Consumers return up to 10% of in-store purchases, the number goes up to to 40% for online purchases. Thats a trillion dollar per year challenge as e-commerce grows exponentially in the next 7-8 years. Is there a solution to this?
This article originally appeared on CNBC.
With the boom in e-commerce, there is huge a side effect: More and more goods getting returned, boosting costs for all retailers.
This can be ground shifting for small businesses.
According to a CNBC article, not being able to see an item in person accounts for part of the difference, but consumers also shop differently online than in-store. They may order multiple sizes or colors to try on at home, and then ship or take back what they don't want, with shipping paid for by the retailer, both ways in some cases.
With costs mounting, understanding why shoppers return items and dealing with the logistics is a key issue that retailers are only beginning to tackle. A number of new businesses are sprouting up in the USA to try and wrangle the problem for retailers. These companies say higher rates of online shopping and more lax return policies are factors contributing to the rise of returns. However, there are more options for what to do with the returns, which can help to keep tons of unwanted items out of landfills and save retailers' profit margins.
Average return rates vary by category, but clothing and shoes bought online typically have the highest rates with 30 to 40 percent returned.
Eric Moriarty, vice president of B-Stock Solutions, a liquidation marketplace said as e-commerce becomes a bigger percentage of retail sales, more returns will be coming back.
"In 2018, it will be somewhere in the area of $400 billion worth of inventory ... with $90 [billion] to $95 billion returned post-holiday," he said.
In the next several years, as e-commerce grows globally, "the amount of returns is going to be over a trillion dollars a year," Tobin Moore, CEO and co-founder of reverse logistics technology company Optoro, said.
Another factor adding to rising returns is more relaxed return policies. As retailers fight for market share in an increasingly competitive industry, return policies are allowing longer windows to bring back items. Also, retailers are often accepting online returns in stores, even if the items were never sold at the store.
According to a Happy Returns survey, nearly three-quarters of Americans say returns are their least favorite part of shopping online, so an easy return system is crucial for retaining shoppers.
More items are returned during and after the holiday season than any other time of year. UPS estimates 1 million returns were made daily during December leading up to Christmas, largely from consumers that shopped early to take advantage of promotions and faster shipping options.
But once the returned goods are back in the hands of a retailer, less than half are resold at full-price, according to Gartner Research. That translates to retailers losing out on 10 percent of sales during the holiday season, a trend that has not improved over the last couple years, and is expected to get worse.
While returns are a big problem for retail, only about 30 percent of the country's largest retailers quantify its full cost and only 23 percent use some kind of technology or software to better manage it, according to Optoro.
In aggregate, "retailers are losing billions and billions of dollars on the way returns are managed," Moore said. "A lot of retailers can add 5 percent to their bottom line by better optimizing the management and resale of their returns."
"Many retailers end up throwing away over 25 percent of their returns," Moore said. "Holistically, that ends up being over 5 billion pounds of goods that end up in landfills a year from returns."
He estimates over the next several years that could swell to 10 billion pounds of returns in landfills around the world.
For the 75 percent that doesn't go to a landfill, the condition of the returned item, the timing of when it's returned, and its location are all key factors in determining what comes next. Some merchandise is inspected and immediately restocked. Some has to be sent for refurbishing or repackaging. Other goods go to a liquidation channel where the items are repurchased by a reseller or consumer. There are occasional scenarios where returned goods are taken apart and components are recycled, or even "upcycled," like turning shoes into a racetrack, Moore said.
Return scenarios have gotten more complicated. More relaxed return policies can mean shoppers return items after a season ends, making it hard to sell a winter coat in March, for example.
Plus, the internet offers retailers an "endless aisle." That means many items are sold online only. If those purchases are returned to a store, the retailer will have a few choices: ship it back to a distribution or processing center; try to resell it as a one-off item in the store; liquidate, donate or recycle it or throw it away.
About 70 percent of high-end apparel can typically be restocked and resold, Moore said. If it's a consumer electronics item or home and garden item that was sealed and isn't anymore, or has any data on it, it has to be repackaged, refurbished and wiped of data. Only around 30 percent of those returned items can go back into stock immediately.
According to a spokesperson for Amazon.com, "once we receive a returned product we conduct a thorough inspection to determine if it can be sold to another customer as either 'new' or 'used.' If sellable as new, it goes back on the shelf. If we determine it can be sold as used, the team takes the necessary steps to ensure it is a quality product that customers will be happy with once purchased. We work hard to reduce the amount that goes to liquidation."
Best Buy uses a number of methods to minimize the cost of returns, including selling open box items on its website and hosting a sales event for open box merchandise right after Christmas. The retailer also has a small number of Best Buy Outlets where open box and slightly damaged major appliances are sold.
