But what happens to the returns?
Fast, easy and as stress-free as possible – when shopping, we like it uncomplicated. In the age of digitization, the Internet offers us just that: a virtual shopping center far away from the hustle and bustle. With just a few clicks, the object of desire lands out of the shopping cart in our wardrobe. As if by magic one could say. But isn’t that almost too easy? And who are the victims of the online shopping craze? We took a look behind the scenes of the big online retailers.
Overcrowded shopping malls? No thanks!
It could be so nice. But the quite tantalizing idea of a relaxed shopping spree is often overshadowed by the eternal search for a parking lot, overcrowded shops, and endless queues at the locker rooms. Especially in the last weeks of each year, just before the Christmas holidays call for peace and reflection, the inner cities seem to be bursting at the seams. Reason enough to simply follow the Christmas preparations from your home sofa. In general, in recent years the trend has moved away from a stationary shopping experience. Instead, online shops and mail order companies are becoming increasingly important. According to the online portal Trusted Shops, every German makes an average of 24 online orders a year – this makes two orders per month. 1 2018 resulted in an annual turnover of 53 billion euros for the e-commerce market – forecasts are that sales will even increase in 2019. 2 About half of the German online buyers pay attention to a free and fast delivery when ordering. About 40 percent of respondents expect a delivery on the same day; usually shipping should take no longer than three days. In international comparison, Germans are among the most demanding consumers. 3
❞ Instead of simply ordering an article, we should first ask ourselves why we really opened the online shop: Because we really need one of the products? Or rather on a whim? ❝
Free return as an exclusion criterion
Although the online trade (compared to the stationary purchase by car) is said to be a more climate-friendly transport balance, the supposedly positive environmental balance could falter in the future. The main reason for this is the high return rate of many orders, which is gradually becoming a burden for the online shops as well. Because in addition to a free and the most up-to-date delivery of goods, the majority of consumers also calls for the possibility of a free return, which is regularly used by around 70 percent of all buyers. According to estimates by the Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, 280 million articles are sent back each year. 4 The most frequently mentioned reasons for a return are the lack of quality, defective articles or wrong sizes. Especially garments are often ordered in different sizes – to make sure that the new pants really fits.
And what really happens with the returns?
The consequence of the popular return policy of many online retailers: Every second, parcels pass through the long production lines of the return centers – sometimes up to 200,000 parcels a day. What happens there varies from company to company. While the shipping giant Amazon caused negative headlines with the daily destruction of goods worth several 10,000 euros last year 5, other online retailers are trying to get damaged goods back into shipping. According to their own statements, 95% of all returns are sighted and rewelded in the Otto Group companies. Only heavily soiled goods that could not be reused, land in the collection of used clothing. How credible such statements are, however, remains questionable. Because the processing of a return alone costs companies around € 1 per article, the transport costs for the return are still on top. It would not only be easier, but also much cheaper to simply dispose of the returned items. In order to solve the problem in the long term, a more conscious buying behavior on the internet is needed. Instead of simply ordering an article, we should first ask ourselves why we really opened the online shop: Because we really need one of the products? Or rather on a whim? Do we really intend to keep the article? Or do we only want to take a look at the product once? To avoid orders due to curiosity or convenience, some online retailers like Otto now point out their customers as soon as the same item of clothing lands in more than three sizes in the shopping cart – with the result that the return rate has already fallen. For the sake of the environment (and your own purse). 4
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