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Four key actions you can take to reduce clothing returns to lessen their impact on their planet and minimize your financial losses.

When it comes to the responsible reuse, recycling or reselling of clothes, most of the focus is concerned with how consumers should shop more consciously or take better care when recycling old apparel.

But retailers have a responsibility too. All too often, consumers return unwanted articles to the stores or warehouses and retailers have to decide what is going to happen to these items. Typically, this process includes multiple costly steps that create logistical delays and take up valuable resources. For online returns parcels must be opened, for both online and store returns items must be checked for damage, for both all items then have to be steamed, repackaged or redisplayed and sold again. If they are not back on the shelves or website quickly enough, seasonal items have to be discounted.

This effort often costs the business more than can be recouped with the final retail price tag. That’s why the alternative to this logistical and expensive headache is to send clothes to be incinerated.

Because returns are often free, and shoppers are unaware of the potential consequences, consumers naturally feel the need to use the service. However, the cost to retailers is calculated to be an average of $25 per item. Scaled up this equals a 30% negative impact on profits. In the UK alone, this is estimated to cost around $8.7 billion a year. Incineration is not a cost-effective or environmentally viable solution.

Considering the economic and environmental impact, we’re going to list the four key things you can do with clothing returns to lessen their impact on the planet and minimise your financial losses.

Donate

At first, the notion of giving away your clothing might seem totally at odds with your business model. But look at your alternatives. Perhaps the costs involved in repackaging and reselling the items are prohibitive, maybe re-listing at a discount is more trouble than it’s worth, and hopefully incinerating is out of the question.

Donations to a charity your consumers feel strongly about could serve to generate positive news stories and coverage. Something you can talk about on your website if you establish an ongoing commitment. You can negate the associated costs of steaming and reselling while doing something positive for the wider community. While many brands feel comfortable with this, other brands might feel protective of their reputation and prefer their products remain aspirational. They can opt to donate to local fashion schools and seek assurances that the donated textiles will be repurposed beyond recognition. In the UK high street retailer River Island, heritage brand Barbour and fashion house Burberry have each signed up to share deadstock with Fashion Colleges across the UK.

It’s worth noting, that both donation approaches might even allow you to make a tax adjustment at the end of the year. Depending on the tax laws in your country, it can pay to be responsible and donate your unwanted returns.

Recycle

Big businesses and small businesses are always looking for ways to minimise their carbon footprint and recycle. From dedicated paper recycling bins in the office to cycle-to-work schemes, each employer wants to do their bit.

Clothing returns can be treated the same. Most textiles can be recycled in some capacity, even if it means they’re down-cycled into thermal insulation or industrial carpeting.

However, around the globe, just 12% of clothing is being recycled. This is low compared to other recyclable materials. For example, 66% of all paper waste is recycled, 27% of waste glass is recycled into new glass and 29% of used plastic is recycled into new products (including polyester for the fashion industry). By committing to a textile recycling plan you can lower your carbon footprint and might even be able to make a modest income. In some countries, you can find local textile recycling services that will manage your textile waste (and your unwanted returns) and pay you for the privilege.

Resell

As discussed at the top of the article, larger businesses prepared to add a layer of logistics and create outlet stores or online re-selling sites can discount and resell their customer’s unwanted returns. This requires quality checks, repackaging, re-listing or re-stocking but can be worthwhile if you can still secure good sales from the returns. These outlet sites or physical stores can also be the destination for sale items, last season’s collections or excess, unsold stock. If operated well these can resolve issues with returns and serve as a secondary source of revenues for the wider business.

However, big and small businesses can seek out external and independent reseller sites to manage or supercharge this process on their behalf. Vogue Business recently highlighted Queen of Raw as the best software to easily connect your business with suitable designers or resellers. Their software facilitates the sale of production deadstock and finished apparel so all you have to do is bag it up and ship it. Also, the British site DeadStock is a leading retailer site for fashion returns and vintage apparel. By using an outside company to connect you with serious buyers or manage reselling you can save time, stress and energy. Ultimately you might make less for the returns but you can negate the costs associated with operating your own outlet reselling operation.

Prevention of Returns

They say prevention is the best cure. If you could prevent returns in the first instance you could negate the courier costs, the sorting, the donating, the recycling, the repackaging or the re-selling entirely. By avoiding this headache you can direct more of your energy towards selling your stock, designing new pieces and building consumer loyalty.

But how can you prevent returns? Aren’t they a part of today’s shopping experience for most consumers?

They don’t have to be. 37% of customer returns are attributed to ordering the wrong sizing. Something that can be better managed by improving how your customers choose their size when ordering.  Today, with the right size and fit technology retailers can improve their customer shopping experiences by helping them to buy the right garment size first time around according to their own personal measurements and unique body shape. This AI technology is integral to improving and modernizing all stages of the shopping experience lifecycle. From the initial browsing and purchase decision, to ensuring the customer feels good in their purchase, all the way through to the returns process.

Getting the right size is fundamental to shopper confidence and garment keep rates.   If retailers are really looking to eliminate their returns, size and fit can no longer be overlooked.

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