Coordinating eCommerce Returns with Sustainable Solutions
January 02, 2022
by Scarlett Buckley

The internet has provided humanity with the world’s largest shopping center. Within just a few clicks almost anything can be ordered to your doorstep. Retailers, competing over this online market space, are desperate to optimize user experience, providing customers with the best service where they can consume with ease.

This customer prioritization has led to environmental degradation, with retailers and the planet taking a hit to ensure that the expectations of customers are met. These expectations are unsustainable and have consequently resulted in this buy and return culture which ultimately cannot be sustained.

49% of retailers now offer free return shipping with free returns becoming an expected norm. 92% of consumers have stated that they will buy something again if returns are easy and 72% of consumers have expressed a desire for free return shipping. The problem is that promoting free returns motivates consumers to buy less consciously, due to the added security that they can send it back without consequences. 

Returns do have consequences though, maybe not to the consumer’s wallet directly, but to the planet, they live on and their retailer’s revenue. Consumers have grown used to this availability of free returns – 51% of shoppers are now consciously overbuying online, knowing that they will return unwanted goods. However, the consequence of this nonchalance when it comes to returning items has resulted in 5 billion pounds of returned goods going to landfill each year. 

There is a rise in conscious consumption and people are slowly realizing the repercussions of the buy and return culture. 83% of customers surveyed in the US consider the environment when making purchase decisions and 78% mention that companies could be doing more to help them be more environmentally friendly.

So, it is obvious that the current system in place for returns is broken; the environment is suffering, retailers are losing billions in revenue, and consumers driving these trends want companies to help them be more conscious. Therefore, it is pretty evident that retailers must look for ways that they can adapt and encompass sustainable returns policies into their business.

What can retailers do to mitigate the returns problem?

  • Optimize product descriptions

By optimizing product descriptions and providing as much information about the product and its quality as possible, customers are less likely to be surprised when they open their order and less likely to send it back. Some of the main reasons customers return are due to products not fitting or meeting their expectations.

Include images that represent the items’ color, fit, and detail. Use a variety of models that help to incorporate different body types, so people can visualize how it might fit on them. Additionally, try to be as honest as possible about the size, allowing customers to feel confident that it will fit and look good on them. One of the best ways to prevent returns is to give the customer the order that they envisioned when they clicked purchase.

  • Provide information on the ecological impacts of shipping and returns

Customers want to know more about their ecological footprint – the world is on fire, yet people are unaware of the actions that light the flame. Therefore, by pushing for conscious consumerism, providing information, and educating them about how returns work and the damage inflicted from them, people are less likely to buy blindly and return. Online shopping has allowed consumers to buy irresponsibly with no idea of how their behavior impacts the world – if they are told, then it might make them think again before buying 2 different sizes of one dress, to keep one, return the other.

  • Stop offering free returns

People expect free returns, however, people used to expect free plastic bags at grocery stores!! The more the narrative is adapted to the needs of the planet, the more consumers will adapt to it. If the reasoning behind not offering free returns is explained, and the gravity of the situation, then consumers might actually value the companies that are considering the environment, over those that are prioritizing mass convenience and consumption.

  • Discourage large orders that may be returned

Our homes have become our own private changing rooms. Instead of going into brick-and-mortar stores to try on items we might like, we buy a multitude of things and then send back what we don’t like. It might seem difficult from a retailer’s point of view because sales are the driver of business, but large orders which allow people to do this need to be discouraged. In the long term, retailers will save money because they are not trying to figure out their reverse logistical chain of handling unwanted returns.

  • Invest in technology

As technology has given consumers a platform for buying and returning, it has also given a sustainable solution. People are never going to stop returning; you can discourage, educate, prohibit returns or optimize descriptions; however, the truth is people will always have things they do not like, that are defective and or just don’t fit. So, as much as returns can be discouraged, they can never be prevented.

ReturnGO’s AI-powered sustainable returns solution can help businesses recover the loss from returns, whilst offering customers the best user experience and protecting the planet. Returns logistics does not have to be a difficult or a costly investment, it is just one that has to be done. 

Therefore, with our exchange-first returns platform, you can provide a return and exchange experience that will not only retain the sale but also get you the best long-term repeat customers and minimize environmental damage.

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