Fast fashion bids to reduce waste: Retailers increase fees to deter returns

Fast fashion bids to reduce waste: Retailers increase fees to deter returns

  • Firms clamping down on shoppers who return garments ordered online 
  • Only 25% of unsellable returns are recycled
  • 50% end up in landfill and 25% are incinerated

Model approach: H&M has chosen to bring in a charge for returns

Three in four unsellable returned items of clothing are dumped in landfill or burnt as fashion retailers scramble to reduce the cost of consumers sending goods back.

Fast fashion firms, including Zara and Asos, are clamping down on shoppers who return garments ordered online by reducing promoted items or introducing fees for items sent back.

Only 25 per cent of unsellable returns are recycled, while 50 per cent end up in landfill and 25 per cent are incinerated, according to Statista.

Many items are deemed ‘unsellable’ due to the resources and cash needed to process, clean, repackage and redistribute them. Some retailers also do not see the point of reselling them if a trend or season has moved on.

The research was shown to fashion business leaders at a meeting last week held by the British Retail Consortium. Helen Dickinson, chief of the BRC, said tackling unsustainable returns would benefit retailers’ bottom lines, as well as the environment.

For many retailers, a costly reverse logistics process means re-selling products is ‘not a choice they’re prepared to make’, says Professor Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas, from the British School of Fashion.

‘As consumers, we clearly all imagine that when we send something back, it pops back up on a shelf magically,’ she added. But about £140m worth of clothes is sent to landfill each year. The trend is costly for fashion retailers too – for a £20 purchase, the average return cost is £10-£12.

Consumers are accustomed to ordering an array of sizes and colours of the same product.

But now retailers, including Boohoo, Zara and H&M, have all introduced small charges for returns. Archie Mason, a director at investment and advisory firm True, said: ‘If a small charge for an online return can help to drive consumer change, it is probably a good thing.

‘The returns cycle in apparel is unsustainable from an environmental and cost perspective.’

Mason said investment into ‘digital fits’ – where customers can get a good sense if a product will fit them based on data about their shopping history and size – is also a way to lower the high return rates.