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5 Tactics for Simplifying Returns in Building Supplies Delivery

Cost pressures on building suppliers are more intense than ever—and that’s especially true when it comes to delivery and return management. Getting the right goods to the right place at the right time is hard enough when you’re dealing with fast-paced schedules and last-minute customer demands. Then, when items come back to your distribution center at the end of the day, there’s a whole new layer of complexity that has to be dealt with. building supplies return management

Inefficient return management can obviously be costly. Items that you don’t know what to do with can take up valuable warehouse space. At the same time, you can easily wind up trashing items that were perfectly good and could have been resold if you don’t know why they were returned. 

So how do building supply distributors cut through the chaos and find a more efficient and cost-effective way to deal with returns? Here are five best practices for doing just that.  

Ensure robust proof of delivery with return reason codes

When it comes to managing returns, the first thing you need to tackle is proof of delivery. If you’re still relying on paper proof of delivery, you're going to be seriously hamstrung when items come back to the warehouse at the end of the day. 

Here, the best practice is to empower your delivery personnel to capture signatures, pictures, and notes at the job site. If your drivers can capture this information via a connected mobile app, then the proof of delivery can be uploaded directly to your delivery management system, where it can be easily accessed by dispatchers, managers, and others. By time-stamping and geostamping the PoD, you can create a more complete audit trail for each delivery, so that when returns come back to the warehouse you can easily see what was delivered where and when. 

To get the most out of your PoD from a return management perspective, you can also mandate return reason codes in the driver mobile app. This way, drivers have to select a specific return reason before they can finish the job, which your back-office team can then visualize from their dashboard. In this way, you can ensure that everything that comes back at the end of the day has clear documentation about why it’s been returned. The result is a streamlined process of managing returns that can potentially save money and boost efficiency. 

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Improve your customer experience

Of course, one of the best ways to reduce costs associated with returns is to reduce the number of returns you have to deal with. This might seem like it’s much easier said than done, but it’s actually an area where your delivery management approach can have a huge impact. 

For instance, if you can level up your customer delivery experience, you can actually decrease the number of return items you have to deal with in a handful of different ways. If you can send a confirmation email ahead of the delivery that lists the qualities being delivered, this gives your customer an opportunity to indicate that they might not need that second pallet of shingles. If you’re not sending confirmation messages with this info, then you might wind up delivering items that the customer turns out not to need. 

By the same token, you can prevent items coming back as a result of failed deliveries by ensuring that your customers are kept in the loop on the day of delivery. You don’t want the driver to show up at a jobsite where no one can sign for the delivery, but that’s a real risk you run if you can’t let your customers know when to expect the delivery to actually arrive. The best practice here is essentially to get as close as possible to the B2C delivery experience by sending schedule confirmations, route start messages, ETA updates, and more—all while offer live delivery tracking from a dedicated customer portal. 

Enable customer pickups

This one goes along with the best practice above. If you give customers the option of picking up products at your store or warehouse, you can avoid dealing with potential returns from those deliveries. 

Of course, efficient pickup logistics can be almost as difficult as efficient deliveries. You don’t want to position yourself for constant traffic jams in your warehouse parking lot—which is why it’s important to optimize this process. Here, you might give customers the option to self-schedule their pickups based on a set of dynamically generated, capacity-aware options. From there, you’d alert customers when their orders were ready for pick-up. At the same time, you’d automatically send alerts to store and warehouse associates when customers checked in. They’d then be able to capture proof of pickup and immediately deal with any items that may have been picked that the customer ultimately doesn’t need. 

If you can streamline this process enough to make it an attractive option for your customers, you can cut down on the need for returns even further. 

Prioritize end-to-end visibility

Having the right data is crucial when it comes to return management—if you know which items can be resold versus which are damaged, you can deal with them efficiently. But it’s not just about having the right data. It’s about having the right data, in the right place, at the right time. 

Simply put, the more quickly and easily you’re able to find the data you need about return items, the more quickly you can deal with them. Conversely, if you have to hunt for the right information through multiple solutions and multiple screens, pallets will sit in your warehouse for a lot longer waiting to be dealt with. Items that could potentially be sold to another client that same day will potentially go unused because they can’t be processed quickly enough. 

That’s why true, end-to-end visibility is so important. Real visibility in this sense means that the information you need is at your fingertips when you need it. This includes proof of delivery, order information, statuses of customer order confirmations, billing information, delivery audit trails, and much more. 

Leverage a single platform to avoid data silos 

If achieving the kind of end-to-end visibility we’re talking about seems like a tall order, you’re not alone. Historically, disjointed IT systems have made it difficult for build supplier distributors to get the right data at the right time. But today it’s possible to leverage a single, unified solution to tackle the entire last mile delivery journey—from planning to execution to post-delivery processes. 

At the end of the day, leveraging a single, streamlined, connected solution can go a long way towards ensuring that you’re able to reduce costs associated with returns. Why? Because the right solution keeps you connected with your drivers at all times, ensuring that you can execute effectively on your delivery plans and can gain a full audit trail immediately. The right solution also combines planning and execution with customer communications, making it significantly easier to keep customers in the loop. 

By avoiding the use of multiple solutions to cover different aspects of the last mile, you can prevent data silos and ensure visibility across every delivery. In this way, you can speed up return management and increase efficiency across the board. 


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