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W16502

GREENDUST: REVOLUTIONIZING THE RETURNS PROCESS

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Mohita Gangwar Sharma, Jitendra K. Das, and K. N. Singh wrote this case solely to provide material for class discussion. The authors
do not intend to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a managerial situation. The authors may have disguised certain
names and other identifying information to protect confidentiality.

This publication may not be transmitted, photocopied, digitized or otherwise reproduced in any form or by any means without the

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permission of the copyright holder. Reproduction of this material is not covered under authorization by any reproduction rights
organization. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, contact Ivey Publishing, Ivey Business School, Western
University, London, Ontario, Canada, N6G 0N1; (t) 519.661.3208; (e) cases@ivey.ca; www.iveycases.com.

Copyright © 2016, Richard Ivey School of Business Foundation Version: 2016-08-25

In a 2014 interview, GreenDust’s founder, Hitendra Chaturvedi, mentioned that he believed the firm would
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make profits of US$1 billion1 in less than two years. GreenDust—the world’s fastest-growing omni-channel
value brand that used reverse logistics as a sourcing engine—had achieved a benchmark in the industry by
clocking the fastest $150 million run rate and achieving profitability within five years of its inception.
GreenDust was a company established in 2009 to sell branded, unused, seconds, surplus, and refurbished
products at lower prices. Chaturvedi believed that markets were eager to see an environmentally responsible
but profitable business:
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Here is a business that will not only make pockets feel warm, but also the hearts! It is a profit-
making model and our franchise stores are getting higher margins retailing refurbished products
compared to those retailing new products. Reverse logistics is not the core competency of the
companies retailing new products, and returned goods also incur costs to the company. So these
unused, aesthetically dented but functionally fine or [slightly defective products] are refurbished
and sold at our discount stores or warehouse stores at [an] approximately 50 per cent discount with
[a] warranty over a regular new product.
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The CEO said: “My aspiration is to have a model coming out of India and expanding into emerging
markets.” The CEO explored four key areas:

1. A buyback/exchange program for end-users who could avail of it at any of the franchise stores.
Currently, reverse logistics companies (RLCs) dealt in categories such as mobile phones, laptops,
cameras, electronics, kitchenware, and personal care items.
2. Exploring environmentally conscious buyers as a target segment.
3. Expansion into other emerging markets. The company wanted to explore other emerging markets like
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Bangladesh, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Thailand, where refurbished goods would have
significant potential. How was it an imitable and adaptable model that could be scaled in such
territories? (See Exhibits 1, 2, and 3.)

1
All currency amounts are in U.S. dollars.

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4. Product category expansion. Chaturvedi said, “We want to enter other possible categories for this

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business.”

COMPANY BACKGROUND

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Founded in 2010, GreenDust was launched in India and capitalized on the country’s intelligent, technology-
savvy and cost-effective workforce to build an innovative, open-source, technology platform that helped
solve the return problems of retailers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The company further
integrated that platform with a first-of-its-kind, hybrid, online-offline, retail model where returns—after
going through a stringent repair and quality control process—were offered at highly discounted prices to
value-conscious consumers. GreenDust gave these customers the option of an extended warranty, with
stellar results, and also planned to monetize the extensive repair and defect information from many brands
and products by using it to give consumers data-driven advice before they made any purchase decisions.

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GreenDust had total store space spread over a million square feet and 14 repair centres connected with over
250 franchise stores that also served as fulfillment centres for online sales and collection centres for its
SmartExchange program. Just in India, GreenDust’s physical infrastructure had the capability to reach over
300 million potential consumers. It also had a services network that covered over 350 cities and provided
after-sales service. Chaturvedi believed that GreenDust had the building blocks to make itself the
destination point for consumers, starting from decision-making and continuing through purchases, service,
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and the disposal of consumer goods.

