Sustainability is an ever-growing concern for consumers, who increasingly expect the brands they love to demonstrate strong environmental credentials. The dramatic rise in B Corp businesses is illustrative of the growing focus on sustainability and ethical products.

37% of retailers told us that shoppers are more thoughtful about the volume of items they order due to the negative impact on the environment. Our consumer research corroborated the trend, with 32% admitting that they have ordered fewer products due to concerns around sustainability and a quarter revealing that they have felt guilty about returning products because of the environmental impact.

There is a real opportunity for retailers to demonstrate their eco credentials via an efficient supply chain, with an effective process limiting errors and helping to improve sustainable practices.

Environmental consciousness will increasingly impact what people buy and how they make returns, so retailers and brands must make the necessary changes now to avoid being left behind.

Given that around just one-in-ten retailers manage to return 76-100% of returned items back to Grade A re-sellable stock, it’s clear that the industry has some way to go. 11% of retailers send returned items to landfill, 16% recycle goods sent back by shoppers, 13% donate items to charity and 41% – the majority – sell products via discounted channels.

If retailers are to compete successfully on sustainability – and avoid being left behind – now is the time to invest in supply chain improvements, making the necessary changes to not only reduce the environmental impact of returns, but to transform the entire process from start to finish.

Retailers should take a holistic view across their operations, from the sourcing of materials and products and how they’re transported, through to storage, dispatching items to the customer and, of course, returns. Many improvements can be made using modern, bespoke software to create a transparent supply chain with a ‘control tower’ view. Such an approach can enrich the flow and availability of data, providing the insights required to minimise wastage and maximise efficiencies – a great first step towards improving sustainability.

Click here to download a copy of our latest eBook, with more detail on the impact of the returns crunch on the retail industry, our consumer findings and the options for retailers to tackle rising return volumes to improve margins and cut costs, while maintaining free or low-cost returns.