Edition 73
Looking Towards the Future of Reverse Logistics
by Dr. Robert Gordon, Professor with American Public University System, Associate Professor with American Public University

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Looking Towards the Future of Reverse Logistics

Given the rate of change in technology, there is no doubt that our everyday lives are going to change as well as how business are run. Given what is happening today, there are two particular technologies that are going to impact reverse logistics worldwide. The first is the use of self-driving vehicles and the second is how technology will change how returns will be processed in the future.

First, for logistics the use of self-driving trucks is going to revolutionize the transportation of materials from distribution center to retail outlet. If one were to take the efficiencies gained by the Wal-Mart WAVE system and combine it with the self-driving capabilities of the Mercedes designed Future Truck, one could have an amazing new truck that would change shipping. Self-driving cars are not as far off as we might think as projections are estimating the self-driving car market will be at 87 billion dollars by 2030. Mercedes has already announced that a self-driving package will be available on their cars released by 2020. Given that level of anticipated growth, along with three major automobiles manufacturers conducing driverless car testing in the US, shows that this market will grow.

Although self-driving vehicles does not mean that there will be no one at the wheel, it does offer the benefit of fewer accidents. Self-driving vehicles never get distracted, they never feel fatigue, and never drive at anything less than 100%. This technology will certainly evolve over time and acceptance might be slow at first, but in time it will become a requirement. When seatbelts were first introduced as a safety device, the public was tepid at their introduction. There was a similar situation with the introduction of the first airbags. Over time, as the safety and value of these items were found, they became a requirement for all vehicles. Self-driving vehicles will likely follow the same pattern of acceptance.

Second, for reverse logistics, there will soon be a technology revolution with regards to the processing of returns. Lowes and Nestle have reported that they will be introducing robots as sales associates by the end of this year. Although this seems to be more related to sales, what people do not realize is this technology along with using the same technology for self-service checkout is going to revolutionize returns. Imagine instead of standing in the return line, one can go to a station designed to check a return seamlessly and generate a gift card for store credit.

The system would be the same as combining the customer service robot along with a self-checkout station. The self-checkout station would weigh the item being returned, as well as being able to scan the bar code and the bar code on the receipt. If everything comes up as correct, the checkout station could dispense a gift card with the correctly credited value. Just like with self-checkout stations, this would allow for a single employee to monitor several returns stations, effectively reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

Both of these changes are going to change how large retailers are going to conduct their logistics and reverse logistics. In both of these cases, the technology is still not perfected; however, these changes are going to happen sooner that people think. Technology is moving faster as everyone is trying to apply technological solutions to everyday situations.
Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is currently an associate professor with American Public University System in Reverse Logistics Management program. He has four published books, three regarding project management and one regarding reverse logistics in addition to dozens of articles. Dr. Gordon curates a Reverse Logistics topic at http://www.scoop.it/t/reverse-logistics-by-robert-gordon2.

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