What the eCommerce Returns Process Actually Looks Like

It should come as no surprise that eCommerce product returns aren’t helpful, but are you aware just how much of an impact they can have? It goes far beyond the manufacturer’s bottom line.

Today, with consumers finding products in a quick mouse click or phone tap and many online retailers promising free or reduced shipping, more returns are happening than ever before. And all that packaging needed for replacements, fuel required for transport, and landfill space required for unwanted materials are wreaking havoc on the environment.

product returns are causing hazardous emissions

On the surface, a product return may seem rather harmless, and even good for business. It’s how we keep customers happy, right? Well, let’s not forget how much most customers value our environment. When we’re able to keep things cleaner and greener we do all we can to communicate that in our branding. Reducing returns may not be sexy in a TV spot or tagline, but it will make customers happy with action. To paint a clearer picture of just how much returns affect the environment, let’s take a look at the journey of a returned product and its many stages.


Step 1: The Second Shipping

After a customer receives the product they purchased in the mail and realize it isn’t what they had in mind, they have the option of shipping it back to the retailer or manufacturer. Some retailers offer to cover the cost of their customers’ shipping returns but either way, the effects on the environment are the same. Most will take their unwanted product to a major shipping brand like UPS, FedEx, or USPS. There, they can find packaging that’s as least as detrimental to our eco-system as the original product packaging. They’re nearly always heavy on plastics and paper. There are also new labels to be printed, which further contributes to unnecessary waste.

paper and plastic product returns are a major source of waste


Step 2: The Second Transport

From there, that unwanted product will take up space on a diesel truck, jet plane, or both. Either way, these vehicles burn massive amounts of CO2 and produce more harmful emissions annually than nearly anything else on earth. In fact, in 2016 transportation overtook power plants as the largest contributor of CO2 emissions for the first time since 1979. Perhaps all of our online returns played a role? We can’t say with certainty, but it’s quite likely.

transportation for product returns also product emissions


Step 3: Where to Put that Product

Occasionally, manufacturers are able to refurbish returned products for resale, or put their parts to use in other newly produced inventory. Even when that’s possible, more energy is needed to make it happen and more manpower is put toward those jobs when it could be put toward satisfying first-time buyers. However, more often than that, products are simply sent off to landfills, which needless to say is harmful for the environment today and in the future. Remember the island of misfit toys? This is how we create garbage islands of misfit eCommerce products.

garbage islands


Step 4: Unseen Implications

This is more of an acknowledgement than a step. The previous three steps comprise a linear pattern but there are plenty of negative effects on the environment that don’t fit neatly into that sequence of events. For example, imagine how much manufacturers are overproducing when their customers make returns. This doubles their environmental footprint for every new product that needs to be produced. All of the energy and materials that went into the initial product purchase need to occur again, which doubles the pollution and the dent in a company’s bottom line.

product returns leave a negative environmental footprint

These brands also need to invest manpower in additional customer service and redistribution of refurbished returns, if that’s an option. If the environmental impact of eCommerce product returns isn’t enough to shake brand managers, perhaps the financial costs will.


The Solution is Simple

All of this can be avoided. Customers return products for one reason and one reason only: They didn’t receive what they expected. The best way to ensure they’re happy with what they get in the mail is to help them get the best look at what they’re browsing. This can be accomplished with high-quality visual experiences. Threekit is a leader in helping eCommerce brands provide shoppers with just that.

3D visual renderings and product configurators enable online shoppers to turn high-quality visuals depicting the products they’re considering around a full 360 degrees, so they know how it looks from every angle. With product configurators, they can test out hundreds, occasionally even thousands of permutations including color, model, and accessory options. When online shoppers get an idea of what they’re buying long before they can touch and hold it, they’re no longer buying sight-unseen. This means they’re more likely to be happy with their purchase and keep it.

online product customizer


Threekit has an experienced team of 3D photographers that work closely with clients to produce the perfect solution to fit their unique needs. From stunning 3d product renderings to flexible product configurators to leading-edge augmented reality (AR) experiences, Threekit has the know-how and connections to help your customers choose right the first time. We also partner with leading marketing agencies from around the globe meaning customers receive the best possible eCommerce experience, which is all but guaranteed to reduce returns. If you’re ready to give your eCommerce consumers the clearest possible look at what you have to offer to reduce returns and your environmental impact, get in touch with us today for a consultation or demo.