Returns management employee development: antecedents and outcomes

AuthorHaozhe Chen, Stefan E. Genchev, Geoff Willis, Benjamin Griffis
Publication Date11 Nov 2019
Returns management
employee development:
antecedents and outcomes
Haozhe Chen
Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA
Stefan E. Genchev
University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, Oklahoma, USA
Geoff Willis
College of Business,
University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, Oklahoma, USA, and
Benjamin Griffis
Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to empirically investigate the antecedents and impacts of a largely
overlooked concept, employee development, within the challenging area of returns management.
Design/methodology/approach The proposed relationships are validated through structural equation
modeling analysis with survey data collected in India.
Findings Combining the abilitymotivationopportunity model in human resource management and the
theoretical tenets associated with dynamic capabilities, the authors confirmed that supply chain learning,
returns management orientation and information support are important antecedents of returns management
employee development. In turn, the findings suggest that, as a dynamic capability, returns management
employee development positively impacts a firms returns management and market performance.
Practical implications To successfully tackle the challenges related to handling returns, companies must
focus their resources not only on new technologies and related processes, but also on employee training and
development as well.
Originality/value Although recruiting and retaining talent in supply chain management has long been
recognized as a serious global challenge, no previous research has empirically studied employee development
practices in the returns management context.
Keywords India, Survey, Information technology, Reverse logistics
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Todays consumers especially those purchasing online expect the purchasing process to
be a breeze.Unfortunately, in many instances, the process is extended because a consumer
decides he/she does not like the product or there are problems (damage, incorrect item, etc.).
The seller must then accommodate a return request. For companies looking to secure
long-term success and customer satisfaction/loyalty, it is imperative that they realize the
importance of efficiently handling returned merchandise in a way that is viewed as virtually
effortless by the customer. This is supported by a UPS survey of consumers that found,
Returns can be a deal-breaker [] 48% (of consumers) would drop a retailer with a less-
than-easy returns process(Gooley, 2013, p. 44).
Reverse logistics refers to the efficient, cost-effective flow of raw materials, in-process
inventory, finished goods and related information from point of consumption to point of origin
for the purpose of recapturing value or for proper disposal (Rogers and Tibben-Lembke, 1998).
Both practitioners and academics have gradually realized the critical importance of effective
reverse logistics and have argued it can be a value center (Wang et al., 2017). Our focus is on
The International Journal of
Logistics Management
Vol. 30 No. 4, 2019
pp. 1016-1038
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/IJLM-08-2018-0218
Received 31 August 2018
Revised 19 June 2019
7 September 2019
13 October 2019
Accepted 17 October 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
one of the key processes within reverse logistics returns management (Croxton et al., 2001;
Zhou et al., 2011). The returns management process includes the activities necessary to handle
the reverse flow of goods from customers. The importance of employees and job performance in
the supply chain context is widely recognized (e.g. Ellinger et al., 2008, 2010; Swart et al., 2012;
Kane Is Able, 2014), but there is still a significant need for human resource management in the
supply chain management context (Fisher et al., 2010; Flöthmann et al., 2017) . We believe that
employee development is particularly important for returns management due to the
challenging nature of the tasks and responsibilities involved. This notion is supported by
Govindan and Bouzons (2018) framework, which identified employees not only as stakeholders
but also as drivers of reverse logisticssuccessful implementation. While much has been written
on returns management, little research attention has been given to returns management
employees. The current study is undertaken to address this important research void.
Strategic human resource management research increasingly focuses on human
resource systems rather than single practices. The current study thus draws upon the
abilitymotivationopportunity (AMO) model of human resource management and explores
the antecedents of effective returns management employee development ( Jiang et al., 2012;
Boon et al., 2019). According to the AMO literature, ability refers to skill-enhancing practices
that are designed to foster skilled, capable employees; motivation refers to practices that
provide stimulus to employees to perform their job with more enthusiasm; and opportunity
denotes practices that facilitate employeeseffort in achieving organizational objectives
(Lepak et al., 2006; Liao et al., 2009). In line with the AMO model, we select and examine three
antecedents in the returns management context: supply chain learning as an ability, returns
management orientation as a motivation and returns management information support as
an opportunity. It is proposed that these three antecedents encompass both internal and
external (supply chain) perspectives that provide the foundation for a formalized system to
develop returns management employees and that will ultimately impact firm performance
through creating happy customers and improving efficiency.
The first antecedent, supply chain learning, focuses on knowledge applied to facilitate
exchange within supply chains(Claycomb et al., 2001; Spekman et al.,2002).Returns
management employees must deal with the uncertainties associated with product returns in
terms of quantity, condition, timing, etc., and supply chain learning ability can be expected to be
a factor relevant to these employeesability to perform their tasks effectively and efficiently.
Supply chain learning could include knowledge exchange between a firm and its suppliers,
customers, distributors or other supply chain parties such as service providers (Flint et al., 2008).
Within the returns management context this would include, but not be limited to, understanding
customer expectations as to how they want to be able to return product, what constitutes an
acceptable level of effort necessary to make a return, length of time to process a return, etc.
Our second antecedent is returns management orientation, which refers to the guiding
philosophy or approach whereby a fi rm recognizes the importance that returns
management has to overall business performance (Mai et al., 2012). Returns necessitate
extra, time-consuming but critical steps. How post-purchase returns issues are handled is
important to customers. An easy return process can have a huge impact on repeat sales
(Burnson, 2014). At the other extreme, poor service or complicated requirements can lose
customers. Therefore, highly motivated returns management employees are crucial for
successfully performing these tasks. A firms orientation toward returns management
determines its resource commitment to this area and thus it could have a significant
influence on its returns management employeesmotivation as well.
Our final antecedent, returns management information support, presents an opportunity
and a tool forreturns management employees to effectivelydeal with the complexityand sheer
volume of returns. Jack et al. (2009) highlighted the importance of developing information
system capabilities to supportreverse logistics and returns. Similarly,Terry (2014) noted that

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