The Shocking Faith Of Returned Merchandise: Straight To Landfills

Updated: Jan 28



Shopping is part of my life, and so are the returns. Most of the time, I am not keeping the items I purchased. Very often, when I get home, or a shipment arrives, I try on things just to realize that I do not like any of them. And since returns are convenient, I have no trouble returning unwanted items.


Recently, I happened to read an article that talked about the secret lives of returns. How shocked was I to learn that most returns end up in landfills.

I thought this could not possibly be true; I decided to do some digging.


As I was reading a post after post, a cold chill ran through my body. Dumped into landfills... Offered to wholesalers at a loss... Discarded ... Burnt ...


I never really thought about what happens to my returns. I assumed that my items are reviewed and then re-packaged to be sold again. And to this end, I am respectful of the clothes I buy. I do not wear them. I carefully re-package everything before I send it back. And I never hold on to the package - as soon as it arrives, I try everything on, make a decision, and ship the items back.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, What Stores Do With $90 Billion in Merchandise Returns by Erica E. Phillips, returned items are a massive loss to a business. Even if the brand manages to sell its returns, they are sold at a loss. Most brands just toss their merchandise into landfills.

"Sometimes retailers find it is cheaper to just throw returned merchandise away. Optoro estimates five billion pounds of returned merchandise ends up in landfills each year."What Stores Do With $90 Billion in Merchandise Returns by Erica E. Phillips.

For example,

"Burberry admitted that it had burned around $100 million worth of clothing and accessories over a five-year period." NPR, Report: Many Returned Products Thrown Out Instead Of Resold.

Why do brands toss returned goods?


Processing returns are expensive and complicated.

  • Getting rid of the merchandise is cheaper than employing people to inspect, evaluate, and re-stock items.

Imagine a vast warehouse that receives hundreds of return packages. Each shipment needs to be reviewed and evaluated. And since this is manual labor with no automation processes, inspecting returns takes a long time and requires many resources.

  • Particular merchandise is not valued as much once it is returned.

The latest gadgets, electronics, or anything technology cost more when it is brand new. Returns take weeks to be processed; thus, a specific device might not be as popular once back on a shelf.

  • Lack of resources and expertise

Setting up effective return processes is not easy. A brand needs money, employees, and experts in the field. Also, a physical location requires adequate equipment, as well as an effective return policy.


Possible solutions.


Luckily, the latest trends in many markets are eco-friendliness, eco-conciseness, and green initiatives. Returns are not immune to these trends. Many brands try to show their customers that they are better than their competition by creating green promotions and deals.


Bring a pair of old jeans, and get a certain percentage off your new pair. Bring in old clothes, and get a promotional discount. Save our planet, shop our eco-friendly clothing - Examples are endless.


Returns do not get big shout-outs, but brands are starting to look into green and compelling possibilities.


Return fee.


Some brands are experimenting with charging their clients a return fee. Yes, that sounds like out of this world, but I think it makes lots of sense. If we are buying merchandise and then returning some or all, we need to carry some responsibility for the return process.


Brick and mortar returns.


Some brands encourage their consumers to return goods to their physical locations. Employees at their stores are more than capable of processing returns and re-stock the items.


Thoughtful partnerships.


Another possibility is partnering with other brands that have physical stores. For example, Amazon is partnering with Kohl's, allowing its shoppers to drop off items at any Kohl's location. Amazon gets a return location, and Kohl's possibly gets potential new customers in its stores.


So, next time you shop, think about returns first.

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