GreenDust had already started to pursue an aggressive international expansion strategy with offices in
Dubai, Hong Kong, and the United States, and it would soon expand to Africa, the Russian Commonwealth,
the rest of South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Chaturvedi believed that every company across every category
of products had returns, surpluses, and damages. The United States alone generated more than $350 billion
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in returns every year, and most companies did not have a systematic way to manage the returns process and
to find homes for these orphaned products. GreenDust’s model not only provided transparency to brands
and retailers on where their returns were ending up, but also helped companies contribute to corporate social
responsibility and green initiatives.

INSPIRATION
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Chaturvedi made a promise to himself that when he turned 60 and looked back on his life, he would not
have any regrets. “I have seen so many retired people who longingly wanted to bat another inning so they
can take a crack at things they always wanted to do but could not. For me, it is here and now, one life to
live, and there is so much to do!”

INDIAN PRE-OWNED MARKET: HIGHLY UNORGANIZED, PROFITABLE SECTOR


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In India, more than $12 billion in unbranded, local, and pre-owned products were spread across a highly
unorganized sector. Some concentrated but fragmented centres in the metropolitan areas formed hubs, like
Chor Bazaar (Mumbai), Lamington Road (Mumbai), Gaffar Market (Delhi), and Nehru Place (Delhi).
These markets were “recession-proof.” The margins that these “pre-owned dealers” worked on were
between 80 and 100 per cent. Some estimates put Nehru Place’s turnover at approximately $5 million to $6
million per day. There was no customer after-sales service for items purchased from these dealers, which

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led to apprehension about the reliability and genuineness of the products. Often, these sellers seemed to be

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“fly-by-night” operators, and hence, totally unaccountable.2

OEM AND RETAIL: THE SOURCING ENGINE

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More than 80 per cent of consumers surveyed by GreenDust showed that a bad experience while returning
products diminished the chances of a decision to re-purchase from the same retailer/manufacturer. Indian
consumers demanded a proactive approach to returns, which became a driver for growth in the competitive
era. Research indicated that the cost of returning electronic goods was close to 50 per cent of their value
(see Exhibit 4). To maximize the return on assets, the product had to reach the market as quickly as possible.
GreenDust used analytics software to proactively dispose of returned, refurbished, overstocked, and surplus
products as early as possible without cannibalizing the new product sales channels (see Exhibit 5). In the
process, the leakages were reduced by 80 per cent across the supply chain. The cluttered warehouses were

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cleared. There was phenomenally high asset recovery from timely and appropriate disposition (see Exhibit
6). The returns data had never been collected previously. It was collated and analyzed to help understand
the products and markets. The top OEMs and retailers for GreenDust included Lenovo, LG, Samsung, Acer,
Big Bazaar, Dell, Toshiba, and Whirlpool.

GreenDust adopted diverse channels and tiers to collect rejected or returned goods from OEMs, retailers,
and e-tailers. These were straight purchases from the vendors or consignment stock and GreenDust resold
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them. Chaturvedi stated, “Currently, the majority of our goods are purchased from vendors. But we opt for
a consignment-based model for products that lose value very fast.”

WHY REVERSE SUPPLY CHAINS MATTER


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Mindset

In India, almost 80 per cent of Indian customers switched loyalties once they had a bad return experience.
A structured returns process would surely improve the return experience, thus enhancing brand loyalty for
OEMs, retailers, and e-tailers.

Logistics
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In most cases, the cost to process a return became much larger than the value of the product. Proper reverse
logistics could reduce the returns processing cost by almost 25 per cent.

Product Characteristics

Returned products were “perishable assets,” losing value every day. Electronic products lost 30 per cent of
their value in four months. Considering the perishability of these products and the temporal loss of value
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(see Exhibit 7), rapid turnaround of refurbished goods could increase asset recovery by almost three times.

2
N. Singal, “As Good As New,” Business Today, September 27, 2015, accessed October 15, 2015,
www.businesstoday.in/magazine/technology/refurbished-gadgets-as-good-as-new-market-sale-value-
discount/story/223489.html.

