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The quick e-commerce guide to compliant Dangerous Goods returns

There has never been a bigger holiday season for e-commerce. And that means this will also be the biggest holiday season ever for e-commerce returns.

Compliantly transporting Dangerous Goods such as lithium batteries this holiday season is complicated enough. But e-commerce manufacturers and distributors have to have well-defined processes for compliant reverse logistics, because compliance gaps on returns can be costly in more ways than one.

Frustrated returns make for frustrated customers

Every Dangerous Goods shipment carries the risk of being frustrated by compliance gaps—errors in labeling, packaging and/or documentation. As the shipper, you’re responsible for getting those details right. A frustrated shipment can be delayed, returned to you or even confiscated, frustrated shipments can deal a huge blow to your operation’s profitability.

Return shipments of Dangerous Goods are subject to the exact same regulations as outbound shipments, which means they can be frustrated by the exact same errors. But here’s the hitch—with returns, your customer is the shipper, so they’re responsible for shipping those items back to you compliantly.

That’s why every e-commerce retailer who sells any regulated items whatsoever should ask themselves these three questions:

  1. Are my customers trained to ship hazmat compliantly? Of course not.
  2. Will my customers be understanding if their refunds are delayed due to frustrated return shipments? Almost certainly not.
  3. Will my customers shop with me again if they find my return process unsatisfactory? an deter them from shopping with a brand again.

In short, frustrated return shipments can hurt both your bottom line and your customer loyalty, so you need to make it super-easy for your customers to compliantly return Dangerous Goods items to you.

4 core ideas for compliant lithium battery returns

All sorts of common e-commerce items are classified as hazmat—from teeth whiteners to paint to nail polish to alcoholic beverages—but the one that’s most likely to give e-commerce shippers headaches is lithium batteries.

The best way to make sure your customers can compliantly return lithium battery purchases is to have a comprehensive, well-defined returns management process in place. Each is a good idea by itself, but your best bet is to combine all four:

  1. Education: Make sure your customers are aware that rules exist and give them all the guidance they need to return their products compliantly.
  2. Making it easy: When a customer requests a return, send them proper packaging with all the labels they’ll need.
  3. Customer service preparation: Train your customers to answer the inevitable questions customers will have about their return shipments.
  4. A solid ground game: Be sure all return shipments are made via ground shipping, where regulatory exceptions make compliance far easier than with air transport.

If you need help setting up a returns management process tailored to your operation, it’s always a good idea to speak to a expert.

Long story short, if you want to avoid the costs and complications of non-compliant Dangerous Goods returns, advance preparation will help you help your customers get it right.




2020 ERG Book

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Hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses. What do DG shippers need to know?

Sometime in the next few weeks or months, a COVID-19 vaccine will likely be approved by the FDA (and similar bodies in other nations). That will be very, very good news.

The bad news is that those vaccines won’t just magically appear at your nearest pharmacy. In fact, safely transporting hundreds of millions of vaccine doses will be a massive and phenomenally complex cold chain logistics challenge.

  • Supply chain organizations are already gearing up to meet this challenge, and Dangerous Goods will play a role.

    emperature-controlled shipping and storage on an imposing new scale

    There’s a lot we still don’t know about the COVID-19 vaccine. The USA federal government’s Operation Wa

    rp Speed is paying some pharmaceutical companies in advance to produce and deliver 300 million doses, but we don’t know which vaccine currently in development will be the first to market, and it’s possible several varieties may be approved. Some vaccines for which we have not prepaid might even become available first.

    What we do know, however, is that most of the vaccines being developed will have to be kept very cold. And keeping 300 million of anything at consistently cold temperatures requires logistics on a scale that has never been done before.

    “The vaccines will be temperature-controlled, and originally there was not enough cold storage on the planet,” says Johnson. “Industry and the military have been scrambling to create temperature-controlled opportunities. Planes and procedures are being adjusted to increase lift capacity to move vaccine doses on dry ice, and that is just to get it to the distribution centers. Transporting doses from the distribution centers to the dosing locations will be a whole different challenge.”

    Making distribution even more complex is that many of the vaccines in development will require two doses, two to eight weeks apart—and your second dose might have to “partner” with your first. Johnson says, “Imagine you wanted new tires for your car, but you could only get two at a time, and the second two had to be the exact same lot number as the first two. That’s what it’ll be like.”

    Keeping track of who, when and where patients have been dosed will be difficult, but we are lucky that many are stepping up to the challenge.

    Vaccines will require dry ice shippers           

    Aside from the scale required, there is nothing particularly new or challenging about the packaging that will be required to ship COVID-19 vaccine doses.

    “Dry ice sublimates—a word everyone should know—directly from solid to gas, which creates a problem with displaced oxygen in enclosed spaces. The trick to keeping things cold is a combination of active and passive temperature control. Active control is a refrigerator or reefer truck, something that uses electricity. Passive temperature control uses phase change materials and insulation to lock in temperatures.  It is like using ice cubes to cool your drink.

    “Vaccine shippers will have to use a combination of solutions to keep doses at acceptable temperatures from manufacture to patient.”

    Hazmat implications for COVID-19 vaccine shipping

    Shipping vaccines, however, will likely require some Dangerous Goods labeling, documentation and training. Dry ice is a fully regulated (UN 1845) when shipped by air. Certain vaccines may actually need to be shipped with cryogenic liquid nitrogen, which is a  (UN 1977).

    Regarding dry ice, IATA Assistant Director Cargo Safety & Standards Dave Brennan says, “To help to facilitate the transport of the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, IATA is working closely the with regulatory authorities and aircraft manufacturers to identify if the quantity of dry ice carried on an aircraft can be increased without affecting the safety of flight crew and ground staff.”

    It’s also important to note that every unit containing dry ice and/or vaccine will have a lithium battery-powered datalogger in it, for either temperature control, theft or anti-terrorism. Brennan says, “We are also working closely with ICAO and the ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel to review the requirements that apply to the transport of cargo that contains lithium battery-powered data loggers / cargo tracking devices to identify if these requirements can be simplified for the transport of vaccines.”

    (If you’re interested in more details, IATA has just released its Guidance for Vaccine and Pharmaceutical Logistics and Distribution.)