In Finland, a significant trend has emerged in online shopping, especially during the high-profile sales events of Black Friday, Black Week, and Singles Day. According to data collected by PostNord, a leading delivery service in Finland, an astonishing 35% of online purchases made during these periods last year were returned. This high rate of returns has raised concerns, not just for the retailers but also for the environment. The logistic carbon footprint from these returns alone was equivalent to over a hundred years of average Finnish air travel emissions.
With Black Friday being the busiest day for online shopping in Finland, expectations for new sales records are high. However, PostNord's data suggests that over a third of the purchases made on November 24 are likely to be returned. Johanna Starck, CEO of PostNord Oy, acknowledges that while many returns are justified due to defective or incorrect products, impulsive buying driven by significant discounts often leads to a high volume of returns, dubbed as "consumption hangover" once the products are delivered.
Starck emphasizes the need for Finnish consumers to exercise better judgment during these shopping frenzies. In 2022, the returns from PostNord's deliveries between Singles Day and Black Friday alone resulted in approximately 63,300 kg of CO2e emissions, a figure Starck hopes will reduce this year, even if the volume of online purchases remains the same.
Interestingly, the study reveals that clothing is the most returned item, with younger shoppers under 30 and women being more likely to return their online purchases. Starck explains that these demographic groups generally shop more online and purchase clothing more frequently. She points out that while women often shop for others in the family, it's not just the consumer's responsibility to reduce returns. Online retailers need to provide accurate product information to minimize incorrect purchases. Technological innovations like AI recommendations or augmented reality can help consumers make more sustainable choices by, for example, virtually testing products before buying.
Starck also highlights the role of delivery services in reducing the carbon footprint of returns. PostNord, for instance, focuses on environmentally friendly logistics, such as electric, biogas, and renewable diesel-powered transports, optimized delivery routes, and an efficient parcel locker network to consolidate shipments and returns.
The issue of high return rates and their environmental impact is not unique to Finland. In Sweden, some trade unions have called for banning free returns in online stores to promote sustainable consumption and reduce climate emissions. However, the Swedish trade association Svensk Handel has been hesitant to endorse such a ban, fearing it might drive Swedish consumers to international online retailers, potentially increasing the environmental impact due to longer shipping distances.
Recognizing that there is no simple solution to this problem, Starck urges Finnish consumers to make more thoughtful decisions during Black Friday and to prefer parcel lockers or pick-up points over home deliveries to help reduce emissions. This call to action reflects a growing awareness of the environmental impact of online shopping and the need for collective responsibility from consumers, retailers, and logistics companies.