Trending

The Retail Challenge

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.

More lax return policies

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."

Where does it all go?

"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.

Rethinking how returns are handled

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."

Related News

Nike Loses More People Amid Misconduct Probe

Nike Inc.’s Converse brand lost its chief marketing officer to streetwear label Supreme, Business of Fashion reports.

Julien Cahn resigned from Converse earlier this year and left the company in February for a marketing role at the up-and-coming brand. Cahn joined Converse in 2016 from parent Nike. Several executives have recently left Nike in the wake of an internal probe into misconduct, though Cahn’s departure wasn’t related, people said. Nike began an internal review of misconduct last month, after complaints from employees. A handful of executives have exited, including Trevor Edwards, who was one of the favorites to succeed Chief Executive Officer Mark Parker.

Last week, an analyst’s report said nine Nike employees at director level or higher, including Cahn, had left the company in the past 35 days amid “recent cultural turmoil.” Nike executives go from director to senior director and then vice president. The departures are seen adding additional “downside risk” to Nike’s long-term growth trajectory, Sam Poser of Susquehanna Financial Group wrote in a note to clients.

Burberry make some changes at the top

Burberry has named Riccardo Tisci as its new chief creative officer, he succeeds Christopher Bailey, who stepped down after 17 years from the creative helm. Having spent more than a decade at Givenchy as a creative director, Riccardo left the brand once his contract expired in January 2018. Givenchy is credited with being one of LVMH's most successful luxury brands.

"I have an enormous respect for Burberry's British heritage and global appeal and I am excited about the potential of this exceptional brand,” added Tisci. “I am honoured and delighted to be joining Burberry and reuniting with Marco Gobbetti ( Burberry’s chief executive ).”

Riccardo will direct all of Burberry’s collections from his new London base, and is expected to present his first for the brand in September.

Start-Up Sells Luxury Items, Minus the Branding

We all know that markups in luxury fashion can be ridiculously high. The journey from the factory to floor, gets items to be priced at higher than they cost.

Now E-commerce site Italic is betting that removing the branding and the mark-up will prove a hit with consumers. A big bet indeed!

The start-up’s members-only marketplace, which launched last Thursday, allows manufacturers that create products for luxury brands to sell directly to consumers without the LOGOs adding markups. Shoppers who pay a $120 annual membership fee can choose from a selection of unbranded luxury goods, from bags and wallets to prescription eyewear and leather jackets, produced by the same factories that count names like Prada, Givenchy, Celine and Burberry among their clients.

The company has raised $13 million in funding, from various top end investors. Over 100,000 people joined a waiting list to be notified when membership opens, with signups initially limited to the US, said company founder Jeremy Cai.

Upon launching, the platform will have nearly 60 styles live on the site, with a view to double this number by the end of the year. However, customers won’t find unbranded versions of the Gucci Dionysus bag or any of the latest Celine creations. All products sold on Italic will be unique and exclusive to the platform to avoid infringing on brands’ intellectual property / copyrighted designs.

The start-up joins a growing number of brands, including Everlane and Warby Parker, which provide a premium-feeling, minimally branded product at relatively affordable prices. Within the luxury sector, high-end retailers, including Mr Porter, Joseph and MatchesFashion, are expanding their private label collections, which tend to be priced below standard luxury fare.

Italic goes one step further, selling items that lack even the private label branding. The marketplace will instead focus on providing the infrastructure — from marketing, design and warehousing to customer support — to enable manufacturers to sell products directly. The company will take a commission on sales.

“We essentially do everything that brands do and more, but we do it for the manufacturers,” Cai said.

For example, Italic’s merchandising team will work with factories that have product and pattern libraries to tweak existing designs so they don’t mimic products already on the market. Italic also has two designers, alumni of Armani and Calvin Klein, to work with manufacturers that don’t have in-house creative teams.

“We are very careful about every single product that we sell being originally designed, you won’t find an exact product like it in the market,” Cai said. “We want breadth and coverage of a lot of different styles.”

Branding can be a powerful tool, especially in a sector like luxury, where purchases are emotional rather than practical. That’s especially true for “statement” products, like handbags.

“People buy branded products to be reassured of the quality and style of the item and also for their projected image: they somehow communicate to other people the style, sophistication and preferences of their owner,” said Mario Ortelli, managing partner of luxury advisors Ortelli & Co. “You want to feel and show that you are part of the brand story.”

But Cai doesn’t anticipate the manufacturers on Italic’s marketplace competing head to head with luxury brands.

“For a person who is going to buy a Gucci bag, we are never going to win them over with unbranded product,” he said. “That doesn’t mean in some avenue of their life, they wouldn’t be open to switching up their sheets or maybe a shirt, or a leather jacket, where they actually don’t like a logo on there.”

As well as geographical expansion and international shipping, the platform’s short term goals include expanding into product categories like activewear and beauty. The focus will remain on luxury, Cai said.

“The reason we want to start in luxury is because we can say to the customer: we can make premium product effectively and replace a lot of your aspirational shopping,” he said.


YouTube has a New Fashion and Beauty Partnerships Division, just like Instagram

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.”

Designed by IMD.