Shipping and the Messy Part About Returns

Shipping and the Messy Part About Returns

Sending Things.

I have a security guard in my apartment who spends the better part of the day playing postman. My building has roughly 300 residents. So the poor guy’s logging in, storing, distributing, and verifying hundreds of packages and getting to know all of us. Everyday. This must suck for him.

This post isn’t an opinion like the others. I’m not here to resolve/blame/shame anything or anyone. Instead, I want to focus on an aspect of ecommerce that is critical: shipping.

Salesforce recently predicted the value of holiday returns this year to top $280 billion, an amount equivalent to the GDP of Finland.

The returns from online shopping last year created 5 billion tons of landfill waste and produced as much carbon dioxide as from 3 million cars driving for one year, according to Optoro, a tech company that manages retailers’ returned items.

The process of sending back unwanted items and potentially re-selling them results in 10 billion unnecessary transportation trips every year.

It’s Expensive

It’s often overlooked when planning an ecommerce site. It can eat up to 30% of your profit. It requires staff and customer service ’cause things will go wrong every f’ing day. And, if you’re not, say Amazon or Target or Walmart, you’re paying insanely higher prices than they are

It is Incredibly Confusing

Even if you are Amazon or a super-shipper, things don’t get easier:

Many parcel delivery services have struggled with the surge in demand for shipments and have began imposing measures to deal with the influx. Other shipping services such as FedEx (FDX) and USPS have increased their pricing premiums for the holidays and hired thousands of temporary workers to handle shipments.
UPS says it added 20 new facilities and 14 additional aircraft for the peak season. It also expanded its weekend operations and the speed of its ground delivery.
Meanwhile, Amazon (AMZN), one of the country’s largest retailers, has skated ahead without much shipping troubles thanks to relying on its own delivery service and drivers to accommodate its slew of shipments. This past weekend, Amazon reported bringing in nearly $5 billion between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a 60% increase from last year.
 
— CNN’s Jordan Valinksy contributed to this report.

It Creates Major Inefficiencies

Overall, about 10% of all purchases are returned, according to industry estimates. But items bought online are three times more likely to be returned than those bought in-store. For some categories of clothing think shoes and women’s jeans  more than half of online purchases are returned.

 

Buy Now! We Mean It!:

The “buy now, choose later” online shopping approach was common even before the pandemic hit. But now, more shoppers do it than don’t, according to some research.

A survey from shipping and logistics company Narvar, which counts 800 retailers as clients, found that nearly two-thirds of shoppers this year bought multiple sizes or colors of the same item, with the intention of returning some of the items. Buyers of luxury goods, as well as shoppers under 30, were most likely to use this practice, known in industry parlance as “bracketing.”

“Consumers were already in the habit of using their bedrooms as fitting rooms for online purchases, but the practice skyrocketed this year,” Narvar found.

It’s Not Them, It’s You (Kinda)

So, there’s this massive shipping network carry to — and from consumers who, ya know, like the convenience and the pretty pictures. And I have no clue how humans can deliver something to my home at warp speed. But they do it. And it is emerging as a significant environmental danger:

The ease of returns is a major ecommerce selling point. Ecologically, it’s pretty ugly.

“Unfortunately we’re going to see more and more of an increase in returns. That has not slowed down,” said Narvar CEO Amit Sharma.

The more shoppers buy, the more they return. The reverse is also true: a generous return policy makes shoppers more likely to buy from a website. That’s why, despite the losses that returns represent, companies are loath to tighten free-return policies lest they drive away shoppers.

“It’s now a consumer expectation,” said Sharma. “It’s table stakes.”

H&M: First Major Retailer to Recycle Consumer Clothing

H&M: First Major Retailer to Recycle Consumer Clothing

New York (CNN Business) —

Fast fashion chain H&M wants to turn discarded clothes into something new to wear again — within five hours.

The Sweden-based retailer is about to start giving consumers at its Stockholm store the option to turn in used garments that it will then transform into one of three different clothing items.
Once the program begins Monday, customers will be able to bring in a garment they don’t want, which will be cleaned and put into a machine called Looop. The machine will disassemble it, shredding it into fibers that are then used to create new clothing.
The effort comes amid arising volume of global clothing waste, and growing concern over fast fashion’s contribution to it.
The company said the recycling process, which can handle more than one garment at a time, doesn’t use water or chemicals and sometimes might need “sustainably sourced” raw materials added in, but it hopes to make “this share as small as possible.”
 
The entire process takes about five hours and is visible to shoppers
 
Similarly, customers can drop off used clothing, footwear and accessories in more than 1,300 Zara stores. Last year, Zara announced that all of the cotton, linen and polyester used by the company will be organic, sustainably sourced or recycled by 2025.
 
“One of the biggest drivers of clothing over consumption are fast fashion sellers,” said Deborah Drew, analyst and social impact lead with the global research non-profit World Resources Institute. “Large companies like H&M and Zara can have a really big, transformational impact on the industry and on consumers if they lead the way in facilitating change.”

