Two pairs of hands exchanging a box with the word "return" stamped on it in red

What Really Happens to Online Apparel Returns?

Everybody loves free returns when shopping online! But have you ever wondered what happened to that one pair of jeans that didn't fit right?

Online shopping can be an intimidating process, which is why shoppers love free returns. They provide the confidence needed to buy without having to worry about being stuck with a potentially regretful purchase. But while "free returns" are convenient, have you ever wondered what actually happened to that pair of jeans you returned that were too small for your liking?

You may think, "Well, surely brands resell the item to prolong its usable life or perhaps donate them towards a righteous cause, right?" While some brands are truly doing their best when it comes to circular fashion, the reality of what happens to the overwhelming majority of apparel returns is a bit bleaker than you may imagine. 

The Detailed Fate of Online Apparel Returns

Contrary to popular belief, managing eCommerce returns is a considerably complex process. When a shopper drops off the return at their local parcel carrier or 3rd party returns service, the workers at these facilities first analyze the package carefully. They do this to ensure that the package's contents actually contain the item in question, as well as to determine if the item was previously used and to what degree it can be salvaged. If the item is deemed acceptable for resale (which in most scenarios is not the case), it is sent back (on a long journey) to the manufacturer, where it will be cleaned, repackaged, and sent to a distribution center for resale.

The costs associated with this process can be outlandish as the product needs to be processed many times before making its way into the hands of a new owner. As the costs to resell a product quickly exceed the product's actual value, countless examples of pristine apparel inevitably end up being tossed into landfills as brands look to minimize their losses. Fast fashion has only exacerbated this problem; when the product itself is being sold for exceptionally low prices, the incentive to salvage it is nonexistent.

Piles of online apparel returns, littering local dumpsters and landfills

Products that are returned at brick-and-mortar stores tend to have a much better chance of being reused or resold, as store clerks can analyze the product on the spot and determine the next steps. When it comes to eCommerce, however, the waters get a lot muddier. Most brands will not allow the resale of eCommerce products that have been used in any way; this is especially true for specific items like undergarments and swimsuits where the sanitary risks are considerably high.

According to Business Insider, 85% of all textiles end up in landfills every yearenough to fill the entire Sydney harbor. Theoretically, many of these products could have been donated and, in many cases, actually resold. The reason why secondhand sales and donations are often disregarded by brands is not only due to costs but also their impact on brand equity. The last thing brands want to see is their products littering donations bins or sitting on the shelves of thrift shops, and they especially don't want potential shoppers seeing this either.

Even in a best-case scenario, where a product is approved for resale and sent to a new home, the carbon footprint associated with the product's journey can be significant. Products often need to be shipped around the globe in search of a potential shopper, a process that only contributes to the apparel industry's already massive carbon footprint.

How Brands Can Reduce Returns With WAIR

As returns remain a considerably daunting problem for brands and the environment, the only way to truly address this issue is to identify the root cause. Why are shoppers returning apparel products? According to Shopify, over 52% of all apparel returns are due to size confusion. This comes as no surprise as the sizing methods employed by many brands hasn't evolved much since the days of Napoleon. It is for this very reason that WAIR was established to help eCommerce shoppers find their best-fitting products every time.

WAIR is a modern sizing solution that uses the power of AI-driven, 3D technology to deliver precise and personalized size recommendations at scale. The foundation of WAIR's sizing algorithm is the world's fastest-growing database of 3D body scans taken from real people across the globe. With over 3 million unique body scans available, WAIR can align each unique shopper with the scan that best matches their body dimensions, providing a sizing experience of unparalleled precision in an easy-to-use package.

WAIR's fit advisor sizing solution

While personalized size recommendations are a great start to addressing the issue of online returns, eCommerce apparel brands can reduce return rates even further thanks to WAIR's shopper insights. When shoppers use our solution, their unique body data is captured in the background and relayed into easily decipherable dashboards. These dashboards provide brands with the insights needed to optimize their eCommerce strategy around the bodies of their shoppers through methods such as:

  • Leveraging body data to create better fitting designs.
  • Optimizing inventory and supply chain management around the bodies of their shoppers.
  • Targeted marketing efforts based on body type.

There’s No Such Thing As a Free Return

Only in a perfect world are free returns truly free. Exorbitant costs are placed on both brands and the environment each time a product is returned; it's a scenario that (frankly) needs to be addressed. Are we saying that returns can be phased out entirely? Of course not, but with the plethora of readily available remedies to this daunting issue, we'd be foolish not to take advantage of them.

Eager to learn how WAIR can transform your eCommerce brand through sizing? Schedule a demo here, and be sure to follow us on TwitterInstagram , LinkedIn, and Facebook for all your fashion content needs!

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