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Chain Reaction: Pollen’s Christian Piller on Reducing Returns to Enhance Supply Chain Logistics

Chain Reaction is Sourcing Journal’s discussion series with industry executives to get their take on today’s logistics challenges and learn about ways their company is working to keep the flow of goods moving. Here, Christian Piller, chief commercial officer at Pollen—a company that optimizes inventory through return pickups for retailers—discusses how the company is reshaping retail’s existing inventory with a faster, greener and more economical solution.

Christian Piller, chief commerical officer, Pollen

Name: Christian Piller 

Title: Chief Commercial Officer 

Company: Pollen

What industries do you primarily serve? Which industry do you think has the most to teach fashion about improving their supply chain logistics? 

Pollen primarily services the retail and healthcare industries. The beauty of supply chain as a profession is that each industry optimizes its supply chains differently because the goods/services they provide are different. For the fashion industry, it defines what we wear and how we wear it, so it has to be at the forefront of product design each season. However, making clothing can be a dirty process.

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Fortunately, a lot of the fashion industry has begun focusing on water reclamation and other sustainable initiatives. I think the retail industry can teach the fashion industry about digitalization away from customer-facing services, and the fashion industry can teach the rest of the supply chain how to be a leader in sustainability.

What are the main things brands and retailers could do (or stop doing) right now that would immediately improve logistics?

Helping simplify customers’ return experience is one thing retailers should start doing. Returns can be frustrating for consumers as they must navigate multiple archaic processes and act as logistics providers by bringing their returns to a location that is more convenient for the retailer or carrier.

Brands and retailers can revolutionize that returns experience by enabling customer-scheduled, doorstep returns pickups which are cheaper, faster and greener than the current returns processes.

When it comes to creating efficiencies, there are quick wins and longer plays. What are a few things your company is doing to help its partners succeed on both fronts?   

For quick wins, Pollen is focused on return pickups from consumers’ doorsteps. This is a quick win because retailers can get their product back faster and cheaper and consumers don’t have the added inconvenience of packaging their return, printing a label and bringing their return to a location.

The longer play for retailers is fraud reduction, reduced cart abandonment, reduced inventory and reduced environmental impact. For consumers, it’s a more convenient experience.

What areas of logistics aren’t receiving the industry attention it deserves?

Aside from returns, digitization is a key area that the industry isn’t laser-focused on. A surprising number of companies use legacy technologies like electronic data interchange (EDI)—a technology that was originally created for the Berlin Airlift after WWII—to communicate with their carriers and suppliers and/or use Excel to make incredibly complicated supply chain decisions. Any company that has a supply chain must update these technologies and ensure its internal business processes are updated.

What is your company doing to make the movement of goods more sustainable?

First, we reduce the number of packages being shipped by enabling a package-less return pickups where we start the consolidation process at the consumer’s doorstep to deliver eight plus items to a FedEx or UPS in one package.

Second, Pollen’s partners are making these return pickups with more fuel-efficient, route-optimized vehicles. While we can’t reduce total system miles driven yet, we are making the miles that are driven more fuel efficient by shifting that mileage from a traditional FedEx or UPS package car with 18 miles per gallon (MPG) to a Toyota Camry that has 30 plus MPG. 

Are you optimistic about the state of supply chains in the next few years?

Absolutely. There has been an increase in supply chain representation in the C-suite which is instrumental to reversing the lack of technology and execution investment over the last decade or so.

I believe there’s reason to be optimistic as executive supply chain leadership and talented supply chain graduates start to work together for the first time.