What is Reverse Logistics & How is it Different from Forward Logistics?

keyKey Takeaways:

  • Reverse logistics refers to the process of managing the return of products from end-customers back to the manufacturer or retailer.
  • The reverse logistics process involves several stages, including returns management, product disposition, and transportation.
  • To manage reverse logistics effectively, companies must have a clear understanding of their returns policies, as well as reliable systems for tracking and processing returns.
  • Sustainable practices, such as refurbishing or recycling returned products, can create environmental and financial benefits for companies.

While we all know about logistics and worldwide supply chain management, reverse logistics (at least the term) remains elusive to most. Simply put, reverse logistics is about taking the product from customers and bringing it back to the manufacturers through the supply chain network.

Mostly, reverse logistics is relevant for eCommerce companies with easy return policies, like Amazon. According to the Reverse Logistics Association, return rates for e-commerce purchases are three to four times higher than those for in-store purchases. In fact, Amazon leads the reverse logistics industry with around 13% market share. 

Here is everything you need to know about the reverse logistics industry to make it easier for you to get into this industry.

What is Reverse Logistics?

Effective reverse logistics is that part of the supply chain management that transports the goods and products from the customers to the manufacturers. Some of the reverse logistics examples are return, reuse, refurbish, repair, and recycling. Usually, reverse logistics comes into play after the customer receives the products and starts the recycling or return process. 

As you can see, reverse logistics flow follows the opposite path of your traditional supply chain. This is more prevalent where the manufacturer or the seller is also responsible for refurbishing or recycling the product. However, effective reverse logistics or returns management is also increasing in popularity due rise in no-fuss return policies of new-age eCommerce brands.

How does reverse logistics work?

The process for reverse logistics or returns management is the same as your traditional logistics. The reverse logistics work requires planning shipments, managing shipping loads, and cleaning the containers. The customer pings for the return of the product. The customer receives the guidelines to prepare the product for transport. Then, the delivery driver picks up the product and delivers it to your intended hub thus completing the reverse supply chain. 

Now, reverse logistics is not only reserved for customer returns and refurbishing of products. This process also returns unsold goods with wholesalers to the parent company. The same happens with goods intended for remanufacturing or repair departments.

For example, packaged food companies like the beverage industry use reverse logistics to recollect expired products from the sellers. In the case of equipment rentals or leasing, you ping the customer instead of the other way around. The rest of the steps are the same for this one. 

Types of Reverse Logistics 

Reverse logistics is an umbrella term that covers a variety of reverse logistics processes. Here are the different types of reverse logistics.

1. Receiving returns: 

Receiving returns - type of reverse logistics

This involves returning the products after the customer has purchased it. For brick-and-mortar purchases, the return happens at the store where the product was first bought. And, for retailers, it is returned using the same delivery channel. 

2. Resale of returns

If the returned product is fully functional, it is repackaged and prepared for resale to other customers. The original customer is compensated with a refund. 

3. Processing returns: 

The item is thoroughly checked and logged into the system during the return procedure. This scrutiny prepares the items for storage, repair, or resale. 

4. Salvaging returns: 

If the product is beyond repair, individual parts are taken out to be re-used as spares or resold as used products. 

5. Refurbishing returns: 

If the product can be repaired, it will undergo corrective procedures and be prepared for resale. 

6. Donating returns: 

Some suppliers donate outdated returned products to claim tax relief based on the CSR provisions. 

7. Recall returns: 

Occasionally, when businesses notice mass defects in their products, the companies initiate a recall to recollect every single product to correct the issue. 

8. Return cycling

Broken products have little-to-no value, but their parts might have. Under return cycling, the returned products are broken down and safely recycled.

Reverse vs. Traditional Logistics 

The fundamental difference between reverse and forward logistics is the direction in which products move along the supply chain. However, let’s check a brief comparison between the two major types of logistics will help you better understand them. 

Reverse logistics Traditional or forward logistics
Logistic forecast Forecasting returns are unpredictable and can occur randomly. If you have a good amount of repeat customers, forecasting the logistics becomes easy.
Process Reverse logistics or reverse supply chain strategies focus on bringing in products from multiple locations to a central hub (centralized processing center). On the other hand, traditional logistics focuses on taking products from one central hub to multiple locations.
Marketing Marketing reverse logistics features is challenging. However, most companies use no-fuss return guideline terms to market their reverse logistics capabilities. Marketing traditional logistics is fairly easy. Most companies market their traditional logistics with free shipping and faster delivery times.
Inventory management Inventory management can be challenging as the number of returns is unpredictable. Inventory management is predictable and can be optimized easily.
Pricing Pricing can vary wildly if there are multiple return hubs in the supply chain. Pricing is much more predictable.