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Analytics

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The lack of insights from returns data was hindering the improvement of revenue, growth, and profitability.
Returns analysis allowed for strategic merchandising, defect analysis, understanding customer abuse
patterns, marketing and customer demographic assessment, and improving efficiency and productivity by
up to 10 per cent.

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Sustainability

There was a liability from non-compliance with e-waste regulations. A firm could comply with e-waste
regulations, could be the leader in building a “green” image, and could mitigate any liability.

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UNDERSTANDING THE INDIAN CONSUMER: BENEFIT MAXIMIZERS

India, as an emerging economy, had a very strong middle class and cultural roots. This meant an extremely
price-sensitive consumer. The shopping mall only served as an outlet for window shopping and gauging
prices, serving more as an outing in an air-conditioned environment. Real shopping happened when there
was a “discount.” There were three broad segments in the Indian market: premium (10 per cent), popular
(30 per cent), and discount (60 per cent). The paradigm of premium-popular-discount, which equalled rich-
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middle-poor, was irrelevant; the new construct was value orientation. Indian consumers were “benefit
maximizers.”3 In markets that had historically favoured small producers, the “unorganized,” small-scale
buyers were far greater in number than the large-scale, organized-sector buyers. In India, many small buyers
who purchased low-priced equipment or services had the capability to create a market as large in value as
that created by large buyers.
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PERSPECTIVES ON VALUE, QUALITY, AND CULTURE

Value could be considered to be how the consumers understood the utility of a product in regards to what
they were giving to get it.4 The value proposition of GreenDust—which was not purely on price—was in
providing a warranty consistent with refurbished products.5 This warranty could fetch a higher price, but it
also meant resources for establishing after-sales services like technical capability, capacity, spare inventory,
logistics support, and IT infrastructure. Once the customers were satisfied with the performance and support
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services of the refurbished products, sustainable growth was ensured.

The value-based approach to quality regarded a quality product as one that provided performance at an
acceptable price. The eight dimensions of quality6 were performance, features, reliability, conformance,
durability, serviceability, aesthetics, and perceived quality. A country’s culture was one of the most
important environmental factors underlying differences in consumer behaviour.7 The six cultural

3
R. Bijapurkar, Winning in the Indian Market: Understanding the Transformation of Consumer India (Singapore: Wiley,
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2007).
4
V. A. Zeithaml, “Consumer Perceptions of Price, Quality and Value: A Means-End Model and Synthesis of Evidence,” Journal
of Marketing 52, no. 3 (July 1988): 2–22.
5
G. Ferrer and D. C. Whybark, “From Garbage to Goods: Successful Remanufacturing Systems and Skills,” Business
Horizons 43, no. 6 (November–December 2000): 55–64.
6
D. A. Garvin, “Competing on the Eight Dimensions of Quality,” Harvard Business Review (November–December 1987): 101–
109, accessed December 4, 2015. Available from Ivey Publishing, product no. 87603.
7
M. Lynn, G. M. Zinkhan, and J. Harris, “Consumer Tipping: A Cross-Country Study,” Journal of Consumer Research 20,
no. 3 (1993): 478–488.

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dimensions given by Hofstede were power distance, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance,

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pragmatism, and indulgence (see Exhibit 8). As Chaturvedi said, “Indian consumers inherently are
extremely value conscious and on the lookout [for] stretching the utility of their hard-earned money without
compromising on quality and service.”

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AFTER-SALES SERVICE SUPPLY CHAIN

Innovative businesses offered solutions instead of products, so selling spare parts and after-sales service
was an integral part of the offering.8 After-sales service was tricky and could be profitable only for very
efficient companies. Although customers knew that the products might fail, they expected the
manufacturer’s support to repair them and reduce the downtime. This was a difficult proposition and the
importance of after-sales service was undermined (see Exhibit 3).

