More than half a trillion dollars. This is the appraised value of all the things that American buyers bought last year just to get them back – more than the savings Israel or Austria.
There is a direct link from a return to the staggering scale of shopping in the US as a whole. In 2021, American buyers probably spent a a record $ 4.4 trillion.
We’ve tried new brands with unfamiliar sizes by seeing them on TikTok or Instagram. We bribed for the holidays, worried about supply chain delays. And we’ve done online shopping a lot, where the return is in between two to five times more often than when shopping in stores.
Where will it all go? Take the quilt I bought at the holiday sale, only to find that it is too small for my new sofa. So I sent him back. Sorry, quilt! What will happen to this?
“Your quilt is very likely to end up in a landfill,” says Hitendra Chaturvedi, a professor of supply chain management at the University of Arizona who estimates that profits in 2021 have exceeded $ 500 billion. “It’s something consumers don’t understand – a life of return is a very, very sad way.”
Of course, this grim assessment is a bit, well, a general statement. Much depends on the product and store policy. For example, more expensive clothes are more likely to be dry-cleaned and re-sold as new. Sealed, never opened packages can be disinfected and put back on the shelf. Electronics are often resold in an open box.
Value is a big threshold: it’s a product worth the cost sending back plus paying someone for inspection, damage assessment, cleaning, repair or inspection? That’s why stores refuse billions of dollars of goods by returning or replacing them without asking shoppers to send their junk back.
According to experts, retailers throw away about a quarter of their profits. Optoro estimates for returns and resale that each year the return to the U.S. generates nearly 6 billion pounds of garbage at landfills.
Many others are resold to a growing network of intermediary companies that help retailers make a profit. Some go to discount stores, outlets and second-hand stores. Some go to sellers on eBay or other sites. Some donate to charity or recycle.
These options have increased over the past decade, paving the way for more revenue to find a new home, says Marcus Sheng, chief operating officer of B-Stock, an auction platform where retailers can resell their profits, often to small stores.
“Anecdotally,” says Sheng, “we’ve heard – especially with large retailers – that a growing percentage [returned] things go directly to consumers, ”and stores try to resell more profits either themselves or through intermediaries.
Often the return will go from hand to hand many times, and many end up sailing abroad. Chaturveda suggested that this was the most likely fate of my too-small quilt: to roll up in a bale along with other returned clothes and underwear sold by weight to a foreign merchant who would try to sell or perhaps donate it. Otherwise the items will be taken out in the trash or burned.
As a company to compete As for flexible return policies, technology is also gradually improving in order to avoid returns in the first place: helping buyers buy a sweater of the right size or paint a new rug in their room.
Most importantly, Shen says, the buyers themselves get it all the more comfortable with the purchase of things that are not entirely new.
“The idea of this is no longer scary for us, is it?” he says. His return program for the holidays is an electric, self-heating coffee mug that he never opened and is confident he will find a happy new buyer.