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Return to sender - Energy and environmental effects of the reverse logistics of e-tailing

In Sweden, 3.3 million shipments of goods bought online are returned annually, with clothing accounting for the largest proportion. How do retailers deal with these returns and what can be done to minimize the impact of reverse logistics on energy use and the environment?

Together with increases in cross-border e-tailing, reverse logistics i.e. the logistics involved in returning goods to the retailer, has become very important in terms of energy use and environmental sustainability. 

This project aims to address these issues by analyzing and assessing the reverse logistics policies and procedures of clothing e-tailers in Sweden. It will also analyse the impacts of the various mitigation measures aimed at reducing the volume of returns adopted by the retailers. A framework will be developed to help e-tailers to understand, calculate and improve their energy use and sustainability in this key but understudied area. The project is funded by Energimyndigheten 2016-2018.

Research objectives

How do retailers deal with these returns and what can be done to minimize the environmental impact of the reverse logistics process?

The following sub-objectives will also be addressed:

  • To compare the reverse logistics procedures of goods bought online versus goods bought in-store.
  • To compare the reverse logistics procedures of pure online e-tailers versus the procedures of multi-channel retailers with respect to their online sales.
  • To compare the reverse logistics procedures for returns from different channels (i.e. from store; collected from customers direct; collected from dedicated collection points; sent by mail etc.).
  • To suggest ways in which the environmental sustainability of the reverse logistics of online clothing retailing can be improved.

Methodology

The project will start with an in-depth study of approximately 10-12 clothing retailers/logistics companies. Using information obtained from this part of the study, it will progress to a more quantitative stage involving the collection of key data from many more companies in order to build a framework which can be used to assess environmental sustainability.

Contribution of the Project

The results of the study will enable clothing companies to adapt their operations to improve environmental sustainability. Such improvements will not only benefit society as a whole, but will also be of benefit to the companies involved, enabling them to improve their marketing-operations integration. It is also a critical strategic element in the achievement of a company’s corporate social responsibility policies, aiding positive public relations and, thereby, financial profitability.

Project members

Contact person:
Sharon Cullinane
PhD, University of Gothenburg Sharon.cullinane@gu.se 
Short CV Sharon Cullinane
Prof Mike Browne PhD University of Gothenburg
Short CV Mike Browne
Yingli Wang PhD Cardiff University, UK
Short CV Yingli Wang

Reference Group

Members:

  • Dr Andrew Potter, Cardiff University and Chairman of Welsh section of the Chartered Institute of Transport
  • John Wedel, Logistics and Transport Society (LTS), Sweden
  • Magnus Swahn, Network for Transport Measures (NTM) , Sweden
  • Per-Olof Arnäs, Chalmers University, Sweden
  • Måns Danielson, Director, Mat.se
  • Matthew Walsh, IMRG (Internet Marketing Retail Group), UK
  • Lena Hansson, University of Gothenburg, Centre for Retailing


 

 

Page Manager: Malin Tengblad|Last update: 2/9/2017
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