B-Stock is another channel Best Buy uses to liquidate merchandise.
"Retailers are looking for new ways to make money and find margin," B-Stock's Moriarty said. "There are macro trends making returns increase over time, and there are better mouse traps out there today that make it less costly to handle a return."
B-Stock builds individual online marketplaces for retailers or brands to sell returned, liquidated or excess merchandise in bulk quantities to certified resellers. Moriarty said the volume of inventory sold on its site grew 100 percent from 2017 to 2018. In addition to Best Buy, B-Stock clients include Walmart, Amazon, Macy's, Lowe's, GameStop, and J.C. Penney, among others. While B-Stock offers the option for warehouse storage of merchandise at CH Robinson warehouses throughout the country, B-Stock never takes financial ownership nor logistics control of the inventory being resold.
"Typically, our clients get a 30 to 80 percent price increase from how they used to do it," Moriarty said, even in the online auction website format B-Stock sets up for the retailers. Retailers can restrict where a reseller can sell items. For example, they can require resellers to export the merchandise. Moriarty said much of the inventory is resold on Amazon, eBay or in other small local stores.
Optoro sells software platforms to retailers and brands that identify the best option for maximizing the value or lowering the cost of returned items on a case-by-case basis. Options could include restocking, refurbishing, liquidating, donating or recycling. Its clients include Target, Under Armour, Jet, BJ's Wholesale Club, Staples, and Groupon. Optoro also has its own liquidation channels, Blinq.com, for liquidation resale to consumers, and Bulq.com, for liquidation resale to resellers.
"We can increase a retailer or brand's return recovery amount, in many cases, by 25 percent. If it is items that are not going back in stock, we can double or triple the recovery in some cases," Moore said.
Happy Returns offers technologies and logistics at nearly 300 U.S. locations to allow online purchases to be returned in person when the retailer doesn't have a physical store. Direct-to-consumer brand start-ups like Everlane, Untuckit and Rothy's work with Happy Returns, which has put its so-called return bars in malls, on college campuses and even stores like Sur La Table and Paper Source. Happy Returns packages it up for the shopper, sorts the returns by retailer, then ships in bulk to return hubs less expensively than the postal service offers.
"In aggregate, Happy Returns sees a cost savings upwards of 25 percent for our retailers," said Happy Returns' Sobie. He attributes this to the combination of hard cost savings of its network compared to shipping and the soft savings of lowering customer service inquires.
While there are technologies to reduce returns like 3D body scanning and other fit innovations, "it's not working," Sobie said.
Keeping shoppers happy is harder to quantify, but extremely valuable.
"Returns is a battleground for customers," Moore said. "It's a way to win more customers, to get them coming back and to get data so that you know how to better stock items and better make items for your customers as well."
Nike is partnering with Matthew Williams, the founder of luxury streetwear brand Alyx, in a conscious move to make its performance category more fashionable. Matthew's work takes cues from the current youth culture and is recognised for his more practical approach to fashion, will launch his 18-piece fashion collaboration with Nike in mid July, which includes outerwear, monochrome leggings and a wide range of accessories such as logo-ed socks, face masks and towels.
Matthew's partnership with Nike, which has men’s, women’s and unisex collections, will be within Nike’s Training category, making this one of its first major collaborations with a fashion designer within the division. He founded Alyx in 2015 and has been working on the collaboration with Nike for the past year and a half.
He has a young fan base, and his brand's roots in merging street culture with practical garment construction, fits well with Nike’s Training division. But the collection also symbolises a wider strategic shift in the sport firm’s ambition to join its performance and lifestyle divisions, as it responds to the buying behaviours of young consumers, who often see less of a distinction between the two categories.
Nike still remains the world’s leading sportswear player in terms of revenue, but its performance-driven approach to apparel and footwear has lost some degree of “cool” in the eyes of young consumers, who often favour aesthetic and lifestyle features over performance and still make up a majority of the company’s clientele. Nike’s designer collaborations, including those with Kim Jones, Olivier Rousteing and Riccardo Tisci, also made a smaller cultural impact than those launched by Adidas.
( Photos Credit: Nick Knight )
Nothing but nostalgic magic. At Versace’s SS18 show Donatella Versace walked down with the 90's icons for the finale. The shows collection reinvented Gianni’s iconic prints from the Vogue look to Animalier to Barocco. 2017 marked the 20th anniversary to the gruesome death of Gianni Versace.
