Fast fashion deals to reduce waste: Retailers raise fees to discourage returns
- Companies clamp down on shoppers who return clothing ordered online
- Only 25% of unsaleable returns are recycled
- 50% ends up in landfills and 25% is incinerated
Model approach: H&M has chosen to charge for returns
Three in four items of returned clothing that cannot be sold are thrown into landfills or burned as fashion retailers struggle to reduce the cost to consumers of returning products.
Fast fashion brands including Zara and Asos are clamping down on shoppers returning clothes ordered online, reducing promoted items or introducing fees for returned items.
According to Statista, only 25 percent of non-marketable products are recycled, while 50 percent end up in landfills and 25 percent are incinerated.
Many items are considered “unsaleable” due to the resources and cash required to process, clean, repackage and redistribute them. Some retailers also see no point in reselling them if a trend or season has changed.
The research was shown to fashion business leaders at a meeting last week by the British Retail Consortium. Helen Dickinson, head of the BRC, said tackling unsustainable returns would benefit retailers’ bottom lines as well as the environment.
For many retailers, a costly reverse logistics process means reselling products is “not a choice they are willing to make”, says Professor Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas of the British School of Fashion.
“As consumers, we all clearly imagine that when we return something, it magically appears on a shelf,” he added. But £140m worth of clothing is sent to landfill every year. The trend is also expensive for fashion retailers: for a £20 purchase, the average return cost is £10-£12.
Consumers are accustomed to ordering a variety of sizes and colors of the same product.
But now retailers including Boohoo, Zara and H&M have introduced small returns charges. Archie Mason, director at investment and advisory firm True, said: “If a small charge for an online return can help drive consumer change, it’s probably a good thing.”
“The profitability cycle of the textile sector is unsustainable from an environmental and cost perspective.”
Mason said investing in ‘digital fitting’ – where customers can get a good idea of whether a product will fit them based on data about their purchasing history and size – is also a way to reduce high return rates.