Monday, June 07, 2021

Some Book Returns are Good: Managing Returns an Upcoming BISG Webinar

Book returns have long been the nemesis of warehouse and fulfillment managers and, sometimes conflict, when challenging the optimism of the sales team. Historically, it was the trade market where returns were (and remain) a significant component of the sales process to the exception of other publishing segments. However, this has changed significantly as the retail market – in education in particular – has become less structured. Whereas students used to purchase textbooks exclusively at the college store they are now as likely to buy their books ahead of time from Amazon for delivery to the dorm as they are to buy them at all.

As most publishing people know, managing returns and addressing the ‘returns problem’ is a perennial issue but it has been up to individual companies to act to improve their returns issues. In the US there has not been a direct industry led initiative to tackle returns but that is not the case in the UK. As far back as 1999, the industry began an initiative to understand the issue, identify the costs of returns and propose a set of progressive supply chain improvements in an industry led attempt to manage down the cost of returns. This initiative brought together all major players including publishers, retailers, wholesalers and other intermediaries, and gained traction approximately five years ago with the agreement on a set of resolutions or ‘rules of the road’ which govern interactions across the industry.

In the US, the UK initiative looks like an interesting model for us to study. The BISG has scheduled a webinar for July 20th to do just that and it is open to members and non-members.  In advance of the meeting, I have been asked to interview a group of supply chain participants (retailers, wholesalers, publishers) on behalf of BISG to determine how they have approached the returns issue(s) within their own businesses, their objectives in addressing returns and solicit their input on how BISG could support the industry to address returns.

At the webinar in July, we will tell the story of the UK experience and deliver the feedback I have gathered from our interviews. We will then solicit feedback from the attendees (and members) as to how BISG might support initiatives to improve the returns issue. So far, I can report that there are some interesting ideas and process improvement suggestions already being used by those addressing this issue and I expect we can discuss these at the meeting in July.  I hope you can join us.  If you would like to offer comments on this issue please do so below.


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Michael Cairns is a business strategy consultant and executive.  He can be reached at or (908) 938 4889 for project work or executive roles.

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