How to join retail’s ‘Take Back’ revolution
Sometimes happy customers want to return their purchases and they don’t even want a refund.
Increasing public awareness about environmental issues means that consumers are putting the onus of responsible disposal into the hands of retailers as part of the growing trend for ‘Take Backs.’ Brands, shops, and manufacturers are more than ever before, expected to take back what they’ve sold in the interests of the planet.
David Attenborough’s TV documentaries focusing on the plague of single use plastic materials, especially food packaging, in the marine environment and Greta Thunberg’s school strike movement have focused minds. The problems caused by waste, and the urgency of the climate crisis, are now front of mind for many consumers who want brands and retailers to help them make more sustainable choices and reduce their personal carbon footprint.
What is a ‘Take Back’ scheme?
A ‘Take Back’ is when a retailer helps a consumer dispose of the products they sold originally, perhaps even many years down the line. The aim and hope is to reduce the environmental impact by encouraging reuse, refurbishment, recycling, or enabling a donation to a good cause.
The waste generated by retailers and brands came under the media spotlight in 2018 when fashion label Burberry was criticised for destroying £30 million worth of their own merchandise. The brand came under fire for worrying about the damage discounting would cause to their brand more than the inevitable damage their actions would cause to the environment.
Clothing brands are leading the way
Clothing retailers are at the forefront of the growing ‘Take Back’ trend in response to consumer concern about the huge number of ‘fast fashion’ clothing items that end up in landfill. An acrylic t-shirt, for example, doesn’t decompose and can persist in the environment for decades like any plastic material.
To get a handle on the scale of the waste generated by fashion, the clothing charity WRAP estimates that £140 million worth of clothing goes to landfill each year in the UK and that weighs approximately 300,000 tonnes.
Different sectors take different approaches
Marks and Spencer’s, for instance, offer you the chance to drop off unwanted clothing in dedicated bins inside store. They have formed a partnership with the charity Oxfam that looks at ways that clothing ‘Take Backs’ can be put to future use.
Garments might go on to be sold in Oxfam shops to generate funds, or recycled and re-used, or utilised in one of their projects in the UK or abroad. To kick the scheme off M&S initially offered vouchers to spend on new clothes. The likes of Blacks Outdoor clothing have recently followed this trend, as they now offer customers returning unwanted clothing in-store a 15% discount to use with Blacks, The North Face, or Berghaus.
Sony, Oracle and several other big manufacturers of electronic items are already running schemes helping consumers to take back defunct, broken or no longer needed products. The beauty of ‘Take Back’ schemes in this sector, some of which have been running for well over 10 years, is that the firms can recycle and reuse many of the materials and components returned.
When it comes to the metal and toxic chemicals used in electrical items ensuring that they don’t enter the ecosystem is a big win. Other items that can be taken back also include empty coffee pods and refillable printer cartridges.
Formulate your ‘Take Back’ scheme with your brand in mind
As you conceptualise your ‘Take Back’ scheme there are several concerns you need to consider. Will you refurbish or recondition items? You could process the returns to harvest materials for reuse in future products. You will also need to be precise in your motivation and have a compelling message to sell the scheme to shoppers and encourage use.
If your ‘Take Back’ scheme has a charitable element, then you’ll want to ensure you pick a solid charity partner that can cope with the volumes you donate. Choose a cause that reflects the values of your brand and resonates with your customers.
If you really want to take your ‘Take Back’ scheme to the next level, you could go so far as to embed it in all aspects of your business including the invention phase. A truly sustainable business of the future will create products that can be reused and recycled from the get-go.
Make sure your ‘Take Back’ system works
It’s vital that your ‘Take Back’ offering lives up to expectations and delivers on what you promise. Are your stores set-up, staff prepared, logistics team briefed, and warehouses notified in order to manage the Take Back process effectively?
Of course, once it is working effectively you can also update your customers to let them know how successful it has been by celebrating that ‘X’ tonnes of waste has been stopped from going to landfill or ’N’ pound’s worth of goods went to good causes.
Logistically, the practical aspects of a ‘Take Back’ are similar to those of a post-sale return and consumers will welcome the same certainty and flexibility too. Convenience is crucial. So, in the same way that you should have multiple ways to send back a return, you should do the same with ‘Take Backs’. Whether that’s sending back with a courier, offering handy drop-off locations in-store or partnering with a charity shop network, make it as easy as you possibly can.
Teaming up with a strategic ‘Take Back’ logistics partner like ZigZag Global will also give you access to expertise and guidance to help you make sound and sustainable choices.
Get ahead of the ‘Take Back’ trend
By starting now, you will find an edge and stand out from your competitors: being a trailblazer means you won’t be jostling for attention when ‘Take Back’ schemes become commonplace.
It also makes sense to get ahead of the regulators. Like with the levy on plastic carrier bags, and potential future moves by governments and international bodies such as the European Union, it seems likely that legislation will come along soon too to tackle the waste problem.
Embracing the ‘Take Back’ trend represents an obvious opportunity to develop an ethical aspect to your business, improve your brand reputation, and enhance your relationship with customers. It is also a valuable chance to innovate and think afresh about the environmental impact of your business in an increasingly eco-minded society.