Skip to content
Reclaimit blog

7 out of 10 have returned a product - 5 tips for sustainable returns

Our report "State of Returns and Circular Shopping 2024" shows 98% of the consumers surveyed shop online and 7 out of 10 have at some point returned a product purchased online. This shows how important it is for retailers to have a clear and sustainable return process in place that both meets the high demands of consumers and reduces the company's environmental impact, at a time when sustainability is more important than ever.

With the help of Novus, we have conducted an extensive survey to find out how today's e-commerce shoppers behave. How often do they shop online, what do they buy and what is their returning behavior? The numbers show a large majority of e-commerce customers have returned a product they’ve bought online. The report also shows that 3 out of 4 people who have ever been dissatisfied with a retailer’s return process do not return as a customer to the same store again. These figures really show how important a good returning experience is. 

Three out of four abandon retailer

Common practice: order more items than necessary 

One out of five e-commerce shoppers (19%) say they at some points have ordered more products than they know they will keep, and therefore already know they will make a return. Shopping online is always a gamble when it comes to size and fit, therefore many people order the same product in several colors and sizes to try at home. Any items that don't fit or appeal to them are returned. That itself is not surprising, but it inevitably leads to more returns to be handled. More returns mean a bigger challenge for commerce, especially for those who still managing their returns manually.

More products ordered than they need

Returns are skipped even though the products are not used

The report also shows that far too many people order products they don't bother to return, even though they won't use them. One out of three e-commerce shoppers say they have chosen to keep a product they have bought even though they wanted to return it. This mainly concerns shoes and clothes left unused in a wardrobe.

The most common reason why many people choose to skip a return is because "they can't be bothered". But the second most common reason is that it is too complicated or that the information about the return from the retailer is poor. This is a clear indication that a lot of commerce companies need to simplify and streamline their return processes. 

1 out of three have kept a product

Reasons why the return process needs to be reviewed

These are just a few examples of what the report shows. To summarise it, the number of returns increases when people order more products than they need. At the same time, many don't return products at all because the process is too complicated, which is worse for the environment than making a return.

This put demands on retailers to review their return processes. Today, there are numerous solutions available to help businesses automate and streamline their return processes. This not only leads to easier returns management, but it also leads to more satisfied customers and reduces the carbon footprint.  

5 tips for a sustainable return process

1. Automate the return management

By implementing automated solutions and processes, you can streamline your returns management and minimise the risk of manual errors. This saves a lot of time, resources and results in a faster and smoother returning experience for your customers. It's a win-win situation that's not to be missed at a time when customer satisfaction is perhaps more important than ever.

2. Offer sustainable return options

Several surveys show that sustainability is becoming increasingly important to today's consumers. Companies that actively work to meet these expectations while reducing their carbon footprint will gain more trust from their customers. Therefore, make sure to enable returns in a sustainable way. For example, by using reusable packaging or giving customers the opportunity to return a product purchased online in a physical store. The store can then either resell the product or recycle it, depending on its condition.

3. Optimise the process for logistics 

The transport sector accounts for a large share of carbon dioxide emissions and is therefore an important part to review to create a more sustainable return process. By designing efficient returns logistics, transport distances can be minimised, thereby reducing emissions. Make sure to choose reliable partners so you can feel confident that returns are handled in a sustainable way, also from a transport perspective.

4. Reuse and recycle 

Far from everything that is returned needs to be thrown away. A return is more often about poor fit, a cancelled purchase or, as mentioned earlier, that people buy more products than they will keep. Reuse and recycling of returns is therefore something more companies need to get better at. By recycling products responsibly, you can both reduce your company's waste and maximise the value of the returns. This could mean, for example, repairing defective goods, reusing packaging materials or recycling materials to create new products.

5. Clear customer communication

Always be clear in your communication with your customers, it plays a crucial role in how the return process is perceived. As mentioned above, many have failed to return a product because the information provided by the commerce company is too unclear. Allowing products to remain unused instead of being returned is certainly not an environmentally sustainable option.

Therefore, explain how the company's return process works, what options are available and what the customer can expect. For example, how long it takes for the return to be processed or when a refund is expected. This will minimise uncertainty and frustration for your customers who will not have to spend unnecessary time guessing how their returns will be handled. Clear and transparent communication builds trust and increases customer satisfaction and loyalty over time.

Efficient and smooth returns for a sustainable future

Returns will always be a natural aspect of commerce, particularly in e-commerce. But there is no need to see them as a problem - rather as an opportunity. By implementing sustainable and efficient return processes, retailers can not only minimise costs and increase revenue, but also contribute to a more sustainable future for our planet.

Feel free to download our report "State of Returns and Circular Shopping 2024" for more statistics on return behavior and insights to help you as a retailer move towards automated and sustainable returns.

Anna Fogelström
Published 2024-05-06