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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.”