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Uncommon and breakthrough purchasing savings levers - Series 3 (Lever - RM)

Objective of the series: Hi there. I plan to share some very interesting avenues through an exciting series of at least 5 blogposts (Depending upon the response, I can consider sharing more). In each of the posts, I will share a few highly impactful savings levers that generate very high level of annualized savings across many industry verticals. These levers are still not widely used just because they are hardly covered in the common Sourcing & Procurement literature or practices. Hope you will find them useful, apply them somewhere and come out with flying colors. Wish you good luck and enjoy the read.

RM - What is RM? I am sure this is an obvious first question in every reader's mind. RM's expanded form is RETURNS MANAGEMENT/REVERSE LOGISTICS. In other simple words, it is about goods and services that are not accepted by buyer post in-warding them into stores/acknowledging work done by services providers. The reasons for this could be multiple. For example, a material/service gets rejected by buyer and returned to supplier for replacement or repair or rework. As per contract, the product might be returned to supplier at the end of life or end of use. Such scenarios occur in each and every industry. Familiar & common commodities that are prone for returns are -- and I'm sure that every reader here would relate to these -- containers, pallets, packaging materials, used clothes, outdated spares, above shelf life items/equipment and vehicles etc. But is this area really uncommon and can it provide breakthrough purchasing savings? Let me investigate that for you. Keep in mind that we are discussing returns management in B2B context and not B2C.

Let's start with a couple of benchmarks and high points that I have collated for you. Sabri and Gupta report in their famous book Purchase Order Management that on an average, 20% of all goods procured are returned for any firm! Obviously in-warding and resending and re-inwarding cycles can have inventory levels inflate/deflate. This is ditto for the firm's profits and demand management sides. Imagine the complexity of a returns management procurement cycle if the suppliers to manage are also international (any one from Automotive firms reading this?)! IPQC reported in 2008 that associated costs of returns can run as much as 10-20% of operational costs of a supply function and that even 1% savings in that could be a huge $ benefit/profit - straight to the bottom line.

So what are the action items/solutions? First of all conduct a root cause analysis to determine the patterns and underlying causal factors due to which returns are created. Then, plan for corrective actions on all fronts - make the processes at supplier's end and the inbound packaging, transportation predictable to six sigma levels. At a category strategy and spend data management level, ensure that each commodity (material or service) in item or service master table is tagged as returnable or non-returnable. The process and technology with procurement should also have traceability and connectivity with AP systems to link PO and Invoice with return and its reason so that debit memo creation can be simultaneous. Items being returned for replacements should also be factored into the procurement and AP applications. Gupta and Sabri recommend that firms should automate processing of the returns upon receipt (including inspection and disposition), speed up the process to reduce risk of obsolescence, and track reverse logistics and net asset recovery to improve effectiveness. If services received are rejected or found to be deficient, the returns management becomes virtual process but should remain same for treatment like products/materials as explained just before. The reconciliation of service return/complaint can be accounted for as a simple apology or monetary compensation - as the contract specifies.

What can you do to have a robust returns management solution? Invite an expert firm to design BIC returns management process, integrated with procurement applications, ERPs and other applications. Choose the firm who can not only recommend (consult) but implement the proposed solution for you and demonstrate benefit. Include them also in returns management spend management plan of yours - for recoveries, repair or replacements!

Found this post useful and refreshing? Want me to write the rest of the 2 posts at least? Then send me your views on this one please. The series has gone well so far in response. Thank you all.

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