Anthony Brimelow, commercial director at packaging products company Duo UK, explains how an easier returns policy can reduce waste and environmental impact.
With the ability to shop online 24/7, consumers expect the same convenience throughout the purchase, dispatch and delivery process. Every step must be as quick and convenient as possible, but there is one element of this process that remains slightly more complicated: returning unwanted items.
The fast fashion market in particular sees a high volume of orders returned, especially as many retailers offer a ‘try-before-you-buy’ service, which actively encourages shoppers to try out clothes at home and simply send back the ones that they don’t want, usually for free. In fact, the majority of consumers expect e-retailers to offer free returns across the board. Retailers may see this as something that will negatively impact their bottom line, as the shipping and handling costs can lower profitability. However, a streamlined returns process can be key to gaining repeat customers and increasing brand loyalty, something that is crucial in a crowded market such as fast fashion.
Having a clear returns policy should be the first step that online retailers take to make the process easier for their customers. As many consumers check the returns policy before committing to purchase, make it concise, easy to understand and featured prominently on the website so that potential customers don’t have to actively search for the small print.
The actual returns process should be simple, too, with as few steps as necessary. After all, if a consumer was buying from a brick-and-mortar retailer it would be straightforward, so the online returns process should echo this. A popular fast fashion brand hit the headlines recently for accidentally sending out a batch of orders without including return slips, meaning that customers either had to pay for returns (the brand usually offers it for free) or couldn’t return them. Of course, mistakes do happen, but there are measures that can be put in place by retailers to minimise these risks.
Duo is at the forefront of this area of innovation, we create the packaging ecommerce orders are commonly distributed in and the packaging consumables required in the fulfilment process. We’ve supported our clients to improve the delivery and return process, as well as lowering their environmental impact on the world we live in.
For example, simple pioneering design innovations to a mailing bag have made a considerable difference to the returns process for customers and retailers. The addition of a second glue strip with a serration, for example, means that when a customer opens their delivery, the second glue line is preserved, and if they want to return unwanted items, they can use the same bag their order came in to send it back – making it a multi-use item, not single-use. This reduces the overall consumption of packaging, and removes the need for a customer to purchase a new packaging item or to try secure it themselves with tape.
We have invested in barcode printers and a system of sequential labelling, which enables unique information to be printed directly onto each mailing bag. As well as enabling the retailer to keep track on usage of each packaging item, this technology can also be used to print a returns label eradicating the need to print off, and include a paper label within the package.
Printing directly onto the mailing bag also makes the bag easier to recycle in a closed loop recycling system and results in brands gaining higher value back on their scrap, something that allows a retailer to ease its margins on returned items.
Duo has also made great strides in industrial recycling of waste plastic mailing bags returned by online retail customers, experiencing a significant increase in retailers adopting our closed-loop recycling service. Retailers segregate their waste polythene from other material streams and Duo will collect and recycle this valuable commodity. As well as generating income from their waste which can be used to off-set their packaging spend, the recycled pellets are put to good use by being used to make new packaging items and reduce dependency on finite, virgin polythene. It also contributes to reducing a company’s carbon footprint.
The use of plastic packaging in the industry has come under scrutiny over recent years, however, the efficiencies in the supply chain and its environmental credentials compared to alternative postal packaging options means plastic packaging is something that is going to be part of the industry for years to come. We have managed to make it more environmentally friendly through the use of Green PE, a material derived from renewable sugar cane. Our Green PE mailing bags have been adopted by a large number of retailers as they want to move towards the use of more sustainable materials, and their customers are increasingly buying products based on a brand’s values.
All of these efficiency and innovation measures have been painstakingly made with a clear and unwavering goal in mind: to keep valuable plastic in the economy and out of the environment.