Piles of Clothes - Reverse Logistics

Piles of Clothes - Reverse Logistics

11/17/2021 - 16:01

These days, everybody orders clothes online. Fewer people are going to the stores to buy clothes. That is a big change if you look back ten years ago. Nowadays many stores have their online stores where customers can order clothes online. The customers will pick the items that they want and the package will be shipped to their homes. It is a very simple and quick process. The distribution centers that handle these processes should be well equipped, the only problem is that customers return a lot of clothes. That gives a large reverse flow that the warehouses should be able to manage. What can be done to reduce the reverse flow of clothes?
Logistics NL
  • Student work

This article was written by Lora Gadaleva as part of the course Professional Writing and Communication 1 during academic year 2019 - 2020

The current situation
In the Netherlands in 2018, there were 240 million online orders (Netherlands: number of online purchases 2009-2018,nd). That is a huge number and unfortunately, around 30 to 35 percent of e-commerce orders on apparel will be returned according to Transport Topics (Returns of Online Purchases a Key Factor in E-Commerce Boom,2017). That is an amount of around 84 million orders and it has a high value especially the high-end brands as Calvin Klein and G-Star RAW. That gives a tremendous reverse flow to the distribution centers. The e-commerce market is growing and for some distribution centers that deal with clothing, it is hard to handle this massive flow that will continue to grow if companies won’t acknowledge the problem now.

Sky rocketing costs
The returning costs for a company are getting significantly higher. Some online stores even have a free returning policy which means all the returning costs will be for the company. Think about the extra costs for renting lorries that pick up the packages from the local drop off points to the central distribution center. That needs planning for the truck drivers so they know where and when they have to be at a certain location. This will be the job for a specific employee or employees depending on the size of the company who also needs to get paid. Then other employees will check the returning products on damaging and if the clothes have been worn. The employees will have to bring the checked items that are in the right shape, back to the shelves and racks. Those extra employees will have wages as well and secondly, these processes do take a lot of consuming time. It would also be better for the environment if there would be fewer lorries going from location to location in the interest of less pollution (Barry,nd).

Easily returned
It does not cost a lot of effort for customers to return their orders. Most websites do not have a fee which makes it more attractive to return items if the customers are not so sure if they would like to keep the items. The only thing that the customers will have to do, is to put the items back in the box with the return sticker and they will have to bring it to a drop off point. There are multiple reasons why a customer would want to return certain items.

The first reason is that they do not like the clothing item when they try it on themselves, perhaps it does not look the same as on the pictures of the website where a model is wearing the clothing items. The second reason is that they ordered multiple sizes of a certain item to be sure that one of them will fit, only the other size will have to be returned. The third reason is that they order a product in different colors to see what color looks best on them, therefore they would not have to order an order color and wait a couple days before that order would arrive at their house. The fourth reason is that the expectations of the quality of the item is not reached, the customers expected a better quality based on the pictures, description or price. The fifth reason is that the customer did not get the right item that they ordered. This is a problem of the inventory system or a mistake that is made by an employee who picked the wrong order number. The customer will not be satisfied with the service from the online store and he will still have to return the item. The sixth reason is a new phenomenon that is called wardrobing, people order the clothes and wear them with the tags on but do return them after they worn it. This is a serious problem after all the worn clothes have to be cleaned first to be able to go back in stock which costs money and time or the clothes can no longer be sold (Eisenberg,nd).

