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ASOS has gone paperless- is it time you break up with paper returns too?

by Laura Gee

ASOS is often seen as a trail-blazer in the returns space as one of the first pureplay retailers to offer free international returns. Last year, they made headlines again by changing their returns policy, warning wardrobers that they’d take a dim view of returns abuse. Now they’ve switched to online returns in their key markets, leaving behind the traditional ‘label-in-a-box’ entirely and building on their statement to ensure their generous returns approach “remains sustainable for us and for the environment”.
By going paperless, ASOS is making pre-printed return labels and handwritten return forms a thing of the past.

We're helping ASOS save 8,000 trees a year 
The old fashioned way to return would be as follows...
Every online order would contain a pre-printed label and dispatch note. You’d fill out a form, peel off a sticker, and send back the unwanted items through the post.
You've probably used one or two of those forms yourself. But did you ever think about the scale of the waste that creates?
ASOS has. And they've done the maths:
By removing their in-parcel paperwork, ASOS will be removing 320,000kg of waste. To put this into context, that’s the equivalent weight of 3 blue whales, 55 elephants or 50 T-Rexes! 
That's a lot of paper. 

Why are paperless returns such a big deal?
The fashion sector is considered by the UN Conference on Trade and Development to be the second largest polluting industry in the world, and shoppers are starting to demand change. A survey conducted by Hotwire found 47% of online shoppers say they would ditch products and service from brands which violated their personal values. So, clothing brands are clearly under pressure to become more sustainable. 
The savvier shoppers become, the more the lid is lifted on the hidden environmental impact behind the scenes.
When you shop online the home becomes the fitting room, so fashion retailers typically see a 30% return rate. This means that when a fashion retailer sends out returns paperwork with their online orders, 70% of those forms are going straight in the bin – and the paper they were printed on has completely gone to waste.
Having recently attended the 'Drapers Sustainable Fashion Conference', it is clear that key players in the fashion industry are already working to achieve their sustainability goals, with 13 of the talks being hosted by retailers - from the likes of Primark, John Lewis and Aldo all sharing their plans to become more green.
By going paperless, retailers are able to offer a smarter returns solution built for shoppers who actually need to return, not shoppers who are planning to keep their items. The old way of doing things with a label in a box means that retailers needed to send out returns paperwork with every single outbound order. ReBOUND allows you to remove pre-printed return labels and allow shoppers to return on demand. 
With a typical label-in-a-box, retailers have very little control over the returns process until a parcel finally arrives back at the warehouse for inspection. Shoppers have the freedom to send back items outside of policy using an old label, putting the onus on the retailer to either accept the return and process the refund, or reject it and ship it back to the shopper. With an online returns journey however, retailers have the power to enforce an RMA process that ensures shoppers can't return products which fall outside of a designated returns window without first obtaining a RMA number from customer services. This can prove an effective way to reduce unnecessary returns from shoppers who would normally get away with claiming refunds on late returns. ReBOUND typically reduces returns by 5%, therefore encouraging shoppers to return more punctually and getting unwanted stock back on sale faster.
But who even has a printer these days?
Pre-printed labels might seem more convenient for the shopper, but here's the catch... Those sticky labels and their backing sheets are notoriously difficult to recycle, with elements of silicone, polyethylene terephthalate, and polypropylene.
(We know, it's a mouthful. All you need to know is that they're plastics, and they're hard to recycle!)
But here’s the good news. ReBOUND has integrated with mobile return options (offering Asda ToYou, Royal Mail, Hermes and  Collect+ in the UK alone, with even more return options internationally) so shoppers don’t even need a printer anymore!
For more information about ReBOUND's paperless return services, contact us.  
Within a few clicks, shoppers can select the items they wish to return, indicate a return reason and find their nearest carrier from our global network of logistics partners. They can then show a QR code at their local drop-off point, hand over the product they want to return, and they're done!
By taking the return journey online, shoppers also receive tracking updates which gives them peace of mind on the return journey and reduces WISMR queries (where is my refund?) by 20-40%. This visibility benefits both the shopper who no longer has to go through the frustration of contacting a help centre and the retailer who now has advanced warning of how many returns are being sent back.
Going paperless is a big win for retailers to capture more returns data and also process refunds quicker. No sticky labels, no wasted paper and shoppers don't need to purchase a printer, so the perceived barriers to going paperless are no longer the case.
There’s a huge financial implication too…
It’s not just the environment that stands to benefit from retailers going paperless, but there’s an enormous financial benefit too. 
ReBOUND estimates that the financial impact of online fashion returns was £7.9 billion in the UK alone. Retailers are able to lessen the financial impact of returns by scrapping costly pre-printed return labels. 
Let’s imagine pre-printed return labels cost just 1p per label whether they are used or not. On an ASOS scale (where they’re currently sending 64 million return slips per year), that’s a cost of £640,000 on return labels alone.
If 70% of these labels are never used, it’s millions of pounds down the drain. 
Plus, if there’s more than one type of label included in the parcel, then the costs grow even further. Of course, this is just an estimate, so you'll need to do the math on your own return costs to work out how much you could save by going paperless.
So what can retailers learn from ASOS? 
ASOS aren’t the first retailer to switch to paperless returns, but the way they’ve approached this shift is really something to be applauded. It’s not just ‘what’ they’ve changed and ‘why’ that’s impressive here, it’s also ‘how’ they’ve communicated the change of returns to shoppers.
Photo: ASOS
There’s no missing the abundance of eye-catching lime green and yellow banners on the ASOS website to notify shoppers of the change and just in-case you do, their email comms are sure to catch your attention. Returns so rarely feature in marketing communications, so to see a retailers returns strategy have it’s own designated email is refreshing. 
ASOS have avoided snooze-worthy pitches and sustainability buzzwords and kept their messaging fun, light and to-the-point. They know what their shoppers care about, and have utilised this to bring their messaging down to a human level, describing it as a ‘break up’ and using fun stats like the equivalent weight of a T-Rex to hit shoppers with a message that will resonate.   
This clear effort to build a comms plan around returns is refreshing to see, as too often returns strategy is siloed. ASOS are lessening the potential impact on customer service queries when they do remove the in-parcel return slips for good. All break-ups can be painful, but by giving shoppers early insight that this change is coming, they’re setting themselves up for a solid rebound. See what we did there? ;) 
And it’s time more retailers followed suit. 

ASOS is a turning point

“From an environmental point of view, going paperless is a real no-brainer,” says Emily Cotterill, Head of Sustainability at ReBOUND. “By taking pre-printed return forms out of the equation, they're removing excess paper, backing sheets, and printer ink from the return journey, reducing the retailers overall carbon footprint.”
“It also reduces a retailers waste contribution, as elements of standard sticky returns labels are deemed difficult to recycle due to the multiple components that make up their structure.”
We've worked with hundreds of retailers to give them the platform they need to streamline their returns systems, and will continue to support more retailers as they follow in ASOS’ footsteps and switch to an entirely online journey.  
Still need more convincing that pre-printed return labels are a thing of the past? Read this blog on why it's time to ditch pre-printed return labels. 
Read blog...