Read the full article here.

Fast Destruct Fashion

Fast Destruct Fashion

I’ve written quite a bit about fast fashion. That’s apparel produced in weeks, shipped, and sold before the season even begins. It’s what we count on at Zara, H&M, Target, Walmart. It is simple, inexpensive but high in quantity (not quality) and it makes a ton of money.

It also is incredibly ecologically damaging in so many ways; it can bankrupt nations and cause unnecessary deaths. Not pretty. To put this into perspective:

  • Producing a pair of jeans consumes even more water — around 3,000 liters — due to the dyeing and bleaching involved, according to calculations by Quantis.
  • Making a single pair of jeans emits around 20 kg of CO2, the same amount produced during a 49-mile car journey.
  • The industry is responsible for high carbon emissions, wastewater production, and large amounts of landfill waste.
  • Fast fashion is second only to oil as the world’s largest polluter.

The fast fashion industry produces ~1 billion garments annually.

Profits are around 3 trillion dollars per year. What impact does this large amount of production have on our environment? Production at this scale is pushing our natural systems to the absolute limit.

The fast fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year.

This is about 5% of global emissions. That’s more than the emissions created by air travel and international shipping.

In 2015, the fast fashion industry used 80 billion cubic metres of freshwater.

The industry is one of the largest consumers of freshwater on the planet. To put this in perspective 80 billion cubic metres is enough to fill about 32,000 Olympic size swimming pools.

Production of textiles uses about 3500 different chemicals.

The industry uses chemicals to produce, dye, coat, and soften fabrics. Many of these chemicals are harmful to humans and the environment. Through wastewater, chemicals used to produce clothing often end up in our waterways and oceans.

Cotton is one of the most resource-intensive crops out there.

In comparison to synthetic materials cotton may not actually be better for the planet. This crop uses large quantities of pesticides and fertilizers. Globally, we use about 11% of pesticides and 24% of insecticides on cotton crops. Currently, less than 1% of cotton crops are organic. On top of this cotton requires an enormous amount of water.

The above comes from an excellent source:

Fast Fashion Facts: What you need to know

from 7Billion for 7Seas.com

I rely heavily on Print-on-Demand companies like Printify and Printful. So I becoming increasingly concerned that I am becoming part of the problem and not helping the issue

 

This company has a pretty smart response (and they’re cute, too! BONUS!)

Ecommerce’s Dirty, Little  Environmental Problem

Ecommerce’s Dirty, Little Environmental Problem

The first wave of ecommerce businesses had at their core a utopian belief that they would do no harm, they would save the Earth, they would benefit everyone and they would, accordingly, usher in a new, socially responsible corporate culture.

Didn’t quite work out that way. I don’t doubt that Brin, Bezos, Jobs et. al. had good intentions. The astounding success of their businesses (and the Internet as a whole) has created some problems for the entire planet.

The packaging that your iPhone, Amazon Echo Dot and the like is big business. According to a report by BusinessWire, it will be worth about $148 billion by 2024 with year-over-year growth of 3.0%. Not bad.

Nearly $150Bn worth of packaging means we have a lot of recycling to do. But recycling is not, and has never been, easy. The recent switch to polymer bags by Amazon is to be lauded. But, and it’s a heavy but. The new packaging jams up existing recycling machinery. Further, the simple act of affixing a paper label to an otherwise-recyclable plastic mailer renders it un-recyclable.

Plastic is so cheap and enduring that many companies use it for packaging. But consumers are prone to put plastic sacks into recycling bins. Plastic mailers escape the notice of sorting machines and get into bales of paper bound for recycling, contaminating entire bundles, outweighing the positive effect of reducing bulky cardboard shipments, experts say. Paper bundles used to fetch a high price on international markets and had long sustained profits in the recycling industry. But mixed bales are so hard to sell — because of stricter laws in China, where many are sent for recycling — that many West Coast recycling companies must trash them instead. (Packaging is just one source of plastics contamination of paper bales bound for recycling.)

“As packaging gets more complex and lighter, we have to process more material at slower speeds to produce the same output. Are the margins enough? The answer today is no,” said Pete Keller, vice president of recycling for Republic Services, one of the largest U.S. waste haulers. “It’s labor- and maintenance-intensive and frankly expensive to deal with on a daily basis.”

— Washington Post

The solution? Yeesh. Not an easy answer. Amazon is forced by some countries to pay for its contribution to ecological contamination, such as in Canada. This doesn’t apply to the US and it’s unlikely to happen under the current Trump administration. Perhaps Amazon’s (and other mega-ecommerce retailers) can explore an interesting option:

“They could do a reverse distribution, taking materials back to their distributions system. Those collection points become very important to make it convenient for consumers,” said Scott Cassel, chief executive of the Product Stewardship Institute, a membership-based nonprofit focused on reducing the environmental impact of consumer products. “But it would cost them money.”

Further Reading: