Impact of eCommerce Returns on Climate Change

According to reports, it is estimated that there will be 2.14 billion global online shoppers in 2021 and that nearly 30% of all orders purchased online are returned as compared to 8.89% in brick-and-mortar stores. When looking at these numbers, have we ever thought of the impact such a large volume of returns can have on our climate? Each returned package leaves behind a trail of emissions from the various types of carriers it travels in, be it trains, planes, or trucks that carry it back to the manufacturer/seller.  

The fumes that come out as part of the emissions are usually made up of three main components: carbon dioxide, nitrogen gas, and water vapor. Several potentially more toxic gasses are also included in most cases which can make the emissions — sometimes also called “exhaust”— much more harmful and making them one of the major causes of global warming and climate change. Not just this, many of the returned items which are either defected, damaged and cannot be reused in any form head directly to a landfill.  

Ecommerce sellers often send things back to the manufacturer that they can’t put up on sale again, or they unload it to other companies who sell it at discount prices. Wherever the unwanted purchase goes, more trucks and other vehicles are pumping out more planet-warming carbon emissions and other harmful gases in the air to take it to its destination.  

While eCommerce is booming across the world, the environmental problem is worsening with the rising number of returns.  

Did you know that hauling around returned items in the USA creates over 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in a year? Yes, you heard that right. This is more than what 3,000,000 cars might emit in one year.  

Then there’s the trash. Nearly 5 billion pounds of returned goods end up in US landfills each year. Even if something was in good condition when the buyer put it in the mailbox, shipping it back can damage the item. Sometimes retailers realize that throwing out a returned item is the most cost-effective way to deal with the thing, instead of paying for it to be cleaned, repaired, and returned to the shelves. Landfills are filling up with packaging waste from eCommerce, too. 

How to Reduce the Impact of Returns on the Climate as a Responsible eCommerce Seller? 

As an eCommerce business owner, here are a few things you can do to reduce the environmental impact of the returned products- 

  • Allow your customers to keep a product that cannot be resold so that you can eliminate much of the waste it would create from carbon emissions to landfill waste. Offer your customers interesting refund options (such as store credits), instead of them having to ship back a return. 
  • Gain your customers’ trust. Let them know when a product cannot be resold and that returning it will create an environmental impact. By keeping a transparent conversation, you build trust between your customers and your brand. 

Here’s a free guide to how to reduce ecommerce returns and help the earth survive!

How to Reduce the Impact of Returns on the Climate as a Responsible Buyer? 

Fortunately, buyers are now more conscious of their purchases and returns when it comes to the environmental impact. Here are a few things that a customer can do to reduce the impact on the environment- 

  • Return items sooner. Waiting until the last minute to send something back increases the chance that the item won’t go back to stock for resale and will end up as a landfill waste. 
  • Try to take the item that you want to return to the logistics center yourself, instead of just parceling it. 
  • Make a shopping list before you start your purchases. This will help you in ordering just what you need, instead of buying several items with the intention of returning them. 

The number of products being returned is increasing day by day as eCommerce is booming. According to the National Retail Federation, eCommerce has a higher return rate of up to 30% as compared to other kinds of purchases such as consumer electronics, auto parts, etc.  

ECommerce companies have been offering hassle-free returns options to their customers, which in turn has led to people buying things just to try something out and return it later. 

Companies that have encouraged these changes in the consumer behavior can take steps to minimize returns and make the process less harmful when someone does send something back. For one, they can make sure that the way they market their items online is true to what the product is like in real life. Giving more detailed information on sizing for apparel is helpful, too. 

We, at Saara, help eCommerce businesses with AI-powered product tagging and resolve listing discrepancies so that customers see the right product description before purchasing. As customers are well-aware of the product they are buying, it reduces the chances of return by almost 30%.  

When all of us together take responsibility, there is little we cannot do. Every small step and every small initiative go a long way in protecting the environment and making it greener. Reduce returns by up to 30% using Saara and contribute to a greener planet. 

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