“Fantastic! We’ve truckloads of returns this month!”, said no retailer, ever.

Alison Wiltshire

14 Feb 2020

Generous policies for returning unwanted purchases appeal to customers but mopping up the flood of returns incurs huge financial and environmental costs. Which is why reducing returns is high on every retailer’s sustainability agenda.

It’s a bit of a shocker. According to Optoro, in the US$390 billion of items are returned each year, five billion pounds of waste are sent to landfill and the returns process releases 15 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Retail Gazette says returns are costing UK retailers £60 billion a year. And shoppers are returning more and more: UPS expected to process 1.9million return packages in the US alone on 2 January 2020, up 26% from a year ago.


Not everything can be resold – it might be damaged, out of season or just not worth the cost. As little as 10 per cent of returns can end up back on the shelves. And it’s labour-intensive: about a third of Next shop staff work exclusively on dealing with returns. No wonder some online retailers let customers keep low value items they don’t want.


Of course, many consumers are increasingly uneasy about the impact of their shopping behaviour on the planet, and ethical investors want to see a commitment to sustainability. Leading retailers are responding to these concerns in all sorts of ways. It’s been common practice to resell seconds or surplus stock on other outlets, but the focus on reducing waste has escalated in the past year.

For example, in 2019 ASOS made “cutting down on wasteful and unnecessary returns” one of the aims of its new returns policy.  But there’s also a strong case for helping digital shoppers reduce their returns by making better choices and buying the right item first time. Because a more informed shopper is more confident and more likely to make the right choice, to buy something they love and keep.


The wisdom of the crowd

Online, there’s no-one to ask for advice, no fitting room.But what if you could see how other purchasers rate the fit? Or what’s the bestselling style? Drawing on the wisdom of the crowd, social proof messaging software puts all this sort of information in front of the customer as they ponder their choices.

It acts as a friendly knowledgeable sales associate, with unobtrusive and helpful comments about sales and add-to-cart volumes, stock availability, or what other buyers have said about a product. Social proof messaging gives consumers confidence in their buying decisions.


The returns headache is especially acute in fashion where shoppers routinely order multiple sizes of the same garment to compare. By Introducing social proof software retailers could provide rich on-screen information that might include ratings on style, quality and fit – all of which can help to make it easier for customers to pick the right style, in the right size, every time


Reducing returns is only one reason to use social proof messaging. Taggstar’s software gently nudges the customer along the online journey and improves the likelihood of a sale. Importantly, it’s not about making sales at any cost. That’s not sustainable business practice. As Liam Price, digital director at Oasis tells us: “Taggstar messages instigate an informed purchase, but we don’t want to drive impulse purchases. Our objective is to drive quality demand”.

Businesses or individuals, we’re all struggling to make good environmental choices. Social proof messaging can play an important role by providing exactly the kind of information a consumer needs, encouraging them to make a confident purchase – and throw the returns label in the recycling bin.



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