Behind the E-Commerce Giants, the Incredible Parcel Returns Business

They’ve been waiting for this! For many traders, “Black Friday” has become The meeting of the year. This commercial wind coming from America carries consumers with it in a shopping bulimia loaded with welcome promotions in this period of inflation. It is even a blessing to prepare for the end of year festivities, since, according to a survey by the Federation of Electronic Commerce and Distance Sales (Fevad), 70% of French people take advantage of Black Friday to anticipate their Christmas shopping. At French e-commerce leader Cdiscount, everyone is on deck. “We have 20 million visitors a month, but on this single day there are between 8 and 10 million. Of the 20 million packages shipped each year, we deliver 200,000 the day after Black Friday,” says Cdiscount.

A great beneficiary of the Covid crisis, e-commerce has been digesting its accumulated billions in the last two years. And if the turnover of products and textiles is decreasing a little in favor of digital services (36 billion euros of accumulated revenue in the third quarter of 2022), even so, 11,000 new e-commerce sites were created in 2021 in the country. However, the “boxes” are also numerous to return to warehouses because, according to Fevad, 25% of purchased products return to the sender. Alongside the Mondial Relay and other Relais colis, at Colissimo, the La Poste subsidiary that will deliver 100 million packages to its rush hour winter (1/5 of their annual volume), Jacques Gregorcic’s teams saw 23 million packages pass through on their way home last year. “By 2022, with our new home service, postmen will still have collected 1 million parcels from French mailboxes”, confides Colissimo’s director of operations.

Almost one out of every two plots offered for sale on the site

Defective product or dissatisfied customer, all returned packages will not be placed on e-rays. At Cdiscount, the bounce rate is quite low (3% on average), but it still represents more than a million packages to be reprocessed across platforms. “About 45% of returns are relisted on the website [NDLR : dont 5 % en occasion]we donate 20% to memberships, and 35% is sold for discounts,” we explain in the e-merchant, where we are constantly asked how to revalue these unsold items.

It must be said that returns management is a money pit. On a product sold for 100 euros on the Internet, the merchant will make a margin of between 20 and 30 euros. But acquiring a customer can cost you up to 10 euros (marketing, reduction…), and return shipping 5 euros. When you add in the management and handling costs, there’s not much left in the merchant’s website pocket. “To resell the product you have to add costs. That’s why we can say that they work with a loss in returns”, confides an expert in the sector. That’s why e-retailers are trying to restore the value of these inventories. They can thus go through bailiffs or auction houses to sell the goods. But they are increasingly turning to “cyberdestockers”, companies that set up an auction system for order pallets, via markets exclusively B to B. A market estimated at 5 billion euros in France.

Simon Vancoppenolle, the founder of Stocklear, in a warehouse in Tournai, Belgium.

🇧🇷 🇧🇷 Sébastien Pommier // L’Express

The world leader in this new sector is called B-Stock, which sold 143 million products in 2021 in the United States and is coming to Europe. Disney, Unilever, Amazon… 9 out of the top 10 global retailers are customers. “We enable companies to convert inventory to cash in as little as two weeks. fast fashion, there is an enormous amount of waste in this industry, with practices such as burning unsold goods. We offer a more sustainable option to give your stock a second life,” explains Jessica Morris, European Marketing Director at B-Stock.

These product destructions, Amazon made the experience bitter. The NGO Amigos da Terra fixed the practices of the e-commerce giant in 2018. Around 300,000 new objects (Playmobil boxes, Lego, diapers, etc.) Capital, the M6 ​​news magazine. But since January 1, 2022, the Anti-Waste and Circular Economy Law (known as Agec) obliges producers, importers and distributors to reuse or recycle unsold non-food products. That’s why the calls are increasingly numerous on Simon Vancoppenolle, a 30-year-old Belgian who set up his start-up in Roubaix.

stock for destockers

Arriving at the foot of the old historic building of the direct mail company La Redoute with its faded brick facade can confuse more than one visitor. However, it is in this 13,000 square meter site that a new nugget of French technology has emerged, which has quickly become an essential link in e-commerce. Does Stocklear mean nothing to you? Normal, this young company (15 employees) only works with companies. He mediates between returned products from online retailers and discount specialists, small stores that resell products at bargain prices.


Pascal Federico, head of the Eco Electro clearance store in Lomme, near Lille.

🇧🇷 🇧🇷 Sébastien Pommier // L’Express

“We store the goods in warehouses all over France, then we open the auctions for two days. After they are over, we collect the money and pass the money on to the seller. Along the way, we charge a commission for the operation”, explains the founder of the Stocklear, which wants to become a European leader in the sector.

A few kilometers away, in Tournai, Belgium, Simon Vancoppenolle takes us to a warehouse where he has just received hundreds of washing machines, refrigerators, televisions… An Ali Baba cave! “Do you see so much air conditioning? I didn’t think it would end so quickly. Everything runs out, regardless of the seasons”, breathes the businessman. If he’s discreet about his suppliers, he’s the delight of discounters like Pascal Federico, the head of Eco Electro, based in Lomme, on the outskirts of Lille. “These auctions are 20% of my bid. This allows us to reach products from big brands at ridiculous prices ”, he explains. Damaged cardboard, small apparent defect, the de-stocker, who will have bought an average of 40% of the initial price, will resell it at 20%. For him, as for his colleagues, it’s Black Friday all year round.

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