By Jenny Suri

Reverse Return Culture - How to Get What You Want and Keep It!  Image of Balloon with Earth.

Ever wonder what happens to an item once you return it?

According to the Guardian, 88% of shoppers think their returns go back on the shelf and are resold. That is not always the case.

Americans return 30% of online purchases, more than $816 billion worth of merchandise. Many of those returns end up in a landfill, creating over 5 billion pounds of waste annually.
You can reverse the trend. Sustainable gifting expert and entrepreneur, Tracey Alexandria Lynch, presents easy solutions with a huge return for consumers. Her book, Donum: Creating a Sustainable Gifting Experience, co-written with son, Roderic Strozier II, illuminates the environmental problems of easy returns so that we can see our way to ”help alleviate the massive waste of resources, save shoppers time, and help solve the problems that reverse logistics simply cannot.”

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What’s creating the problem?

Going in reverse

The supply chain just isn’t designed to work in reverse. Lynch compares the system of getting returns back into the supply chain (reverse logistics) to driving home from work in reverse. It’s inefficient and costly to retailers and the environment.
Optoro, a reverse logistics technology company that works with retailers and manufacturers to manage and resell excess merchandise estimates that returns cost retailers about 66% of the original sale price. And they create over 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year–the equivalent output of 3 million cars. The returns that do make it back to be resold can take up to 45 days to get back into inventory.

Making it too easy

Online retailers make returns easy so that people will buy more. 92% of consumers will buy something again if returns are easy and 79% of consumers want free return shipping. Retailers will continue to give people what they want so they can move their merchandise forward, not considering how difficult it is if it comes back.

Buy and Return Culture

Consumers also bear some blame for wasteful returns. It is normal to return things that don’t fit, are damaged or aren’t what was expected, but often customers will buy things with the intention to return them. Ethique steered us to a global survey that found that 40% of consumers between 21-44 “commonly purchase clothing online with the firm intention of returning them.” This includes such practices as:
    • Bracketing–buying one size above and below the right size to see which one fits best and sending back what doesn’t.
    • “Snap and Send Back”–buying products online with the express purpose of taking a photo with them to post on social media and returning them.
    • Retail borrowing, wardrobing or renting –ordering online with the intention of sending things back after using or wearing them.


We often just buy the wrong thing. Lynch finds that people will buy gifts that satisfy themselves without asking for gift suggestions. She states “If you say ‘they can return it if they don’t want it’ then you’ve already gone too far and created a return.” In fact, according to the National Retail Federation “ More than half of shoppers (55 percent) say they will return or exchange any unwanted gifts or holiday items within the first month after receiving them.”

“The take-back has to be taken back”

—Tracey Alexandria Lynch

How to Reduce Returns

Returns have become a part of life. Customers expect to be able to return an item that is unsatisfactory. Both sellers and buyers can take steps to reduce the number of wasteful returns, thereby reducing our carbon footprint.
Retailers should help customers make more informed decisions and: Make their return system transparent by letting customers know what happens to their returns Limit returns or change their return policy to discourage unnecessary returns Improve product descriptions online so that customers know exactly what they are buying by using high-quality images and video and more detailed explanations.
 Customers can follow these suggestions from Lynch: Search for earth friendly products Buy things that are durable and don’t need to be replaced often Find out what people really want (and only buy what you really need)
Lynch reminds us that this is a “right now message”. We need to reverse the trend of return culture now to save the planet. We can start by doing a few things differently to tip us in the direction of a more sustainable shopping experience.
Reduce returns by giving the gift of experience. Tinggly offers experience and get-away gifts that your loved ones will enjoy and remember.

What’s on your wishlist? Share it with a friend or with us in the comments below.

Softly! can help you find earth friendly gifts for yourself and others. Download Softly to find gifts that are sustainable and earth friendly.


The hidden environmental cost of your free holiday returns | Environment | The Guardian

Op-Ed: We send back 30% of what we buy online. How our return culture alters the supply chain

See inside a massive warehouse that handles returned clothes for major fashion brands

Gen Z is Watching: How to Court Younger Consumers With More Sustainable Return Policies

Optoro 2018 Impact Report

E-commerce Product Return Rate – Statistics and Trends [Infographic]

The Logistics of Online Clothing Returns in Sweden and How to Reduce its Environmental Impact

NRF | Nearly 148 million Americans plan to shop Super Saturday

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