Gatekeeping (in supply chain terms) refers to screening of returned goods at the entry point in the reverse flow from the consumer and back to the manufacturer/supplier. Gatekeeping is a key element of reverse logistics and companies take returns management very seriously as it directly affects the company’s image.

Vetting every returned product to avoid any improper acceptance helps minimize goods return and keeps the return costs low. Any good/product that is not meant to be returned or reaches a wrong destination is avoided. Gatekeeping also helps in avoiding any negative customer impact. A company with a good returns management strategy has good return avoidance procedures i.e. a good gatekeeping policy framed as per the type of returns (e.g. failure, shipment damage or errors, store returns etc.) a company might run into. The key is to identify which products should be accepted as return as early as possible.

Case in point 1: In the 90s, return rates were very high across the technology industry. To counter the high return rates, Nintendo began R&D and developed systematic methods that could effectively control returns. In 1999, the outcome of research was the Point of Sale Electronic Registration and return validation technology, which helped retailers with easy gate-keeping tools. Later, Nintendo spun off the unit as an independent subsidiary SIRAS to make it commercially available as an industry wide utility.

Case in point 2: Apple makes return of its products very easy. Apple had two different return practices – one for a direct purchase from an Apple store or online and the second for buying from retail partners.