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Mail order giant handles returns with ease

When returns handling proved a bottleneck for the German catalogue and e-commerce company, Witt Weiden, the retailer found the solution in a split-tray sorter from KNAPP subsidiary, Dürkopp Fördertechnik.

Headquartered in the German city of Weiden, the company no longer belongs to the Witt family of mail order pioneers but is now a subsidiary of the far-reaching Otto Group. Witt Weiden markets clothing, shoes, accessories and household goods through both catalogue mail order and online channels, with annual sales of some 570 million Euros. The company has approximately 2,400 employees and dispatches up to 77,000 parcels daily to about nine million customers.

As in all direct sales operations, returns management plays a vital role. Only when customers receive their goods at home can they assess the various product qualities such as size, colour, fabric, feel and cut. If they dislike any aspect of the product, they can simply send it back. Previously, Witt used a cross-belt sorter to process its returns but, when servicing costs spiralled and bottlenecks began to form due to insufficient capacity, Witt’s management sought another solution. After considering various options, they chose the split-tray sorter from KNAPP subsidiary, Dürkopp Fördertechnik. During the two-month installation and start-up period, the old system continued to operate so that there was no disruption to the logistics processes.

Two infeeds
Some 18 months on, the solution has proved its worth for Witt Weiden. Returned goods are mainly sealed items of clothing which are transported as folded goods such as shirts, blouses or trousers. Employees check the returns thoroughly, repack them and sort out any damaged goods. Products are then placed on the conveyor system and supplied to one of the two automatic infeed stations of the split-tray sorter. Explained Manfred Pörtner, Project Manager for Dürkopp, "Having two infeeds doubles the hourly sorter performance, covering all performance peaks throughout the day."

Future-proof investment
The system has a high conveying speed of 1.3 m/s and the use of square trays avoids the need to align clothing items in a certain direction, dramatically increasing throughput. Each of the sorter’s 24 outfeed stations has two pneumatically operated openers. Using target codes, operators can define two outfeed points for each chute, which theoretically brings twice the sorter performance again. After the goods have been sorted, employees scan them, pack them into boxes and return them to storage. "We achieved the desired increase in performance," continued Manfred Pörtner, "and, importantly, ensured sufficient reserve capacity to make the investment future-proof.

Mr Craig Rollason,
Head of Sales & Marketing
Tel: 01844 202149
E-mail: craig.rollason@knapp.com

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