RLA News & Views

Online Clothing Returns Take a Strange Trip Around the World

February 27, 2023

Chances are, you’ve never been to Kantamanto, a two-acre maze of stalls, shops, and hawkers in downtown Accra, the capital of Ghana. More likely, something you’ve worn has.


“There is no such thing as a free return,” says Nada Sanders, a professor of supply chain management at Northeastern University. And the price – for companies and for the environment – “is absolutely unbelievable.”

The reasons so many of your returned blouses and mom jeans are getting trashed, donated, or chucked comes down to one squirm-inducing truth: Most of them are nearly worthless. In the age of fast fashion, the average Western consumer buys dozens of cheap new pieces of clothing per year. The retailers who sell it traffic in volume and turnover. They want you to buy lots of things, often. What happens to it next is an afterthought.

“We have the technology to handle the churn of the clothing industry on the forward side,” Sanders says. “But going in the reverse direction, we don’t have it figured out at all.”

If your dress passes the professional sniff test, “you’re now in the returns facility,” says Tony Sciarrotta, executive director of the Reverse Logistics Association, an industry group that deals with returns.

How do you get from there back to the new product facility, which could be in another state? “The truth is, transportation costs are higher than the value of most clothing,” he says.

And so, rather than send that dress back, the retailer will probably soon be looking for a way to get rid of it.

Read the Experience Magazine article here:  https://expmag.com/2023/02/online-clothing-returns-take-a-strange-trip-around-the-world/