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GREENDUST’S BUSINESS MODEL AND IN-HOUSE PROCESS

The GreenDust business model consisted of refurbishing the returns and selling them at approximately 50
per cent of the original price through its channel while still making a decent margin in the process.
GreenDust had to convey quality and trust. The sourced products, which were factory seconds of branded
companies such as LG, Samsung, and Sony, went through strict inspections and repairs with genuine parts
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from the original companies. Thereafter, products received a GreenDust certified sticker, were placed under
warranty, and were sold. The company also offered a 15-day replacement guarantee. The twelve steps in
the refurbishment process included:

1. Strategic Sourcing: Retailer relationship management and contract negotiations.


2. Inspection and Procurement: GreenDust inspected products (pre-delivery) and collected returned
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(factory seconds/refurbished) products from OEMs, retailers/e-tailers, and customers.


3. Identification of Defects: GreenDust’s skilled technicians fixed/troubleshot the products to understand
the likely issues and defects and learned which parts needed repairs or replacement.
4. Repairing: The company performed the necessary repairs and refurbishment of products at its Value
Added Centres to ensure full functionality using genuine spare parts from OEMs.
5. Disposal of Non-repairable: Products that could not be repaired to GreenDust’s satisfaction were kept
aside and disposed of as e-waste in an environmentally friendly manner.
6. Quality Check: The next step was a 50-Point Quality Check to ensure that products were restored to
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like-new condition.
7. Packaging & Labelling: Products were sanitized and labelled with non-removable GreenDust “Certified
Refurbished” stickers.
8. Marketing (Online and Offline): This included digital, social (such as Facebook and Google), email,
search engine optimization, and social media optimization on the online front, plus below-the-line ads
(banners and flyers) and above-the-line ads (TV ads) on the offline front.
9. Sales (Online and Offline): There was an integrated strategy to sell online and fulfill orders offline. The
hybrid online and offline model included GreenDust.com, franchise stores, and the reseller channel.
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10. Dispatch: Products were dispatched to GreenDust stores, the franchise network, and dealers, and were
listed on the website for consumers to buy.
11. Warranty & Extended Warranty: On purchase of the product, GreenDust activated a one-year warranty
supported by a pan-India after-sales service network. Customers could also choose an extended

8
M. A. Cohen, N. Agrawal, and V. Agrawal, “Winning in the Aftermarket,” Harvard Business Review, May 2006, accessed
December 4, 2015. Available from Ivey Publishing, product no. A0605H.

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warranty plan to strengthen the product’s life. GreenDust had around 600 service centres throughout

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India to provide technical support. GreenDust Certified Technicians (G-Force) and 90 Mobile Service
vans provided after-sales service (see Exhibit 9).
12. Customer Care Centre

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BEING “GREEN”

A company could get a strategic edge by understanding and focusing on the issues of environmentally
conscious consumers by continuously innovating and building itself up as a green company.9 GreenDust
was an enabler of manufacturers and retailers adhering to e-waste regulations. It was a “green” company
because it supported the four Rs—reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle—thereby mitigating pollution. Ideally,
the environment must absorb the waste generated from economic activities. That is, during the production
and consumption of products, the mass and energy released that were not required were termed pollutants

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if not used up immediately by another production process.10 Bringing products back to life from the verge
of being scrapped was like giving them a second life. This way, the amount of pollutants that would have
gone into the environment was reduced drastically. The company stopped over three million products from
becoming scrap. Most importantly, GreenDust contributed to the protection of the environment by reducing
waste generated and ensuring that e-waste stayed out of landfills.
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ENVISIONING GROWTH AND THE RESOURCE-BASED VIEW OF THE FIRM

