I hope all is well in your world.
To our new subscribers - Nicola, Emily, Margie, Jodi, Anna, Nina, Elaine, Alessandra, Tango, Chelsea and Grace - welcome! Here's what you need to know about these newsletters: every Sunday I write about something related to running a sustainable fashion business. My aim is always to inform and entertain - so let me know if I'm hitting the spot, or wide of the mark (simply hit reply and tell me).
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Today we'll be talking about the gnarly issue of online product returns.
Did you know: companies call returns "reverse logistics".
But first, I need to say how nice it was to hear from so many of you regarding last week's brainstorm about non-Facebook/Instagram marketing ideas. Thank you for all your suggestions - some real gems in there that we'll be putting into action soon.
A disclaimer before we dive into today's topic: this article will not, surprisingly for me, touch too much on the specific environmental impact of online returns (it's generates an additional 16 million metric tonnes of CO2 in the US alone). I do however recommend this article and this eye-opening video on YouTube for more information on that aspect of returns.
Up until recently, free online returns have been de rigeur in the world of online shopping. You may have heard that ZARA recently began to charge for online returns. Whilst the price is small - £1.95 (US$2.31) - and the purported reason is environmental concerns, some are seeing it as the beginning of the end of free online returns. Indeed, it's been interesting to read how both consumers and industry are reacting.
On one hand there has been a backlash in some pockets of social media (those people are a bit spoiled IMHO). On the other, some are welcoming the move. For example, one industry expert said that while free returns was a valuable idea, as a concept it had run its course:
"Free returns sounded great when the mission was to get customers comfortable with shopping online. OK, they're comfortable - really, really comfortable shopping online. Now the focus needs to be to go back to profitability and sustainability".
There's no such thing as a "free return". Someone is footing that bill. Source: SaveMyCent
I was talking about this whole online returns saga with a dear friend of mine, Maxim. She and I often co-work and brainstorm together for each other's business. [Aside: after a sparkling career working as principal design technologist and mobile software engineer, Maxim has struck out on her own to create MENNENIA - a company that helps female entrepreneurs build tech with confidence.]
So, like I said, Maxim and I were talking returns, and wondering aloud about what information is missing when it comes to online purchases.
On the one hand, there's a phenomenon called "batching". This is where customers purchase the same product in different sizes (say 39, 40 and 41) or colours (maybe I can't decide between a white, grey or khaki T-shirt). Once the product is in our hands, we try it on, keep the one that that fits or looks best, and return everything else. It's free returns, right? No skin off our nose...
When it's not about batching, the most common reasons for returns are "changed my mind", "style", "not as described", and "defective".
Returns are a lot more complicated than the original purchase. Source: DP World
I'm sure in 5-10-20 years time, we'll look back at "batching" behaviour and think how inefficient it is for everyone involved. I mean there's a deeper problem here, and it's the fact that true size-fit information and "virtual fitting rooms" (i.e. augmented reality (AR)) are not widely available in the world of e-commerce - yet. There are companies out there working on these things (BODS is one example), but the technology is nascent and implementation is far from mainstream.
Returns are, happily, a relatively rare occurrence at LUXTRA. But given our growth rate, it got me thinking about ways to prevent rather than cure,.
So Maxim and I would like to ask you two questions:
ONE: Imagine everything there is to know about a product. Then think about your own online shopping experience. Do you wish you had more information about a product before you’d buy or not?
TWO: If you have a spare 2 minutes, we'd love to know what sort of information you feel is missing? Just hit reply and your answers will come straight to my inbox.
This is Maxim, btw - inspiring everyone at a conference. You can watch her speak here.
Before I leave, I wanted to share with you a snippet from the best part of my day: hearing from happy customers. This time it was Lauren, who purchased a continental wallet in silver Piñatex. So pleased you like it, Lauren!
Wishing you all a nice week ahead,
LUXTRA Founder | Problem-Preventer* | Proud B Corp-er
* Trying, at least!