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So here it is. I’ve made several purchases over the past few hours from different online stores. It’s exciting, exhilarating and fun. There’s nothing like retail therapy. However, let’s be honest, there’s a whole other “dark” side to online purchases. Another player for whom these sales are like double-edged swords: on the one end a gargantuan leap in revenues, and on the other end, a titanic wave of online product returns. And we all know how that story ended. This journey will begin on Friday and will come crashing down following the Christmas sales in December.

Within the next few days as we receive our goodies, and we begin to decide what to keep and what to send back, the nightmare for the online retailer will begin. Every day couriers, trucks and delivery services will circulate neighborhoods and return spots; and like an army of ants will pick up item by item. These items will be accumulated and be sent to be resorted, redistributed, resent, resold, recycled or trashed. Warehouses will be inundated. All hands will be needed to open box by box. There will be so many boxes that the staff will not be able to open everything. More staff will brought in. More sorting, more inspection, more processing and redistribution. Towers of returns will grow, the fate of which is unclear. What can be resold? What must be refurbished? What has reached it’s end of life because in the weeks that have passed since it was sent back, it is no relevant, desirable, fashionable or worthwhile to deal with for a single second more.

Make no mistake, black Friday is the start of a very bleak time in terms of sustainability. Consider the carbon footprint. Consider the transportation from air, land and sea. Consider the packaging and repackaging. Consider the many hands that will be needed in order to handle the return (it is estimated that returns are handled by at least six people. Now multiply this by the millions of returns that will be made across the world over the next few weeks).

From the perspective of us shoppers, online shopping is easy and returning an online purchase is a right that is — more often than not — legislated. But, like so many things, the destination is less important than the journey. The “how” is more important than the “what”. So, we at OtailO propose that this is not the best we can do. We can change the journey.

Let’s make Black Friday next year and the ensuing seasonal shopping period, a little less bleak.

Want to hear OtailO’s plan for smart and sustainable online product returns management? Let’s talk