The resource-based view proposed an inside-out view of the firm. Internal resources were valuable, rare,
inimitable, and non-substitutable, making them possible for businesses to use to maintain a competitive
advantage.11 GreenDust’s online business-to-consumer offering (GreenDust.com) formed almost 30 per
cent of its revenues. It saw around 20,000 transactions on a monthly basis with an average order value of
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around $85 (₹5,000). The remaining 70 per cent of the revenues came from the resellers and the franchise
stores, wherein each contributed 35 per cent. These were monthly orders, as the products came in bulk. As
per CEO Chaturvedi, the company posted revenues of $45 million in FY2012/13 and $87 million in
FY2013/14.
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9
R. Dahlstrom, Green Marketing Management (Mason, Ohio: South-Western Cengage Learning, 2010), 328.
10
J. K. Das, “Responding to Green Concerns: The Roles of Government and Business,” Vikalpa 27, no. 1 (2002): 3–11.
11
J. Barney, “Firm Resources and Sustained Competitive Advantage,” Journal of Management 17, no. 1 (1991): 99–120.

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EXHIBIT 1: LOGISTICS PERFORMANCE INDEX OF VARIOUS COUNTRIES, 2014

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Logistics
Overall LPI Tracking and
Infrastructure quality and Timeliness
score tracing
competence
Country Score Rank Score Rank Score Rank Score Rank Score Rank
Thailand 3.43 35 3.40 30 3.29 38 3.45 33 3.96 29

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Vietnam 3.15 48 3.11 44 3.09 49 3.19 48 3.49 56
Indonesia 3.08 53 2.92 56 3.21 41 3.11 58 3.53 50
India 3.08 54 2.88 58 3.03 52 3.11 57 3.51 51
Philippines 3.00 57 2.60 75 2.93 61 3.00 64 3.07 90
Sri Lanka 2.70 89 2.23 126 2.91 66 2.76 85 3.12 85
Nepal 2.59 105 2.26 122 2.50 107 2.72 87 3.06 92
Bangladesh 2.56 108 2.11 138 2.64 93 2.45 122 3.18 75

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Source: “Logistics Performance Index,” The World Bank Group, accessed April 20, 2014, http://lpi.worldbank.org/about.

EXHIBIT 2: ANNUAL HOUSEHOLD CONSUMPTION 2010—ICT SECTOR IN $ (MILLIONS)

Household final
consumption expenditure Lowest Low Middle Higher
Country (annual % growth)
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Vietnam 4.9 452.19 984.45 218.54 15.17
Thailand 4.4 66.41 1,692.98 2,101.39 479.99
Sri Lanka 14.7 55.67 338.91 130.96 12.54
India 5.0 7,133.06 6,304.06 2,017.28 66.89
Nepal 5.2 334.68 416.38 85.21 5.09
Philippines 6.6 339.14 1,057.90 542.35 15.83
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Bangladesh 4.5 715.08 527.54 30.27 2.29

Source: “Global Consumption Database,” The World Bank Group, accessed May 31, 2014,
http://datatopics.worldbank.org/consumption.

EXHIBIT 3: GDP PER CAPITA AND POPULATION DATA OF SELECTED COUNTRIES, 2013
No

Country GDP per capita ($) Population


Philippines 2,587 96,706,764
Bangladesh 752 154,695,368
Sri Lanka 2,923 20,328,000
Vietnam 1,755 88,772,900
Thailand 5,480 66,785,001
Indonesia 3,557 246,864,191
India 1,503 1,295,291,543
Nepal 690 27,474,377
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Source: The World Bank Group, accessed May 16, 2014, www.worldbank.org.

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EXHIBIT 4: COST OF RETURNS FOR A DIGITAL RETAILER, 2013

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Data for an order size of $12

Activity Cost as % of value


Customer service calls to process returns 10
Return shipment logistics cost 10

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Sorting and warehousing cost 15
Payment processing 4
Other overheads 2
Cost of asset recovery 5
Inventory carrying cost 10
Insurance and taxes 2
Total cost 58

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Source: Company records.

EXHIBIT 5: TECHNOLOGICAL PROCESS FLOW DIAGRAM FOR GREENDUST


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Source: Company Records.

