Returns: The Holy Grail of E-Commerce

Returns: The Holy Grail of E-Commerce

This article is an extract from the Spring Edition of MER Magazine published in February 2020. You can read the full article as well as other articles from MER for free by becoming a member of Post & Parcel today.

MER spoke to John O’Brien, President at eCom Global Systems to find out how he is helping companies to minimise the cost of their returns at the same time as reducing their carbon footprint.


You have been in the global logistics sector for over 48 years – what drew you in initially?

After college I travelled around Europe in a camper van and when I returned home to London I signed up for unemployment benefits. I was given a pile of business cards and told to get a job. The first card I picked up had a West London address so I caught the bus to Uxbridge. My future career and life was now mapped out, although I had no idea at the time! I knocked on door, went upstairs for the interview and they said: when can you start? I said now if you like and 10 years later I was still there! The company was Norman Global Logistics and there were four of us when I began.

Tell me about your work in North America?

I met a Canadian woman on the tube who was visiting London on holiday and fell madly in love. Two years later we married in Windsor and left to go to Canada where we remained for 25+ years – working in USA and Canada, travelling around the world and raising two daughters.

How did you get into e-commerce?

I got the e-commerce bug when I joined a dotcom company in Miami back in 1998. We had developed a global door to door programme – one of the first! I then started my own business and established operations in USA / Canada / UK and the Middle East with sales offices in Hong Kong and Australia. I developed the Global Ship Programme for eBay and then sold the company to Landmark/bpost in October 2013. This meant I then had to start my next venture from scratch.

Tell me about eCom Global systems

I’ve spent the last four years developing the eCom Global Systems cloud-based program which is focused on Returns Management and mobile apps. I’ve also been working on our market platform which is integrated to eBay and other multichannels which we need in order to sell products including returns back into the local market. We also do fulfilment and distribution as part of our cloud-based global logistics programme. The programme is more focused on B2B, and the underlying business ethos is eco-friendly for our clients.

What has been the most significant change to the sector over the years?

The key drivers were the internet broadband speed increases which enabled safe card payments and faster downloads with more e-tailers joining the internet world of e-commerce offering more and more diverse products faster to market. Artificial intelligence is also a driver and the future is very positive and even more so for the B2B sector.

In what ways is the sector still the same as when you started out?

The basics are still fundamentally the same drivers i.e. broadband speed, now heading towards 5G and secure payments but most of the developments have been the improvements in courier and postal programmes, fulfilment, barcoding and customs formalities. Without these key advancements leaders like Amazon, eBay, Alibaba (and ourselves of course), would never have come
into fruition.

What are the key challenges of returns for the sector?

Domestic returns and international returns are two very different entities. The costs are equally disparate. Domestic returns don’t have Customs requirements whereas international returns require Customs formalities for both export and reimport. Any e-tailer looking to go beyond its national borders needs to have a comprehensive returns program like ReverseGear. Failure to understand cross border will have severe consequences to the bottom line and success of the global e-commerce programme. We have overcome the majority of the hurdles for opening in new countries without the associated set up costs. So e-tailers can test and market their products in a controlled environment and minimise the cost and reduce their return rates.

This article is an extract from the Spring Edition of MER Magazine published in February 2020. You can read the full article as well as other articles from MER for free by becoming a member of Post & Parcel today.

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The Mail & Express Review (MER) Magazine is our quarterly print publication. Packed with original content and thought-provoking features, MER is a must-read for those who want the inside track on the industry.


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