modular sorters to the unpacking workplaces. The four modular sorters form the core of the returns system and have a dual function. They are fully electronic and transport the returned items through chutes to the individual workplaces. The staff unpack the returns and check whether the packages contain customer messages. At the same time they dispose of the packaging material and send the articles via the modular sorter to the goods assessment workplaces. Running at a speed of 0.8 metres per second, the system has an hourly capacity of 2,800 items. Each sorter is divided in two work modules, each with 34 workplaces – including ten places where the goods are unpacked and 24 places where the goods are assessed. The goods assessment workplaces can be targeted individually by goods groups.
Image: Modular sorter layout
Different goods, different criteria
Specific assessment criteria apply for each goods group. Is the returned pair of shoes the same model? Is the size of the left and right shoe identical? Are there scratches on the leather or on the sole? Umbrellas are tested for function and fashion accessories, such as handbags and belts, for any signs of wear. The customer credit note is issued immediately if the returned product is correct and thus meets all the quality standards.
Textiles make up the majority of returns. At the computer-based workstations, the articles are first identified by their barcode label. To do this, employees scan the article and check whether the goods tally with data specified on the display. The staff examine the articles in particular for as-new condition and non-returnable returns are forwarded for reworking. This is where, for example, fluff or small stains are removed; if necessary, the product is cleaned or ironed. Textile goods are usually processed as hanging garments. In this regard, the workplaces are equipped with an automatic overhead conveyor system, a tunnel finisher, which removes the wrinkles from the clothing, and two foil wrapping machines that can wrap more than 1,000 hanging garments each per hour.
For jewellery it is important to check, based on the article data, whether the existing article matches the scanned data. The employees check whether the goods match the image in the catalogue as well as the length of the chains, the gold content, or the ring sizes. Valuable jewellery is delivered in sealed packages and resealed after article assessment. Jewellery, watches and cutlery are checked for scratches or signs of wearing, polished and relabelled. Following, they are carefully packed in small bags, or jewel cases. Watches are often packed in special cartons, and valuable cutlery in special cases.
Technical products such as digital cameras are logged and conveyed via the sorter in return trays to the workplaces. The workplaces are equipped with measuring devices which are used by the staff to check whether the item matches the data on the screen. They then check that all the parts such as cables, accessories and instructions for use exist and whether there are any photos stored in the camera. For data protection reasons, they reset the item to the factory settings. The aim is to restore the goods to their original state so they can be put back into storage. Repair requests are forwarded to technical support. The returned merchandise thus either goes back on sale or is reworked. Depending on the state, the retailer can decide whether to return the article to the manufacturer, resell at a discount, or scrap.
If the articles are assessed to be as new, they are automatically packed. For this purpose, the articles are sealed in foil and barcode labels are attached. Shoe boxes or cloth bags are available for shoes. Hanging goods are packed manually.
The processed goods are sorted by warehouse aisle on the goods issue sorter into 480 chutes and then repackaged from the chutes into transport containers, which in turn are stored in the picking area. The employees at the goods assessment workplaces place both the newly packaged goods and the goods that require reworking on the modular sorter. A camera scans the label and assigns the goods to the corresponding outputs. Newly packaged goods that are intended for resale are discharged by the modular sorter onto flat belt conveyors, which connect with the outgoing goods sorter.
Image: Goods issue sorter layout
Fast, safe and targeted
Flexible sortation and distribution technology by BEUMER is precisely aligned to the user’s individual needs. For example, induction units and destinations are adapted to match the various goods. The sorter consists of a series of moving flat belt conveyors. They are arranged orthogonally to the direction of running of the sorter. This allows the transported items to be fed or discharged either to the right or to the left of the direction of running. The products are fed onto the belt tray at a speed adjusted to the sorter speed and the angle of induction. For the discharging process, the belt moves towards the discharge and the item is guided gently into the destination.
Placing great emphasis on sustainability
To be able to work economically, sustainability aspects such as energy efficiency or ergonomic working conditions at the plant play an increasingly important role for the owner. This is why BEUMER places great emphasis on these aspects in product and system development. In order to achieve low energy consumption, the intralogistics specialist relies on matching drive systems. Their properties decisively determine the effectiveness of the entire system. For example, the BEUMER Group equips its loop sorters with linear synchronous motors, or the newly developed OptiDrive drive system which uses the friction wheel drive system principle. The friction wheel thus permanently works at an optimal operating point. The design dramatically increases efficiency and minimises wear. With this highly efficient drive system, the energy consumption can be reduced by about 75 % compared to conventional sorting drives.
To systematically and continuously measure sustainability in terms of economy, ecology and social responsibility, both on new machines and existing solutions, BEUMER Group has developed the BEUMER Sustainability Index (BSI), a validation system. Each of the three levels is divided into five categories for this evaluation. This includes “Efficiency and Effectiveness”, “Service Life,” “Production-Related Resource Consumption” or “Training and Education Standards”.
For further information please visit www.beumergroup.com