Around 530 million parcels were returned in Germany
Last year, one out of four packages were returned in Germany. This comes to an estimate of 530 million parcels, with 1.3 billion items. Returning goods is part of consumer protection. On the other hand, the amount of returns brings high costs for sellers, as well as a large carbon footprint.
European Returns Champion
“Germany is the European Returns Champion”, say economists from the University of Bamberg. They interviewed 411 managers of European retailers with an online turnover of around 60 million euros. Additionally, they evaluated data from associations for ecommerce, mail order, express logistics and parcel services.
Returning products is easy
In 2021, German consumers collectively ordered goods worth 99 billion euros online. Of the 1.3 billion items that were returned, 91 percent are clothing or shoes. According to the researchers, only one in ten German online stores charge fees for returns. This is a significantly lower amount than in the rest of Europe, where every second store charges a fee. This is one of the reasons that so many orders are returned.
Paying by invoice makes it easier to return products.
The large period in which items can be returned is another reason, say the researchers. The fact that most German consumers pay by invoice makes it easier to return products as well.
Recycling returned goods
“The average transport and processing costs per return shipment are 6.95 euros”, said Björn Asdecker, head of the research group. “However, German online sellers are good at recycling their returns. The proportion of disposal in Germany is lower than in the rest of Europe, which makes the costs per return lower than with the competition. This results in a competitive advantage for ecommerce in Germany.”
Over 93% of returned products are resold as new.
According to the research, just one percent of the returned items are disposed. Over 93 percent is immediately resold as new. The remaining items are offered as second-hand goods, donated or sold to industrial users.
The researchers estimate that 795,000 tons of CO2 are due to returns in Germany in 2021. In comparison, around 6.6 million cars would emit the same on the journey from Munich to Hamburg. While logistics providers are often trying to minimize their carbon footprint, the German ecommerce industry makes little effort to narrow down the ecological footprint. Less than five percent stated that their company measured the carbon footprint of returns, according to the survey.
‘Researching the avoidability of returns is important.’
“The return of goods is part of consumer protection and well-established processes in online and mail order business”, said Martin Groß-Albenhausen, deputy general manager of the Federal Association of E-Commerce and Mail Order. “All the more important to research the reasons for returns, the scope, avoidability and utilization of returns.”