Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Where do our returned goods end up?


The Wall Street Journal offers this interesting video report on what happens when we return goods we've bought (usually from online vendors).  It's more complex than it sounds.  Recommended viewing.

The sheer scale of the problem is impressive.  I hadn't thought much about it, but if (say) ten million items are delivered to customers every day (probably a massive understatement), and five per cent are returned, that's half a million returned items flowing back through the system every day.  It puts a new perspective on a major issue for the supply chain - how to cope with reverse flows that clog up the distribution channels from manufacturer, to distributor, to vendor, to customer.



glasslass said...

Decades ago as a housewife I was approached by a man who asked if I and any friends, needed 10 people, could come work for 2 weeks doing inventory. Called a bunch of people and we all showed up the next day. They specialized in returned goods from local retailers. I ended up working for them for 6 months and another worked for them for 15 years. We smacked toothpaste on a flat surface to look good and put them in new boxes. Some things were sold to discount houses but most were returned to inventory where they came from. Learned that it sure looked different from the other side.

Old NFO said...

Disposable society... And a huge amount of waste due to the bean counters being more concerned with the bottom line than service to the customer base.

Jonathan H said...

Have you noticed that online retailers are cutting back their return options and passing costs onto consumers?
For example, some items on Amazon that advertise "Free Returns" must be shipped from a UPS Store; otherwise the buyer has to pay for (hefty) return shipping.
That effectively means non returnable for me since the closest UPS Store is 200 miles away!

Aesop said...

Well, at least now that Fry's Electronics has gone bankrupt, they don't end up in my shopping cart unbeknownst.

Mind your own business said...

Deliveries versus returns are indistinguishable. No different than a 5% increase in deliveries. Items are priced to cover these costs.

bultaco1495 said...

This last summer, I purchased a new lithium battery powered lawn mower. It arrived damaged. Twenty emails back and forth, a complete credit, and one mis-shipment later (a sticker problem), I ended up keeping the lawn mower. [I just flipped it over, got a some wrenches, wedges, nut and bolts, and a bigger hammer (smile) and managed to repair the damage]. To make a long story short, Customer Service was very nice, . . . but, . . . these days, it's really not in most company's interest to take things back, . . . they actually really don't want it, . . . even expensive things. It's amazing.

Fredrick said...

One of the warehousing companies I dealt with in the past handled a retail recall for a discount home goods chain (bathroom scales, foot massagers and the like). They had to scrap everything even though most of it was not defective. (It certainly wasn't worth reworking or even testing to determine if the product were actually defective.) It created a mountain of junk. Though I did get a nice scale and dehumidifier gratis.

grnadee said...

My grandson does this return/fix-it work. From computers to now driving the forklift that moves all those pallets of junk.

He says yes, he throws away A LOT of stuff. Just not worth the time to sort and resell.

nick flandrey said...

I've been living daily in this industry for years. I've also been advocating that people should be looking in this "secondary market" for the stuff they need.

You can save a lot of money. You can get more for the same money. You can MAKE money on a small scale, but more than enough to cover a large part of your costs. You can get things you won't see elsewhere.

I can't speak to the issue of how much goes to the landfill vs how much goes to wholesale resellers, but there has been an explosion in retail level resellers, and individual resellers. And some of those resellers are willing to buy and try reselling a lot of cr@p items. Some even sell lots of the broken or incomplete items knowing there are people who will part out those items, use the parts themselves, or repair them.

By wholesalers, I mean the guys who can buy whole truckloads. They sell pallets of stuff to the retail guys. Retail level would be the guys buying pallets at a time to sell in their store/auction/ebay or online marketplace. And then individuals would be people like me, who pick up individual items and resell them.

Other than groceries, I buy almost everything thru online auctions held by resellers, (and in my case, estate sale companies too.)

HiBid.com is the big one and provides a platform for the retail level guys to sell online. Check them out. Do a search for auctions within 50 miles of your zip code and you will be amazed. Some auctions will be "returns". I normally stay away from those items without a SERIOUS discount from retail pricing. There is usually damage, or missing parts, on "returns". I am willing to fix stuff, or tolerate damage for crazy good prices. "Shelf pulls" or "end of season" items are new and go from the store or manf. to the wholesalers and on to the retailers. There are great bargains to be had here, and there isn't usually anything wrong with the items. "Shipping damage" or other shipping issues- these items might end up mixed into a returns auction. Again, it might just be box damage, or there could be pieces missing, broken, or damaged.

Sometimes a delivery of 2 boxes for one item will have the boxes get separated, and the shipment gets refused. Box 1 of 2 will later show up in one retailer's auction, and box 2 of 2 will show up in another... I've purchased several new toilets with some variation of this. Tank in one auction, bowl in another. WORTH taking a chance or waiting when I can get a Toto toilet that retails for over $300 for $20. Worst case, I buy the missing part on ebay (sold there by someone who bought only the tank at auction...) Or I sell the tank on ebay...

I've seriously upgraded some preps, and a lot of home and lifestyle items. I've seen everything from beekeeping equipment, chicken feeders, pluckers, and coops, Big Berkey water filters, bicycles, heaters, airconditioners, outdoor clothing and footwear, pressure canners, dehydrators, etc. to food that is recently expired or near it's 'best by' date. I'm currently bidding on OTC meds, coffee pods, exercise equipment, auto accessories, home goods, mattresses, bed frames, fireplaces, cookware, firewood racks, solar panels and inverters, and a variety of other stuff.

If it's sold online, or in stores, it WILL come thru the reseller auctions, eventually.

It may be costing the major online retailers grief, but it's a great opportunity to save cash and get stuff you need for less.


E. C. said...

We have an outlet down the street that deals in these types of returned/slightly defective goods. We love that store, because as long as you're willing to sort through some junk, you can find really nice items. They get slightly past date or returned food from grocery and big box stores, so there's the occasional run of, say, mildly dented cans of beans for 49 cents apiece, cookies past sell-by, random ethnic food that didn't sell elsewhere - or, memorably, about 5 pallets full of Humanitarian Rations/MREs. I've gotten decent quality shirts for 50 cents (I got like 10, so they should last me a while), $79.00 women's boots for $7.00, and the list goes on.
They keep this stuff out of the landfill for a little while longer, and give it another chance. And they just opened their sixth location, so clearly there's a market for this kind of repurposing, at least in our area.

Feral Ferret said...

liquidation.com is another auction site that sells pallet and multiple pallet sized lots of returned, shelf pull, and damaged items. It's amazing how little these items sell for compared to retail. Many if not most sell for around 10-15% of retail. Where you have to be careful is the cost of shipping. If you live in the same city as the warehouse that you purchased from and can pickup yourself, you are golden. Otherwise the shipping cost is very high these days.

deb harvey said...

would like nick flandrey's contact info does he sell individual items?

deb harvey said...

interested in items listed by nick flandrey
need to find store near us in eastern ohio or western penn
can you help me
looked on internet had only auto junkyards

nick flandrey said...

Hi Deb, I emailed you.