YouTube is forming a new division dedicated to fashion and beauty content partnerships, led by Derek Blasberg. The appointment comes less than a week after Instagram launched its long-form video app, IGTV, in a clear bid to compete with the Google-owned platform.With him, YouTube has found a popular, well-connected frontman to court fashion and beauty leaders. A former columnist and editor for Style.com, Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion and lifestyle publications for over a decade, Blasberg is leaving his role as the host of CNN Style on CNN International after two years and heading to YouTube full time. He will retain a role as a contributing editor at Condé Nast’s Vanity Fair, where he was appointed the title of Our Man on the Street in 2015.
Blasberg will be based in New York and is tasked with cultivating relationships with brands and high-profile people in the industry so that they will use the platform more often, more effectively and build audiences there. A different division at YouTube will continue to focus on fashion and beauty influencers who built their followings on the platform.
Instagram hired Eva Chen, the former editor-in-chief of Lucky Magazine, in 2015 to play a similar role as head of fashion partnerships at Instagram. Since then, the platform has deepened its connection with the fashion and beauty sectors by working with designers, brands, stylists, makeup artists and influencers to ensure they get the most out of Instagram. Chen’s team assists in creating content and helps these industry players engage with their audiences.
Blasberg is a smart hire, but he has his work cut out for him. Instagram has an outsized influence in the highly visual fashion world. The platform and its fashion partnerships team have become an active part of the industry scene, most recently sponsoring a table at the Met Gala and supporting tentpole events like the CFDA Awards by installing and running Instagram-friendly photo sets. With the launch of IGTV, brands and influencers have a new outlet for vertically aligned videos for up to one hour in length, edging closer to something more typically found on YouTube.
“Vertical video is ideal for fashion and it’s a format that younger audiences are really comfortable with,” said Jim O’Neill, principal analyst at Ooyala, a video and analytics technology company. “The whole idea of up to an hour-long option is potentially really big for Instagram influencers, more so than even brands.”
YouTube has some advantages, including a larger user base — 1.8 billion unique monthly visitors to Instagram’s 1 billion — who are already trained to search for videos on the platform. On YouTube, Chanel has 1.1 million subscribers; a recent campaign video for its Bleu de Chanel Parfum was seen 3.8 million times. On Instagram, where the house has 28.5 million followers, the same commercial was viewed 250,000 times in the feed post format.
“In this newly created role, Derek will collaborate with our incredible creators and diverse portfolio of brands to achieve even more success," said Merryman in a statement.
YouTube already has some fashion trailblazers: model Karlie Kloss launched her own channel, Klossy, in 2015 and now has over 700,000 subscribers. She recently released a series sponsored by Ford as part of a partnership with her nonprofit Kode with Klossy, that features her interviewing trailblazers in science and technology.
The platform is also more popular with younger users. According to a recent Pew Center study of teens ages 13 to 17, 85 percent of teens said they use YouTube — the most commonly used platform — while 72 percent said they use Instagram. In terms of frequency of use, 35 percent of respondents said they use Snapchat more than other social media platforms, while 32 percent use YouTube the most and only 15 percent use Instagram the most.
Chriselle Lim, a fashion and beauty influencer who is often found in the front row at fashion shows around the world, said YouTube is a better platform for her tutorials and narrative videos. She’s been posting on the platform for almost 10 years and said her Instagram audience (1.1 million followers) and YouTube audience (761,000 subscribers) are completely different, with the latter being younger.
“I don’t see YouTube going away because it has such a separate audience and community there,” she said.
Lim is interested to see if Instagram users actually watch longer videos on the platform, because she knows that many users flip through Instagram Stories quickly. “We are so used to quick, bite-sized content on Instagram and YouTube really is for the long-form,” said Lim. She is going to save her more highly produced content for YouTube for now, but adds that it’s too early to say how she will approach IGTV.
Deepica Mutyala, an influencer who got her start after a YouTube beauty tutorial she posted in 2015 went viral, said her audiences on both platforms are about the same size. But her YouTube viewers are more global and younger, and brands pay higher rates for branded video on the service than on Instagram, in part because the platform is better suited for high production quality content. (She has 192,000 subscribers on YouTube and 168,000 followers on Instagram.)
“[For brands], it’s not always about getting the views,” said Mutyala, adding that this might change with the launch of IGTV. But she hopes the vertical video format, which resembles a FaceTime video call, will be a place for looser, more experimental videos. “I naturally film with my phone vertically anyways.”
“[IGTV] is sort of making [Instagram] a one-stop shop,” she continued. “You’re getting YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook all in one.”
In mid December, TSG Consumer Partners (“TSG”), a leading private equity firm focused exclusively on the branded consumer sector, and Huda Beauty, one of the world's fastest-growing beauty brands, announced that TSG has acquired a stake in Huda Beauty. Ofcourse, the financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed. TSG see Huda Beauty's industry leading digital reach, their amazing global influence and ofcourse best-in-class product offerings as a grounds for joining forces and help lead the brand into the future.