Why is it so Important for Your Business?

Reverse logistics can lead to increased returns, driving up supply chain costs and impacting business profits. Therefore, here are a few reasons why reverse logistics management is important for your business. 

1. Creates efficient flow of goods

Reverse logistics create an efficient flow of goods for your company. Following the best practices will decrease environmental risks, reduce overall costs, and increase the ROI of your processes. Lastly, it helps complete the product life cycle by boosting the efficiency of the traditional supply chain. 

2. Maintains a circular economy

Reverse logistics maintains a circular economy

The main focus of the circular economy is controlling climate change, reducing waste, mitigating pollution, and encouraging biodiversity. Investing in the circular supply chain management for your company also presents your organization as an environmentally conscious entity. The circular economy starts with traditional logistics and ends with reverse logistics.

3. Helps adhere to sustainable policies of different Governments

Reverse logistics and the resulting circular economy help your organization to conform to the various sustainable demands of different government bodies. 

This could include recycling waste or proper disposal of hazardous waste throughout the supply chain. Most governments and countries are developing guidelines for landfills and recycling. Disregarding these outlines will result in hefty penalties and fines. 

Benefits of Optimized Reverse Logistics 

Optimized reverse logistics leads to better supply chain transparency. Hence, here is a list of a few benefits that make reverse logistics a worthwhile investment. 

1. Increased customer satisfaction

Positive return experiences (effective reverse logistics) contribute to high customer satisfaction. Therefore, a robust reverse logistics supply chain system builds customer loyalty and customer retention rates. 

Providing a clear return policy helps customers take higher risks with their purchases. In addition, do not force your customers to return the products in the original packaging to make them as seamless as possible. It’s clear reverse logistics contribute to building customer loyalty and repeat business.

2. Lower operating costs

Reverse logistics lowers operating costs

An efficient reverse logistics system helps you bring down the operational costs of the supply chain. Using route planning software like Upper enables you to put the right systems in place to save costs across multiple departments. You can save money on transportation, repairs, tech support, marketing, and even quality assurance with the correct reverse logistics processes.

3. Higher profits

Naturally, lower operational costs mean a higher return on investments. But there are multiple other ways in which the reverse logistics process can boost your profit margins. To begin with, products returned due to description mismatches are often in perfect condition for resale. 

You just have to spend money on restocking. Damaged items can be easily salvaged and sold for spare parts to make some money back. Finally, you sell repurposed clothing at discounted prices to regain profits. 

4. Increased brand awareness

As mentioned earlier, some customers do not even consider doing business with organizations with tricky return guidelines. In fact, having a no-hassle return policy increases your brand reputation and generates more leads. Amazon is one of the best examples of businesses leveraging their return policy to attract and retain new customers. 

5. Lower risk

Reverse logistics lowers risks

Now, all these benefits might not apply to brands that exclusively use reverse logistics to collect products from customers for proper disposal. On the other hand, it ensures that these products are disposed of correctly without causing any unnecessary harm to the environment. In the case of data-sensitive electronics, you can erase or collect valuable information before disposing of it. 

Simplify Your Reverse Logistics Process with Upper

Get rid of adding multiple addresses manually, simply import your excel and get the best routes instantly. Utilize Upper to pick up the customer’s packages and deliver them to the warehouse.

Challenges of Reverse Logistics

One of the biggest challenges is tracking the profitability of reverse logistics operations. Before learning about the optimization tricks, you must know about the challenges that come with them.

1. Complexity

There is no denying that reverse logistics adds an extra layer of complexity to your regular transportation strategies of the supply chain. Generally, the uncertainty about the returns and supplier cooperation can make it difficult to prepare for reverse logistics. Managing the data transfers and tracking the orders can be challenging with reverse logistics. 

2. Ecological problems

One of the major goals of reverse logistics is environmental sustainability. It aims at reusing, refurbishing, and recycling packaging materials by collecting them from customers. But the pollution caused by the extra trips adds to the air pollution. Moreover, following the wrong recycling and disposal guidelines can put you in financial and legal trouble with the Government. 

3. Expensive shipping costs 

Expensive shipping costs

Sometimes, you must ship individual parts of a returned product to the suppliers. This can add to the reverse shipping (storage and distribution) costs. As the volume of returned goods rises, it becomes more challenging to pinpoint and fix the problem component. In such cases, you may have to ship to multiple suppliers.

