Free refunds have become an integral part of the online shopping experience – making it easy to buy something at the touch of a button, try it out at home, and then send it back (along with several other items) if that’s not the case. what you were hoping for.
However, what might surprise you is that these refunds are not necessarily returned online for another customer to buy. Namely, the reverse logistics company Optoro estimates that it is shocking 2.6 million tons of return – often brand new products – ended up at the 2020 landfill in the US alone.
One reason for this is that sorting returns is an expensive challenge for retailers. “Once you return the refund, retailers must inspect each item to determine if it is in good enough condition to do something with it,” says Meagan Knowlton, director of sustainability at Optoro. Vogue. “Historically, we have seen many sellers say that they do not have the time or effort to open and inspect every box, so your returns are piling up somewhere. After a while, they will often throw them away in bulk because it is usually cheaper to send things to landfill than to list them online or pay for shipping to donate them. ”
The amount of online returns alone does not help this problem. It is estimated that people are three times more likely to send something they bought online, compared to something they bought in a store. Due to that, the number of brands is growing, including similar ones Zara and Uniqlo, now charge online refunds. “In my experience, this would be a cost decision, not a sustainability one,” Knowlton comments. “We are looking to see if this will limit any sales [but] I would be reluctant to say that limiting returns in this way will definitely reduce waste. ”
From EverlaneHowever, from a company perspective, charging refunds to customers can help them be more aware of their purchases. “We usually charge a small fee for our international returns because it encourages our customers to be intentional when shopping,” said Agustin Farias, international vice president and general manager at Everlane. “We want our customers to be careful with their purchases and understand the impact of the return process on people and the environment, while continuing to give them the right and ease to do so whenever they need it.”
Of course, waste is not the only problem caused by online returns – carbon emissions from transport are also a major concern. Optoro estimates this 16 million tons CO2 emissions were created by online returns in the US in 2020 – the equivalent of 3.5 million cars on the road in a year. “Transport impacts, including return, contribute approximately 15 percent of our carbon emissions each year,” says Farias. “Combining all of our returns in bulk instead of sending individual orders back to our warehouse by air minimizes packaging waste and reduces carbon emissions.”