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Typology of practices for managing consumer returns in internet retailing

Klas Hjort (Department of Design Sciences, Packaging Logistics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden)
Daniel Hellström (Department of Design Sciences, Packaging Logistics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden)
Stefan Karlsson (Department of Design Sciences, Packaging Logistics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden)
Pejvak Oghazi (School of Social Sciences, Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden)

International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management

ISSN: 0960-0035

Article publication date: 6 August 2019

Issue publication date: 30 August 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore, describe and categorise practices of managing product returns empirically in internet retailing.

Design/methodology/approach

A multiple case study was conducted involving 12 e-commerce firms and 4 logistics service providers. An integrative data collection approach of semi-structured interviews, documentation and observations was used to gain comprehensive managerial and operational descriptions of returns management (RM) processes.

Findings

The findings show inconsistent RM processes, with a plethora of practices implemented and organised differently across firms. RM processes are ambiguous; their design is a result of incremental changes over time, lacking strategy and goals. There is a mismatch between how they are described and understood in the literature and how they are actually used. Practices in gatekeeping, avoidance and reverse logistics are defined and categorised. These serve as a typology of practices for managers to (re)consider, along with 15 propositions on how RM is practised.

Research limitations/implications

The range of RM practices and the processes reflect a lack of scholarly attention and strategic view. Research is needed to develop clear goals on how the RM process can be better aligned with business strategies.

Practical implications

The typology of practices is a benchmark for internet retailers in their design of efficient RM processes.

Originality/value

Systematic and empirical research on RM is scarce compared to forward management. The study bridges this gap as one of the first to describe RM practices in depth, define service as a key activity, and identify a mismatch between theory and practice.

Keywords

Citation

Hjort, K., Hellström, D., Karlsson, S. and Oghazi, P. (2019), "Typology of practices for managing consumer returns in internet retailing", International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Vol. 49 No. 7, pp. 767-790. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJPDLM-12-2017-0368

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited