retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The Los Angeles Times has a sobering piece saying that "in December, American consumers will return more than 1 million packages to e-commerce retailers each day." Returns, the story says, account "for 5 billion pounds of landfilled waste in the U.S. alone and an additional 15 million tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere."

The problem, the Times writes, "is that consumers are returning more and more every year. In 2018, Americans sent back 10% of their purchases, valued at $369 billion, according to data and software firm Appriss, up from 8% two years earlier.

"Younger shoppers in particular are more inclined to treat online purchases as rentals, or to buy clothing to try on, then return what doesn’t fit or look good. It’s a global trend: In Sweden, return rates are as high as 60% for some products."

Yikes.

And then, here's the money line: "At a time when consumers and companies are otherwise rethinking their choices in light of climate change, e-commerce returns amount to a hidden environmental crisis."

Which is an excellent point.

E-commerce companies encourage people to think of buying online as being convenient, and speed and ease of returns is part of that. And certainly all those returns are good for the shipping business - FedEx and UPS and the US Postal Service no doubt make a lot of money by facilitating those returns.

But … if companies are going to be serious about addressing climate change - it was just a week ago that Walmart made a big deal about the fact that it intends to abide by its commitment to achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Accord (and good for them for doing so) - maybe they have to think about how they address this subject.

I'm not smart enough to know how to do it. But I do believe that problems such as climate change have to be addressed holistically - you can't be committed to dealing with the issue but only deal with the part of it that is most convenient.

Leadership is called for. It'd be an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: