Finance

With this sticker Twente entrepreneurs want to reduce the mountain of returns

Hundreds of millions of packages are delivered each year containing books, toys, shoes or clothing. Of the 778 million packages sent last year, 23 million were returned. A relatively small part, but still converted 60,000 returns per day.

This is not only a costly affair for retailers, but also bad for the environment. Because all those packages have to be transported back to the sender anyway.

Thrown away when in doubt

And the returned items do not always come up for sale again. A coat with a stain on it or a crockery with small scratches only disappears towards the second-hand market, but often also goes straight to the landfill. “When in doubt, manufacturers throw away the return”, says Oldenzaler Hilko Hooijer.

Together with his business friends Niels Oude Luttikhuis and Wolter Hoekman, he came up with something. With their return label, the three entrepreneurs from Twente believe they can drastically reduce the number of returns. The three have developed a vandal-proof label.

“It is a kind of sticker, comparable to a vignette that you have to stick on your car window to be allowed to drive on the highway in Austria or Switzerland,” says Hooijer. “And for clothing or other products with fabric, it’s a label that you can’t just peel off.”

Unusable with sticker on it

The return vignette is placed in a smart spot on the product, which is unusable until the sticker is removed. Thanks to a patented adhesive layer, pulling off prevents damage to the product. Once peeled off, the sticker cannot be stuck back.

A lot more convenient than fiddling with the tie wraps that some manufacturers use, says Hooijer. And also more convenient than labels that you can remove undamaged and then reattach, so that it looks as if the clothing has not been used.

It is too expensive for retailers to discuss with customers whether something has been used or not, which is why this practice is maintained at many chains. “That 1 or 2 percent of customers who are always wrong, you put so much energy into that, it’s not worth it,” says Nick Sans of web store Sans Online. “Every discussion with a customer, you lose it.”

Big problem

Returns are a major problem for online stores, agrees Marlene ten Ham, director of the sector organization Thuiswinkel.org. “We all benefit from keeping return costs within reasonable limits.” An online store has lost between 12.50 and 19.50 euros per return. The sector organization is therefore positive about the initiative, and is curious whether it will help.

According to Ten Ham, it is not possible to completely ban return shipments. “Clothes don’t fit or they don’t look good, for example.” In anticipation of this, some customers order multiple sizes of the same garment, which guarantees returns.

With better information, web shops can do something about this, says Ten Ham. “With a good description, reviews and an explanation of whether an item runs small”, she gives as an example. The consumer also has a role to play, she adds. “Choose consciously what you buy online,” says Ten Ham.

Label too expensive

“It’s only a small fraction of people who actually order to return things,” says Sans. For him, the return label of the three entrepreneurs alone offers no solace, because the cost of the label is not in proportion to what it would yield. He has another solution to discourage consumers from returning orders: he charges three euros for this.

Hooijer acknowledges that the cost of the sticker may be too high for some entrepreneurs to use it for all products. But according to him, it also has a preventive effect. “You can also just hang it on expensive items, which can deter buyers who want to order it for one-time use,” he explains.

“We’re not saying this is the holy grail, but something really needs to happen in the industry,” he concludes.

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