Online Returns Creating A Global Waste Disaster


Prior to Covid, I had a really fun job of buying pallets from retailers and selling the products on Ebay. This job is far from glamorous. There’s a lot of grunt work with sorting through broken and soiled products to find the gems. However, receiving in pallets of shoes and home goods to sell felt like fun Christmas present opening with each box.

During lockdown I watched the Ted Talk “Where Do Your Online Returns Go.” The presentation left me heartbroken. Hearing that 4 billion pounds of returned clothing fills our garbage dumps every year made my stomach turn. To know that I was actually helping the environment by buying returned or shelf pull products from retailers to resell made me feel awesome. That helpful feeling quickly faded as Covid brought my business to a screeching halt. With Sears, Macys, JCP, Nieman Marcus and Pier 1 all going bankrupt. I can’t match the deep discounts retailers are listing products for. Their store closing blowouts and clearance sales tags are better than the wholesale price I paid. I get it, retailers need to survive. JCP doesn’t even have the bankroll for rent. Sadly, as many of us who ran this type of business close doors, I see the waste getting worse again ☹

Aparna Mehta the Global Logistics & Consumer Solutions Director at UPS hosts this Ted Talk. Aparna has worked at UPS for 26 years. I find her story pretty cool as she started at the bottom in Tech Support, moved to Industrial Engineering and is now a female titan. Great job Aparna!

We all need to focus on our spending habits as we’ve created a massive waste issue. The greatness of Amazon in my opinion turned into a double-edged sword. I love getting my products fast and that I can check reviews to make a sound decision when buying expensive things. However, the company has fathered a generation of impatient click happy buyers who want products sitting on their door step the next morning. There’s no thought to buying anymore. Just one click and the Amazon warehouse is picking your order within a few hours.

Retailers had to scramble to catch up with Amazon’s amazing customer service and drive to increase sales, adding to the waste spiral. The free shipping free returns model has left 7.5 million pieces of clothing returned each year. What most people do not understand is the trail that follows once they return a product. After receiving the products back in, the retailer now has to try to resell this item out on the sales floor. This only works if products have remained in great condition while in consumer hands. If the item is not sales floor worthy, there’s options for retailers such as wrapping up goods on a pallet for wholesale buyers like me, send products to their outlet store, or shockingly that new tried on once shirt lands in the garbage.

Another issue is frankly plain lack of morals by a small group of consumers. Some people can’t just return an item. They will wear the dress or use the dishes for a fancy party they can’t afford, stain or chip items, and then say the products were defective to get a full refund within 30 days. This behavior is beyond ridiculous and adds to the waste. Thank goodness Amazon and retailers are now cracking down hard on return abusers.

Aparna has an interesting solution. Her concept reminds me of Ebay. By the way I love EBay from the top VP’s down to all the amazing mom and pop sellers listing items online. Her idea would be an app where consumers can list items they want to return for sale. Aparna would like to name the app “Green Turn” since the items are all customer returns. Pretty catchy name! Consumer’s carrot to use the app would be to receive loyalty points or cash back like the Kohls model to spend on different products.

Time will tell if her idea comes to fruition. I think the strategy is a great start. Our consumer waste needs to slow down dramatically. A bonus for all the husbands of the world will be cash back in the bank after all we moms go shopping and do not like a blouse ha ha. I think of all the poor families around the world who could use just a part of the 7.5 million pieces of new clothing sitting in landfills. If Aparna’s app does not happen, I hope down the road retailers and consumers will start donating all customer returns that would just be tossed. We all need to be more mindful before we rapid fire our buy now buttons and mindful of Mother Earth as we just throw products away. Research and think!

worldpeace

Aparna Mehta Ellevate Network

Aparna Mehta LinkedIn

 

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