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EXHIBIT 6: SUMMARY OF GREENDUST’S REPORT CARD WITH A DIGITAL RETAILER

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Measure Before GreenDust After GreenDust
Time it takes to get data on a returned item 20–45 days 1 day
Time to get returned item in warehouse 30–45 days 7 days
Cost to process single return (label removal, unboxing, $6.67 $5
repair, warehousing, sorting, etc.)

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Source: Company records.

EXHIBIT 7: DIFFERENCES IN MARGINAL VALUE OF TIME FOR RETURNS

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Time-Insensitive Product
% Loss in Value

Time-Sensitive Product
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Time

Source: J. D. Blackburn, V. D. Guide, G. C. Souza, and L. N. Van Wassenhove, “Reverse Supply Chains for Commercial
Returns,” California Management Review 46, no. 2 (Winter 2004): 6–22, accessed December 4, 2015. Available from Ivey
Publishing, product no. CMR273.

EXHIBIT 8: HOFSTEDE’S 6-D MODEL FOR SPECIFIC COUNTRIES


No

Country PD IND MAS UA PRA IND


Philippines 94 32 64 44 27 42
Bangladesh 80 20 55 60 47 20
Sri Lanka 80 35 10 45 45
Vietnam 70 20 40 30 57 35
Thailand 64 20 34 64 32 45
Indonesia 78 14 46 48 62 38
India 77 48 56 40 51 26
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Nepal 65 30 40 40
United States 40 91 62 46 26 68
Hong Kong 68 25 57 29 61 17

PD = Power Distance; IND = Individualism; MAS = Masculinity; UA = Uncertainty Avoidance; PRA = Pragmatism;
Source: The Hofstede Centre, “India,” accessed May 10, 2014, http://geert-hofstede.com/india.html.

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EXHIBIT 9: GREENDUST PRODUCT SALES—SOME TERMS AND CONDITIONS

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The Products will not carry any OEM Warranty. GreenDust offers a functional warranty of one year on
all GreenDust Certified products, unless otherwise specified.
The GreenDust warranty effectiveness starts from the date of purchase and shall remain in force for a
period of one year. The warranty automatically expires on the completion of [a] one-year period.
GreenDust extended warranty can be availed of on a chargeable basis. Log on to www.greendust.com

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/ alternatively call GreenDust’s toll free number, 1 800 102 3878 / visit a GreenDust store for more
details.
No separate warranty card shall be provided to validate the GreenDust warranty. The invoice for the
product shall be used to exercise & honour the warranty, if required. No warranty claim will be
entertained in the absence of an invoice.
Products sold by GreenDust may have dents, scratches & aesthetic damages. However, the products
will be functionally ok.
The external packing of the product may not be the original packing or may be in torn / mutilated

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condition.
Operation manuals in some models may be missing. GreenDust will not provide missing manuals and
non-standard accessories. Products are offered for sale on an as-is where-is basis.
All labour and service limited to inspection / examination only are free under the warranty period.
Cleaning and wet / dry servicing do not fall in the purview of labour / service charges. Parts used
(repaired or replaced) other than functional parts will be chargeable. Parts may be used or refurbished.
Cartage for pick-up / delivery shall be charged wherever applicable. No reimbursement in respect of
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carry-in service will be entertained.
Functional parts include all electrical, electronic, printed circuit boards, mechanical, electromechanical
parts.
Non-functional parts such as aesthetic, plastic, metallic, painted, hose pipes, installation-related
problems, knob, handle, failure due to liquid / water spillage, accessories such as CD manuals, power
cords, cable, carry case, batteries, software, physically damaged, burnt, parts exposed to unnatural
weather / water / corrosive liquids, damage due to fire, rodents, theft, riots, accidents & force majeure,
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etc., do not fall in the purview of warranty.


Any damage to LCD panels will not be covered under any warranty.
Products picked up for offsite repairs shall be stored, repaired, tested, and inspected at the customer’s
risk.

Source: GreenDust company records. 


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