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  • Chris Thomas

Virtual In Reality: Waste

A Look At Industry Innovations and The Challenges We Face In Our Ever-Evolving Economy Issue 1: Waste by Chris Thomas May 2, 2022

I recently read an article on Vogue Business that spoke about the massive uptick in online returns in the ‘new normal’ economy that rapidly and forever changed during the pandemic. While this issue did not start in 2020, this problem is clearly evident to me as a self-described educated consumer. It is also something companies world-wide have been trying to solve for the past 5-10 years as online shopping has increased exponentially. With the advent of companies like Amazon, other companies in hard line and soft line sales have been trying to find ways to compete on pricing, quality, and especially shipping prices - most going to a ‘free shipping/free returns’ model that has crippled some retailers due to a staggering 95 per cent return rate increase in recent years. Vogue Business looked at this in their article and noted that even large companies like Amazon andNordstrom are reevaluating their more lenient return policies to decrease product waste as well as the financial strain returns cause. Let’s take a deeper dive into the numbers to find out the true impact of e-commerce returns:

  • 10 per cent of online returns are donated or incinerated, and items that are restocked must be hand-evaluated for potential damage, and then steamed or dry cleaned before being restocked.

  • US returns alone create 5 billion pounds of landfill waste and 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually, equivalent to the amount of trash produced by 5 million people in a year, according to one estimate.

To put that into a different perspective, 5 billion pounds is roughly equivalent to 17,241 blue whales, 11 Empire State Buildings; or in a more ridiculous description, 5 billion pounds is 20,325,203 NFL players. And yes - I actually did the math on all of these comparisons because the numbers are staggering. And these are just yearly statistics that are increasing rapidly as online shopping has become the new normal. So is there an answer to curb the waste that ends up in landfills each year?According to Vogue Business “A newer alternative is Happy Returns, which has clients including Revolve, Everlane and Eloquii. The California-based company runs 400 “Return Bars” in select shopping malls, stores and college campuses in the US. Clothing is then shipped in bulk to various return hubs where it’s eventually shipped out to be restocked, liquidated, recycled or donated. Return volume has increased 10 times in thepast 12 months.” Some companies are attempting to tackle returns by having them sent directly to the retailer to inspect and restock or be shipped elsewhere to destroy, donate, or liquidate. The problem then becomes a logistics one. The cost of shipping, the fact that most retailers use one-time use shipping plastic bags, and the labor cost, have both a negative financial impact on retailers and addto the aforementioned problem in waste. So what do we do? With the rise in online returns, the answer has to be in ‘how we decrease online returns’. Most shoppers do what’s called “bracketing - buying 20 dresses to find just one and return the rest due to lack of confidence in brand fit and sizing. The fact is - it is not about size; it is truly about FIT. Technology companies like Couture Technologies are taking a new approach to online shopping in the clothing industry. With just three lines of code on a brand’s website, they can incorporate Couture Technologies FIT platform and allow consumers to virtually try on clothing andnot just see what it will look like, but accurately see how it will FIT on their own body.

In a recent three-month case study with BBMS, Couture Technologies proved this model with an original goal of reducing returns by 50%. The results were unbelievable in regards to the most popular items sold. BBMS found that when customers used the virtual try on platform, there wereZERO returns. Think about the impact both financially and environmentally this had for this retailer. We are faced with a fork in the road as both consumers and retailers as we move forward in the online shopping realm. In the fashion/clothing space, at least, there seems to be an answer to reducing online returns. Get it right the first time. Article Citation: ( For questions or for more information or to try a DEMO of Couture Technologies FIT platform go to:

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