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When considering environmentally friendly policies, it’s important to not think of them as a cost burden. There are plenty of ways for retailers to implement thoughtful strategies that are good for both business and the planet. And although Earth Day 2019 has passed, it is time we continue the conversation.
Rethinking product returns is a great place to start. Average return rates for online purchases are two to three times higher than brick and mortar and can reach as high as 30% depending upon the product category. Shipping products back and forth so often is having a big impact on everything from green gas emissions to landfill waste.
Having helped hundreds of retailers of all sizes build their online return strategies, here are a few approaches you can use to reduce your environmental impact.
Relying on easily disposable plastic and cardboard for packaging and shipping products has long been the standard option for most retailers. Retailers can help reduce this waste in ways that are good for them, their customers and the planet. Consider switching to packaging made from reclaimed or biodegradable materials that can be reused in the event a customer needs to make a return. Educate the customer about the eco-friendly change and encourage them to reuse the packaging if needed.
This education can take many forms, from email marketing to social media to packing slips. Order and return confirmation emails are a great place to start — they will have higher open rates than the average email, guaranteeing eyeballs while helping guide your shoppers. Social media is another powerful way to educate your followers and demonstrate your values. Consider building a sustainability-focused campaign that supports the new eco-friendly change.
Beauty and wellness brands like Loli Beauty and Lush are leading the way in developing eco-friendly shipping with biodegradable, recyclable and even carbon-neutral packaging. Outside-the-box thinking like this will resonate with today’s modern consumer to build trust and loyalty with your brand.
Rethink product repair and refurbishment.
There’s a movement afoot toward refurbishing returned, defective or damaged merchandise, and outdoor retail giants such as The North Face and Patagonia are leading the way. When a customer returns defective or damaged goods, there’s no reason why it should end up in a landfill. But that’s the fate of about 13 million tons of textiles every year in the United States, accounting for about 9% of total nonrecycled waste. Many times, there’s still value in used or defective products, even if it’s just from the materials alone.
A common misconception is that only large retail players have the means to implement these strategies. One of our customers, a men’s fashion brand with a rapidly growing customer base, proves this assumption wrong. The company recently launched a buyback program where it offers store credit for returning worn, damaged or defective apparel. What once wound up in a landfill can get turned into new, one-of-kind garments.
If you’re looking to start your own refurbishment program but aren’t sure where to begin, start small and experiment. If you have a brick-and-mortar location, try offering a limited-time pop-up repair station. If you’re direct to consumer, test out a one-time second-hand sale. Use your speed and adaptability as an advantage in today’s fast-paced environment.
Rethink data for smarter returns.
Using data to better understand your customers and the reasons behind their returns can help inform merchandising to reduce the likelihood of a return. Look at metrics like return reason grouped by geographical location, product type and purchase frequency.
However, we all know returns are inevitable. At my company, we’re leveraging behavioral data to help customers identify their best shoppers and allow them to keep the items they wish to return, rather than sending them back. This approach works well if you sell products such as makeup or intimates that likely cannot be resold anyway. Doing so shows your most loyal customers how much you value their business, while cutting down on landfill waste.
Ultimately, the right return strategy can help a retailer do what’s right for their customers, the planet and their bottom line. And in the process, create meaningful customer connections that go far beyond the product itself. After Earth Day is the perfect time to reflect and revisit your return strategy to make sure it checks all of the boxes.
May 31, 2019 at 07:34AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs