Mark Thornton, marketing director at wholesale, distribution and retail IT solution provider, Maginus, looks at the lessons catering equipment distributors can learn from online retailers in turning returns into a new business opportunity.

Catering equipment distributors don’t tend to view returns as an opportunity. An inconvenience, an additional cost, something to be avoided – sure.

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But, as we know, the rise and growth of e-commerce has changed the retail playing field – and now the B2B supply chain playing field too.

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Average retail return rates in bricks-and-mortar stores were 8.89% in 2014, according to a study by Shorr Packaging.

Move into the e-commerce arena, and these rates can exceed 30%, and be as high as 45% in the fashion sector.

Indeed, in online fashion stores, it’s common for consumers to buy several items in different sizes, colours or other options, try them out and then return all but one.

Many retailers have started turning these returns into a value-add service, taking the opportunity to harvest valuable customer data and plug it intelligently into business processes.

As wholesalers and distributors increasingly move their operations online, it’s vital that they follow savvier B2C retailers’ lead.