Of the 12 items returned, only four had been resold when the story was published. The others were still in transit for months after their return. At least one, a new backpack, was found in a landfill. For the report, Amazon did not respond to questions about the percentage of its returns sent to landfills. Shortly after the report aired, Amazon launched a program in the US and UK to help sellers send returns directly to charities instead of landfills.
In addition, a journalistic survey published in 2019 in France showed that many products, overstocked or returned, were discarded by Amazon.
Amazon has a lot of company. A quarter of returned online products end up being thrown away, according to ReturnGo, a company I advise that tries to help retailers improve their returns processes.
Why do businesses waste so much on processing returns? One of the reasons has to do with health and safety regulations. For example, it is considered unhealthy to resell certain items, such as cosmetics and swimwear. H&M, for example, will not accept swimsuits if the hygienic seal has been opened. But the most common reason is reverse logistics, the side of the supply chain that brings goods back from customers to sellers or manufacturers.
Less than 10% of products are returned to physical stores. In the early days of e-commerce, people were reluctant to buy clothes and shoes online due to concerns about size and fit. After Zappos disrupted the footwear and apparel industries by offering long return windows without any restrictions on product terms, most other retailers quickly followed, except lenient policies led customers to change their buying behavior.