How many times a week do you shop online? Do you still go grocery shopping? You can buy groceries, wine, and even sporting goods online. No need to leave the house ever again! These conveniences have been amplified during COVID-19 as people try to minimize their exposure to others. As the vaccine is rolled out, will people keep these habits or go back to shopping in person? When you shop in person, you tend to buy more but you ALSO don’t typically make returns. 

Considered a “necessary evil” of the retail industry, returns cost retailers up to 59% of the value of the item. American consumers expect “free and easy” returns while shopping for clothes. We expect items to appear magically on our doorsteps. A watch, a pair of shoes (in 2 sizes to make sure one pair fits), a box of diapers, and ice cream wrapped in a mountain of plastic but it is melted anyway (still delicious). This is not sustainable. Not for small businesses or big businesses or for the environment; and in particular, the clothing industry. 

Each returned garment requires additional packaging materials, warehousing space, and processing, and the carbon emissions from the trucks and planes needed to process each return. 

And despite a store’s efforts to resell the items, the U.N. Environmental Programme reports that 15 million tons of clothing end up in US landfills each year. In 2019, returns cost American retailers $309 billion according to the Appris Retail Report. The numbers are staggering, the damage eye-opening. 

So what can you do? The answer is complicated but little steps lead to big changes. 

  • Buy locally to support the businesses around you 
  • Carefully read reviews to figure out what size you need 
  • Be understanding when items take longer than expected, especially now
  • Know where your donated clothes are headed — many are sent to other countries to be trashed there

And, finally, let your list grow before you hop onto your computer and ADD TO CART. The future is bright but we need to get there together.