Image credit/Pixabay/RaedonReturns of products purchased online generate five billion tons of trash and 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Consumer behaviour has been identified as a leading contributor to this trend. However, the majority of online shoppers say it is the retailers’ responsibility to address the environmental damage caused by returns. That is the finding of an online survey conducted by Harris Poll. The survey was undertaken by Threekit, a product visualisation software platform.

In the survey of over 1,900 US adults aged 18 and older who shop online:

  • 82 percent of US online shoppers agree that online retailers have a responsibility to reduce purchase returns. This is due to the negative impact processing a return has on the environment.
  • 76 percent of US online shoppers say they would like to return or exchange online purchases less. However, online retailers need to provide more accurate product images and details.

Visuals make a difference

In response to these findings and environmental costs of eCommerce, Threekit announced the launch of “Visuals Make a Difference.” The initiative is a commitment to helping online retailers achieve sustainability.

It includes free visual assessments for companies to improve their product experience and keep items purchased from being sent back. In addition, the initiative provides education for retailers on how to prevent returns. Threekit hopes to reduce total US product returns by two percent and CO2 emissions by two percent in 2020. The company plans to track this progress throughout the year.

Image credit/LinkedIn/Ben Houston
Ben Houston, Threekit’s founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

More than 64 percent of shoppers report returning purchases because the items did not match the description or their expectations, according to Statista,” says Ben Houston, Threekit’s founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO). “Customers suggest providing more and higher quality product images reduces the rate of returns by as much as 40 percent. It’s clear that the eCommerce industry is falling short, and our planet is getting stuck with the cost.”

Innovations in imagery – interactive 3D and augmented reality deliver more accurate representation of products than what is typically offered. But most companies haven’t invested in these newer forms of visuals because the industry relies on its historical standard. A few static photographs on stark white backgrounds.
This isn’t about companies just using Threekit to solve this problem,” says Joachim Klein, Threekit’s President and Chief Operating Officer. “Through our work, we see how companies that adopt better product visuals massively reduce their ecological footprint. Furthermore, we want to challenge others to do the same.”

Will Amazon join the party?

Amazon accounts for 49 percent of all eCommerce purchases in the US. Threekit says the company can be influential in driving the trend of better imagery standards. Threekit calls on Amazon to join them in the “Visuals Make a Difference” effort. By doing so, Amazon — and any other eCommerce companies that commit to best-in-class visual guidelines — would:

  • Adopt a standard of at least 8 different images per product page.
  • Support and promote the use of interactive 3D product configuration and customisation on their pages.
  • Support augmented reality capabilities for furniture and home appliances.

This survey was conducted online in the US from December 9-11, 2019 among 2,007 adults aged 18 and older. Among whom 1,943 shop online.

Enterprise Times: What this means for retailers

Product returns have long been a major challenge for retailers in the UK. Free shipping has become the expected norm. The retailer also incurs additional supply chain costs when a product is returned or exchanged. The returned product often cannot be resold at the original price. This is due to damage, wear and tear, or obsolescence/devaluation given the passage of time. This is particularly an issue with fashion or seasonal products. Threekit have smartly and sharply positioned this issue with the environmental challenge of reducing waste. This could support the corporate objectives of reducing the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions annually that is often documented in company literature. This service will be interesting to follow – to see how wide and far retailers embrace this new concept.


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