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 point of origin which is 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, the reverse logistics process 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 flow or returns management is also increasing in popularity due to the 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 processes. The reverse logistics work requires planning shipments, managing shipping loads, and cleaning the containers. The end user, which is the customer, pings to return 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 supply chain. Remember, proficient handling of returns is crucial to keep up with consumer loyalty and guarantee that the items reemerge in the reverse logistics operations seamlessly.

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. Reselling returns can be a financially savvy way for organizations to recover a portion of their losses from returns and lessen squandering.

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. Processing returns includes careful documentation and arrangement to decide the most suitable next steps for each returned item.

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. Overall, salvaging returns recuperates value from things that would somehow be considered as waste, lessening natural effect.

5. Refurbishing returns: 

If the product can be repaired, it will undergo corrective procedures and be prepared for resale. Thus, refurbishing returns expands the item’s lifecycle as well as permits organizations to offer renewed things to cost-cognizant buyers.

6. Donating returns: 

Some suppliers donate outdated returned products to claim tax relief based on the CSR provisions. Hence, donating returns not only assists organizations with satisfying corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals yet also adds to charitable causes.

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. This process is essential for correcting safety or quality issues, guaranteeing client security and trust.

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. This is how return cycling limits the  environmental footprint by reusing materials from unsalvageable items.

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.

Basis 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.
Logistics management Inventory management can be challenging as the number of returns is unpredictable. Inventory management is predictable and can be optimized easily based on customer requirements.
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 business practices will decrease environmental risks, reduce overall cost, and increase the ROI of your logistics 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 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 the return experience as seamless as possible. It’s clear reverse logistics contribute to building customer relations and repeat business.

2. Lower operating costs

Reverse logistics lowers operating costs

An efficient reverse logistics system helps you bring down 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 product returns 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 policies. In fact, having a no-hassle policy for return 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 customer returns.

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 waste reduction and 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 and may also impact your brand image.

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, impacting customer service.

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 and improve your bottom line.

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 within supply chains. 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 operations. 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 eCommerce 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 days 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 reverse logistics processes and logistics management. 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 or warehouse management software and implement efficient reverse logistics strategies to manage high-volume return rates.

To enhance reverse logistics, businesses ought to put resources into technology for tracking returns, carry out economical disposal practices, and work improving the effectiveness of the return interaction to decrease costs. Additionally, clear return policies can also contribute to enhancing reverse logistics operations.

Legal and regulatory contemplations in reverse logistics operations incorporate garbage removal regulations, reusing guidelines, and product guarantee and obligation guidelines, which may vary by location and industry. Moreover, it is crucial for businesses to make sure that their operations align with all applicable laws and standards.


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 policy for returns, 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, author of two defining books on reverse geotagging, is a trusted authority in routing and logistics. His innovative solutions at Upper Route Planner have simplified logistics for businesses across the board. A thought leader in the field, Rakesh's insights are shaping the future of modern-day logistics, making him your go-to expert for all things route optimization. Read more.