E-commerce: Order returns are not so free – France

  • 1 The mirage of free return

  • Ordering an item in duplicate or triplicate to judge the ideal size and color at home: a trivial gesture, for many e-shoppers, thanks to the free returns offered by most online sales sites. With reflection periods between 30 days (Amazon, Spartoo, etc.) main asset. How many apartments were not transformed, during the confinements, into real tasters? Convenient, risk-free and free.

    A policy that has greatly benefited the sector. According to the report by the Federation of e-commerce and distance sales (Fevad), which brings together more than 500 companies, 2.1 billion transactions were carried out regarding the sale of products (excluding services and travel) in France in 2021. , an increase of 16% in one year. This represents 66.7 billion euros in sales.

  • 2 Expensive for brands

  • In this context, it may come as a surprise the decision taken by two fast fashion heavyweights, H&M and Zara, to do away with free shipping costs for mail-orders. Does this turnaround mean that online sales are overwhelmed by the return volumes it has generated itself?

    The economic argument is undoubtedly significant in the shift initiated by e-commerce in apparel. You would have to be very naive, in fact, to believe that the return of orders, until now free for the consumer, is also free for the seller’s website. With fuel and card prices rising, parcel forwarding is becoming more and more expensive. Added to this, for the company, are the costs of reconditioning items put back on the market. When your journey doesn’t end in trash…

  • 3 Ecological Nonsense

  • In fact, it is for the planet that the cost is higher. Viewers who watched the report broadcast on France 2 on May 5 by the Envoyé Spécial were shocked to find that the package they are considering sending back to the nearest “marketplace” warehouse is operating, not a return to square one, but an incomprehensible journey of several thousand kilometers. In this investigation, a GPS tracker, hidden in a coat purchased and returned to Zalando.fr, made seven stops in the Paris region before arriving in Germany and returning to Belgium. With Amazon, a returned package traveled 3,000 km to be repackaged at a lower cost in Slovakia and put back on the circuit… in the UK!

  • 4An image for green

  • A disastrous carbon footprint. However, if they are not philanthropists, e-commerce giants have understood the marketing virtues of “greenwashing” (“eco-washing” in French). Clearly: any company – and this one, especially as it pollutes – has an interest in restoring its image, in acquiring eco-responsible behavior and making it known. The stakes, both commercial and ecological, are high: the rate of return for textiles alone is estimated at nearly 30%, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Not knowing “the underside of all this parcel traffic”, 77% of French e-shoppers declare that they regularly return an order, according to a consumer study carried out by the Dutch company Sendcloud. An observation that led the CEO of the European leader in all-in-one transport solutions, Rob van den Heuvel, to plead, in April, for a reduction of the return flows associated with “a cost, even symbolic, at the expense of the consumer to the return of orders”.

  • 5 A derisory share

  • Symbolic, it is the attribute that corresponds to the 95 cents of participation fixed by H&M and 1.95 euros deducted from the value of an item refunded by Zara, after return by post (delivery in store is still free). Far from the estimated shipping cost of €7.60 – €12.50 per returned and refurbished product, according to Sendcloud. Proof that we are only at the beginning of the journey and that “delivery is the mainstay of the trade war being played online”, according to Rob van den Heuvel.

  • 6 Good intentions to materialize

  • Nevertheless: after the first 14 signatories, last year, of the Letter of Commitments for the Reduction of the Environmental Impact of Online Commerce, 18 new companies joined, in mid-March, the dynamics driven by the government. It is up to them to inform the consumer about the least polluting delivery methods, promote the right ordering gestures to limit returns, reduce packaging and develop low-carbon delivery methods. The first monitoring committee will take place in July and a progress report will be published each year.

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