The chorus goes on and on like a broken record. (Remember what a record is?)

Purchase, Receive, Return

Purchase, Receive, Return

Purchase, Receive, Return

The retail industry has gotten used to 30% of online purchases being returned.


This number sounds fantastical, but it is a standard quoted average for global retail.

The retail industry are used to it, but they don’t like it. In the United States, the returns business amounts to over a quarter-of-a-trillion-dollars a year. This number is set to double within three years. In Europe, a billion packages circulate the continent making their way from whence they were purchased. In about half of the instances they will make is back to the stores, in the other half the products are eliminated, incinerated, buried or sold for next to nothing. Then there’s the unspoken elephant in the room: the carbon footprint. Just imagine for those billions of global returns the fuel consumption, packaging, resources that are needed (whether time, personnel or facilities) to deal with this entire returns process. At what point do we take a critical look at the cost of returns and say enough is enough?

So what’s an industry got to do to break the refrain? Many experts contend that consumer is key. Expose the costs of the returns, and the consumer will take more responsibility for his or her purchase habits. Others propose that more information is key: provide clearer specifications and augment the end-product’s look-and-feel and the consumer is less likely to receive a product that they feel compelled to return, because it doesn’t match their expectations. Still others, look at ways to make the returns, cheaper, faster more efficient. But none of these steps individually are so much more than a band-aid on a gaping wound.

It’s time to look for a more holistic process. One that takes into account the principles of circular economy and sustainability. A process that puts the consumers and retailers in the same proverbial choir, and says, “sing in ensemble: not each one to his or her own tune/pitch/beat.” Maybe then the expensive and repetitive returns cacophony, will be turned into a harmonious and melodic refrain.