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DES GB2013 E

“Distance selling without returns doesn’t work”, returns Martin Barde, who has been advising distance selling retailers of all sizes for 15 years, calms anxieties surrounding. He makes a clear distinction, however, between returns of merchandise ordered for the purpose of trying something on and those prompted by disappoint- ment in the product. The first is a customer service and unavoidable outside of bricks and mortar stores. The sec- ond is negligence on the part of the merchant – either the quality is lacking, images of the product are not clear enough or the goods are faulty. In other words, causes that can and should be fixed. Yet this still does not happen of- ten enough. “Quite a few merchants would rather under- calculate their return costs, only a few work on system- atically reducing them and even fewer try to prevent returns prompted by dissatisfaction,” is Barde’s sobering conclusion. The easiest way to reduce this unnecessary carting around of merchandise would be to demand payment in advance and charge return postage. That would put a damper on the enthusiasm of anybody with the “trying it is free” mentality. Yet, for 38% of Germans, purchase on account is their preferred payment method (BVH – Ger- man E-Commerce and Distance Selling Trade Association). And even once merchants have been legally freed from the obligation to cover the cost of returns for merchandise valued at under €40, from summer 2014, Dr Georg Witt- mann, a logistics professor in Regensburg, is sceptical that this will have any impact on standard practices: “Ac- cording to our research, large merchants want to continue allowing free returns. If that is the case, small merchants will have to play along to avoid losing customers.” In other words: Eliminating privileges would mean losing sales and customers to com- petitors with more attractive terms and conditions. Environmentally- minded players like Trigema are willing to take that chance, but they are fairly alone on this. Barde sees yet another reason to hold on to the standards: “Full shopping baskets are the goal. As orders grow in size, experience shows that the total value will also increase. The more each individual customer purchases, the less impact returns will have,” is the logical conclusion drawn by this consultant. N Prospective buyers need to touch. Sensory experiences are a given at local retailers, returns are inevitable at virtual ones. Environmentally-friendly shopping looks different! If the calculations of DHL, the market leader, are correct, the delivery of each of its packages causes the emission of nearly 500 grams of environmentally hazardous greenhouse gases.While that might sound manageable at first, extrapolating this figure to reflect the total num- ber of orders reveals that the 800,000 returns alone release a whop- ping 400 tonnes of CO2 into the air every day. The business magazine Plusminus calculated that these emissions are equivalent to 255 car trips from Frankfurt to Beijing. If sofa shopping replaced a trip to a bricks and mortar store, however, online purchases could actually be more environmentally friendly. A privately owned medium-sized car would travel about 3.5 km to pro- duce 500 grams of CO2 emissions. Yet, according to the Institute for Applied Ecology in Darmstadt, consumers travel an average of 6 km to go shopping. That would mean that an online order would be 2.5 km more environmentally friendly – assuming no return is made and only one delivery attempt is needed. Otherwise the balance shifts in favour of local retailers. Another point in their favour: Shopping trips usu- ally satisfy multiple requirements, while one of the charms of online shopping lies in the ability to place ad hoc orders. And since more and more online shoppers want to have everything delivered immediately, clicking the “Order” button causes even more trees to suffer. Express shopping reduces full vehicle utilisation, generates additional traffic and causes single orders to be shipped out in multiple parcels if indi- vidual products are not in stock. If you add to that the boxes and crates, packaging materials and plastic wrapping, without which no merchandise can be delivered, a merchant around the corner is clearly the greener alternative. Not only that, but if several providers’ current plans to enter the grocery business on a large scale this year prove successful, other environmental sins are inevitable. Fresh produce and refrigerated items cannot be transported safely without Styrofoam sleeves and bubble wrap. N Click-to-buy is simple, finding a solution to our environmental prob- lems is not. And sometimes online merchants add to the garbage and pollution problem. Returns for gift items are in the single-digit percentage range whereas return rates for fashionable women’s attire can be up to 80%. DEUTSCHEEUROSHOPANNUALREPORT2013/SHOPPING 023

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