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Self-Driving Vehicles and Automated Returns Are Coming Soon to a Retailer Near You

By Dr. Robert L. Gordon | 11/06/2014 | 5:06 AM

Changes are coming to logistics and reverse logistics that will significantly impact operations at large retail organizations and other industries. 

First, the use of self-driving trucks is going to revolutionize the transportation of materials from distribution center to retail outlet. The efficiencies gained by the Wal-Mart WAVE system, combined with the self-driving capabilities of the Mercedes designed Future Truck, add up to an amazing new truck that will bring dramatic changes to shipping processes. 

Self-driving cars are not as far off as we might think. The self-driving car market is expected to reach  $87 billion by 2030. Mercedes plans to offer a self-driving package on cars released by 2020.  In fact, three major automobile manufacturers are already conducting driverless car testing in the U.S. 

Self-driving vehicles offer the benefit of fewer accidents; they never get distracted, feel fatigue, or drive at anything less than 100 percent.  This technology will certainly evolve over time and acceptance might be slow at first.  When seatbelts and, later, airbags were first introduced, public response was tepid at best.  Over time, as the safety and value of these items was proven, they became standard for all vehicles.  Self-driving vehicles will likely follow the same pattern. 

A technology revolution is coming for the processing of returns.  Lowes and Nestle have reported that they will be introducing robots as sales associates by the end of this year. Although this seems to be more related to sales, this technology developed for self-service checkout is going to revolutionize returns. Instead of standing in the return line, customers will be able to go to a return station to complete the transaction.

The system would combine the customer service robot with a self-checkout station. The station would weigh the item being returned and scan the item and receipt bar codes. The return station could then dispense a gift card with the correct credited value. Just as with self-checkout stations, this would allow for a single employee to monitor several return stations, thereby reducing costs and increasing efficiency. 

Both of these developments are going to change how large retailers manage both their logistics and reverse logistics. While the technology is not yet perfected, these changes are going to happen sooner than expected and it is already time to anticipate and prepare.

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About Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is program director of the Reverse Logistics department at American Public University. Dr. Gordon has over twenty-five years of professional experience in supply chain management and human resources. He holds a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, as well earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from UCLA. Dr. Gordon has spent more than 14 years teaching reverse logistics, transportation, project management, and human resources. He has published articles on reverse logistics; supply chain management; project management; human resources; education, and complexity. He has also published four books on Reverse Logistics Management; Complexity and Project Management; Virtual Project Management Organizations, and Successful Program Management..



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