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Mandatory fee could reduce returns problem, study finds

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A small fee could reduce returns in Germany by 80 million per year, according to a new study.

The University of Bamberg’s returns management research group said a fee of €2.95 per item could reduce returns, which reached 490 million items in the country in 2018, by over 16%.

The researchers surveyed 139 German online retailers, finding that measures to disincentivise and reduce returns through better article descriptions and illustrations had been largely ineffective.

The group proposed a legally prescribed return fee, preventing larger retailers from offering free returns to undercut competitors and establishing a “polluter pays” principle.

They suggested that such a fee could lead to lower product prices, as currently returns are subsidised through higher prices.

Other measures proposed include standardised sizing specifications for manufacturers, which they said might require political leadership.

“In the future, respondents will see great potential in functioning online size consulting and more uniform size specifications from manufacturers,” said Ing. Björn Asdecker, research assistant at the Chair of Business Administration.

“In addition, the study results suggest that even a low statutory return fee could be a tool to get the returns and their negative effects under control. It is still too early for a holistic assessment of such a measure, but in our view, it pays to think about it.”

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