4. Lengthier processes

The lead times are longer in reverse logistics as your return center employees have to thoroughly check the product to determine who was at fault. If the customer is responsible for the damage, the product is returned to their address, further adding to the transportation expenses. And finding innate flaws in the devices brings the suppliers into the transportation loop. 

Tips to Optimize Reverse Logistics

A supply chain works most efficiently when it is bi-directional and optimized. Here are the top tips to optimize your reverse logistics:

1. Use data analytics

Reverse logistics is not only about returning the product to the suppliers (point of origin). You should use reverse logistics data to understand the main reasons for product returns. Then, you can make grassroots-level changes in the product design, marketing, and sales department to reduce return rates. 

2. Supplier collaboration

Supplier collaboration for reverse logistics

Make close connections with your parts suppliers. A collaborative partnership will help you refurbish or repair products much sooner. Furthermore, a close association with the suppliers will help you during mass recalls. 

3. Establish return centers 

Establishing a return center can help you improve the sorting of returned products. The center decides if the product should be repaired, resold, refurbished, salvaged, or donated. Then, the return center employees are responsible for determining the next course of transportation. Alternatively, you can use minimal resources to modify a small part of your central transportation hub to handle the returns process. 

4. Track products

Establish processes and systems to track everything from raw materials to finished goods. In case a customer initiates a return due to a defect, you can easily track the part and transportation channel responsible for the defect. Once the returned product arrives at the processing center, it must be inspected to determine the return category.

5. Employ software automation

Employ software automation

Use route planners and automatic route scheduling software to easily manage last-mile reverse logistics. Find more about Upper below. 

Optimize Your Reverse Logistics with Upper 

There is no doubt about Upper’s capabilities to handle your traditional logistics plan. But the same mechanics and features can also be used to track back the packages from the customers back to you. 

Here are some of the other features of Upper that will help you set up a successful reverse logistics strategy for your business. 

1. Better route planning for your returns

Upper’s route planning features allow you to add over 500 addresses and create a multi-stop route in under 2 mins. Naturally, you can also utilize this feature to add stops to receive customer packages and bring them back to the hub. And all without any back-tracking and extra trips.

2. Efficiently schedule your reverse logistics 

Route scheduling allows you to plan and schedule deliveries months in advance. It makes it easier for drivers to gauge their weekly and monthly workloads. At the same time, it also shows the gaps where you can fit packages for reverse logistics purposes. 

3. Delivery driver management to introduce last-minute changes

Upper also offers in-built delivery driver management in its software. This feature empowers you to get the real-time location of your drivers and helps you make better spontaneous strategies like reassigning routes if the driver is unavailable.  You can utilize this feature to send the ETA of arrival and pick-ups to the customer. 

Check out Upper’s 7-day free trial today.


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In simple words, reverse logistics is the exact opposite of standard supply chains. It refers to the process of sending goods, raw materials, and defective products from the consumer to the manufacturing firm or distribution centers. This means defining the process a returned item has to go through once it leaves the hands of the customer or end users.

Mostly, the turnaround time for the opposite of the typical supply chain process is around 3 days. The turnaround time will depend on your processes and logistics strategies. It also depends on the availability of the customers on the day of the pickup.

Yes, you can manage high-volume returns with the reverse logistics process. However, you must use the right route planner software and implement efficient reverse logistics strategies to manage high-volume return rates.


As you can see, the reverse logistics process is as important as traditional logistics. And with new-age eCommerce stores setting precedents for the no-questions-asked return policy, you must prepare a solid reverse logistics plan. Combining some parts of reverse logistics with traditional logistics makes it easier for you to handle your operation. 

As for delivery failure or returns, last-mile management plays a huge role. Automating route planning, finding gaps in the schedule and inserting returns, route optimization as per delivery constraints, updating customers about ETA, and more are super helpful in conducting efficient reverse logistics. 

Upper offers features to facilitate all of the above and more. Try the Upper today.

Author Bio
Rakesh Patel
Rakesh Patel

Rakesh Patel is the founder and CEO of Upper Route Planner, a route planning and optimization software. With 28+ years of experience in the technology industry, Rakesh is a subject matter expert in building simple solutions for day-to-day problems. His ultimate goal with Upper Route Planner is to help delivery businesses eliminate on-field delivery challenges and simplify operations such as route planning, scheduling, dispatching, take a proof of delivery, manage drivers, real time tracking, customer notifications and more. He loves sharing his thoughts on eliminating delivery management challenges via blogs. Read more.