Returns when shopping online: that's how many Germans send back

People in Germany had billions for 99 last year Euro goods ordered on the Internet – and every fourth package ordered was sent back completely or with part of the goods. Economists from the University of Bamberg determined this. An estimated 99 million packages with 1.3 billion articles were returned to the dealers. This means that Germany is the “European Returns Champion”, the researchers announced on Wednesday.

One of the reasons: In Germany, returns are usually free of charge. Only one in ten German online retailers ask for fees or cost sharing, compared to every second in other European countries, said the head of the returns management research group, Björn Asdecker. A second reason is the generous return periods: On average, retailers in Germany allow significantly more time than in the rest of the EU to return an item. And finally, the Germans also order far more on account than the other Europeans. This makes a return easier than with delivery by cash on delivery, direct debit or prepayment.

Of the 1.3 billion items returned, 91 percent are clothing or shoes. “The average transport and processing costs per return shipment are 6.95 euros,” said Asdecker. Small traders would have significantly higher costs per case than large ones.

The traders are good at processing returns

According to the evaluation, only one percent of the returned items end up in the garbage via the retailer. More than 91 percent could be sold directly as new. The rest is offered as B-goods, sold to industrial recyclers or donated.

This SPIEGEL video provides an insight into how returns are handled in Germany:

»German e-commerce retailers are particularly good at processing their returns. The proportion of waste disposal is lower in Germany than in the rest of Europe,” said Asdecker. The costs per return are lower than with the competition. »This results in a competitive advantage for German e-commerce.«

In any case, the returns have a negative impact on the climate. According to the research group »the returns 2021 are valued in Germany 795.000 tons of CO₂ back« – that’s something like that much as 6.6 million cars emit on the journey from Munich to Hamburg. However, the industry does not care that much about its ecological footprint when it comes to this topic, as the survey shows: »Less than five percent stated that their company measures the CO₂ footprint of returns.«

Data from multiple sources

For the study, the experts had 411 Managers of European dealers with a total of around 60 billion euros online turnover surveyed and data from associations for e-commerce, mail order, parcel services and express logistics evaluated.

2021 795

“The return of goods is part of consumer protection and is part of well-established processes in online and mail order business,” said the deputy general manager of the Federal Association of E-Commerce and Mail Order, Martin Groß-Albenhausen. “It is all the more important to research the reasons for returns, the scope, avoidability and utilization of returns, but also the specific returns behavior.”

For the fall, the association announced a returns compendium with study results from Asdecker, Darmstadt Professor Bernd Jörs, the EHI Retail Institute and others.

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