In the 21st century, both buyers and sellers are getting increasingly conscious of how their buying and selling habits are impacting the environment. ECommerce returns are a major cause of climate change and businesses are now digging deeper into how to make their brands more sustainable.  

Studies suggest, “each year, 5 billion pounds of returned goods end up in landfill, and 15 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted in the transportation of returns.” Given such a bleak and highly avoidable scenario, how can we best manage eCommerce returns? Let’s find out!

Ensure optimized product detail page

The main reasons for a return are either the size is incorrect, or the product is not as per expectations. To proactively fix this problem, it should be ensured that the details on the product detail page are accurate, with proper size charts. The product images should be precise in terms of color, size, and design. Online retailers should encourage customers to provide feedback with the actual product images. All these measures offer accurate product information from a verified purchase and help avoid returns.

Leverage the power of analytics

When it comes to the environment, the best product returns are those that never happen in the first place. These “controllable returns” can be reduced with the right strategies that target the root cause of returns.   

An eCommerce returns management software gathers data so you can understand and act on the “why” behind returns. Get detailed metrics on every screen (not just reports and dashboards) to quickly identify trends or issues faster – and adapt accordingly. 

For example: 

Are customers reporting that a product is a low quality? Address this with your product supplier to ensure they haven’t switched materials or processes.  

Are customers reporting sizing issues? Perhaps items on your website or catalog are portrayed inaccurately. In this case, a brand may consider virtual dressing rooms or better product descriptions to help customers find the right fit. 

Are customers reporting ‘damaged item arrived?’ Perhaps you would need to check with your logistics providers on how they are shipping items, or check with your product packaging team on the materials used to pack your products. 

EcoReturns provides sellers with a real-time returns analytics dashboard that helps them make data-driven decisions to reduce returns and meet their sustainability goals.

Provide offers on returns

Returns are always the unknown and undetermined parameters that impact profitability. An online retailer should provide certain offers on the products for return. Evaluate the return cost compared to the product cost and then decide whether to take the product back or let the customer keep it. In this way, it will be a win-win situation for both. Online returns should promote selling the returned items under the refurbishing category by contacting the town’s local retailer instead of dumping them from the environment’s perspective. It will help reduce landfill waste, packing waste, and carbon emissions during transportation.

Buy online returns in-store

According to many studies, the return has an environmental impact due to packing waste and carbon emissions. Online retailers should encourage policies to return to the store like purchasing the product (buy online and pick at the store). They should collaborate with the local stores and create a return collection point. Online retailers will reduce the cost incurred in collecting the return. For local stores, it will increase the footfall at their store, thus increasing their sales. This approach will also be instrumental in reducing packing waste and the carbon footprint.

Use the power of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Online retailers should leverage AI/ML technologies to study the pattern of user-specific returns. These technologies can help customers with suggestions for the future. Such technologies can help online retailers identify the different reasons for a return. Based on the patterns, they can distinguish these reasons from each other to determine which reasons can be corrected at their end and which ones might require policy creation. The AI-powered fraud check and risk assessment model used in EcoReturns helps online sellers block repeat offenders (customers who have a consistent track record of returning) based on their return habits. 

AI/ML can also be used to provide an in-store experience to the customer. These technologies can offer 3D product views to help the customer verify the product’s size, design, and look. Online retailers might also integrate their websites with apps that can create a 3D view of the person by collecting data points using AI/ML or creating one from scratch. It will help provide the customer with an in-store try-and-buy experience. 

 Tie-up with the return aggregators

As e-commerce expands around the globe, online retailers should collaborate with return aggregators to facilitate returns. This aggregator works to optimize the return process. For example, instead of transporting the returned item to the retailer’s warehouse, they can store it at their warehouse and send it all at once, only after the container is full, reducing the carbon footprint. They can also be useful in another aspect that encourages packing the returned items in environmentally-friendly packaging material, reducing the packing waste. We can also develop an ecosystem where small traders can purchase these items. This will also help in reducing packing and landfill waste. 


Given that online shopping is here to stay, it is the moral responsibility of the seller and the customer to minimize returns. The seller should ensure providing detailed product information and use the latest technology to build more confidence, thus enhancing the shopping experience. Technologies like virtual sizing and augmented reality can offer precise product assessments to customers, which can also help them make informed decisions and reduce returns. 

While e-commerce returns are inevitable, they can be managed in sustainable ways to lower their impact on the environment.  

Want to know how? EcoReturns by Saara is an AI-powered sustainability app that reduces returns for eCommerce brands.

Get in touch with us to understand how we can help you make returns more sustainable for your online brand. 

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