The world seems to be paying a lot of attention to supply chains recently, and a lot of the focus has been on delivering products to the customer, with various inefficiencies and delays along the way. The focus has been primarily on what some refer to as the forward supply chain, from raw material to the customer.
Humm. This is really interesting. I'm a returner. Why? Because clothes don't always fit well. And, especially now, because there is so little actual inventory in the stores. Nordstrom downtown in my city (i.e., a big store) had virtually no coats the other day. Online: several dozen choices. But I need to buy two sizes to find the one that fits. That means returns. So it becomes a question of inventory vs. returns for the stores. I'm sure someone, somewhere has made the calculation and figured it out.
Jet.com offered a discount (2-3%) if you waived the ability to return. Also, for US-based consumers purchasing from AliExpress, I would expect a much lower rate of returns. But, the extended delivery-times (weeks or months) to receive items from China sets a different set of customer expectations.
I would love to see more in-person show-rooms to check out items in person. Another idea is for Amazon and other e-commerce sites to create "dressing room" locations where you could have "return-likely" clothing items shipped, and then have a more traditional "dressing room" experience. The firms could then keep some items at the location for other's to try on, and then have their employees properly clean and package up the non-fitting/non-wanted items to mitigate some of the drivers of return-waste you mentioned in your article.
We would all probably benefit from better measurements of garment fit and quality. For example, T-shirts can have widely divergent fits and qualities of cloth, screenprinting, and stitching. If these could be better measured and communicated, T-shirts would be more of a Search Good and less of an Experience Good.
Wow I had no idea return rates are so high. A good reminder not to use oneself as a proxy :).
One interesting recent counterpoint to my extremely rare returns was a Casper mattress we bought in the spring from Amazon. I didn’t think it was comfortable. Amazon asked me to pack it back in the box to return, which anyone who has bought a mattress in a box knows isn’t possible so after a call to customer service they said just keep it or give it away…
On a positive note I’ve found a local “buy nothing” group and we have given away and gotten a ton of stuff from our neighbors. Doesn’t register in gdp but it is a positive sum transaction!