The right tools
Some methods can help to reduce the number of items that get sent back to the distribution center. Taking high-quality pictures of your products is crucial. The pictures need to be in HD quality and would preferable be worn by a model. In the description of the photo, it should say the size that the model is wearing and her or his height. This would help the customer to decide which size they would need since they can compare themselves with the model. Another tip is to not only make a picture but a video as well. This gives a better view of how the products would look on the customer. The description of the product is an important aspect. Writing down the facts of the product to give the customer a real expectation of what they can expect of a certain item is essential. If you would write down words that are not matched by this product, the customer could expect that quality and would not be pleased when the product would arrive at their house. The chance would be bigger that the customer would ship the item back, which the company is trying to prevent. Another tip that would help is to ask the customers online why they are returning this article. If many customers are returning a certain article and mostly all have the same reason as for example the color is not the same on the pictures, then as a business you can do something about it and fix this problem. A size chart is an item that should be available on your website. Customers could look at the size chart and measure themselves with measuring tape and then choose the right size that should probably fit them. This could help to prevent customers from ordering multiple sizes instead of one. The website should give an option that clients could write down reviews of the products that they bought. Customers could give their opinions to what they thought of the product. New customers could read those reviews and it could help them for example with picking the right size if customers thought that the clothing item fits smaller than the average size. At last, you should have a returning fee, this will make the customers think twice of about ordering the products if they want to have them and with choosing the right size. The fee will also cover some of the returning expenses of the company (Graat,nd).

What can the future bring
The solutions that are named above will help to avoid the reverse flow in the future as well. There are newly designed methods such as apps or fitting tools that will help with choosing the size even more than a normal sizing chart. The newly designed methods will ask about your weight, height, age, and other subsections such as if you like the clothes to be a little bit more loose or tight and which brands you wear often and which size you wear for those. The method will give the result of which size will probably fit you. It is a new customized method that will help to slim down the numbers of packages that get returned. ASOS has designed their own size chart which is called fit assistant that asks the same kind of questions as mentioned above. The fit assistant is a success at ASOS and has reduced the reverse flow significantly (Ratcliff,2014).

The e-commerce sector will expand in the future and the problem of a large reverse flow will still be relevant. The returning costs for companies are high since extra employees are needed as well as assets to be able to process this large reverse flow. It does not only cost money but also time that could have been used differently. There are many reasons why people return their items as ordering multiple sizes, the product does not reach their expectations of the quality of how it fits them, the product that got shipped to their house was not the actual product they ordered and the product did not look the same as on the pictures. Many methods could help to at least reduce that. These are sizing charts, taking high-quality pictures, make a video, using facts of the products for your product description, ask the customers why they are returning the item, allow reviews of your customers on your website and have a returning fee. There are new methods as creating your sizing chart which will have a large influence on your reverse flow and decrease it. It does need investment to create one but it would be worth it in the end.

- Barry, J. (n.d.). Returns Processing - Handle Returns With Care. Retrieved October 4, 2019, from https://www.fcbco.com/blog/bid/156172/returns-processing-handle-returns-with-care.
- Eisenberg, A. (n.d.). How to Deal with Serial Returners and Reduce Your Shop's Return Rate. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://business.trustedshops.co.uk/blog/serial-returners.
- Graat, M. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2019, from http://www.logisticsmatter.com/2018/01/25/need-know-e-commerce-returns-europe/.
- Marikar, S. (2018, October 12). The Transformational Bliss of Borrowing Your Office Clothes. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/12/business/rent-the-runway-office-clothes.html.
- Netherlands: number of online purchases 2009-2018. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2019, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/558287/number-of-online-orders-in-the-netherlands/.
- Ratcliff, C. (2014, June 16). How fashion ecommerce retailers can reduce online returns. Retrieved October 14, 2019, from https://econsultancy.com/how-fashion-ecommerce-retailers-can-reduce-online-returns/.
- Returns of Online Purchases a Key Factor in E-Commerce Boom. (2017, August 17). Retrieved September 30, 2019, from https://www.ttnews.com/articles/returns-online-purchases-key-factor-e-commerce-boom.
- Williams, R. (2018, November 28). Asos' in-app Fit Assistant helps shoppers find the perfect size. Retrieved from https://www.mobilemarketer.com/news/asos-in-app-fit-assistant-helps-shoppers-find-the-perfect-size/543090/.