PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to explore, describe and categorise practices of managing product returns empirically in internet retailing.Design/methodology/approachA 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.FindingsThe 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/implicationsThe 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 implicationsThe typology of practices is a benchmark for internet retailers in their design of efficient RM processes.Originality/valueSystematic 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.
International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management – Emerald Publishing
Published: Aug 20, 2019
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