Fashion Industry’s Liberal Return Policies Are Unsustainable

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The ease of online shopping coupled with generous return policies have yielded a fresh bout of post-holiday blues for the apparel industry. Fueled in part by limitations on physical stores imposed by the pandemic and viewed against the backdrop of the accelerating sustainability movement, the crisis has become epic in scope — an industry-wide embarrassment and a devastating blow to bottom lines.  

Something’s gotta give when it comes to return policies with retailers and brands.

A recent survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and retail-solutions vendor Appriss Retail found that the estimated value of all merchandise returned by consumers last year soared by about 75% to nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars.

That’s a hit of about 15 cents of every dollar in 2021 retail sales. 

As in prior years, ecommerce was hit hardest, contributing about a third of the total. Of last year’s $1 trillion in online merchandise sales, the NRF reported more than 20% were returned.

That’s a staggering expense when you add in the cost of shipping, processing, storing and — especially in the case of apparel — the likely destruction or disposal of items that cannot be restocked. AND, IT IS NOT SUSTAINABLE.

The causes of runaway returns include wardrobing, the practice in which consumers order three or more of particular item in different colors, then returning all but one. 

A more common problem the industry is grappling with is sizing. One company’s medium may be another’s small. 

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Forbes.com  sustainability  return policy  ESG  Retail Waste

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