What do really big online clothes retailers do with all the returns?

These big online clothes retailers must get humongous amounts of returns. What do they do with it? Many have returns for free, and so it is not uncommon to “order” say five pair of jeans, try them out, and send back four of them. (I wish I did it this time, I’m about to return a pair that didn’t fit.) But in any case, what happens to all the returns? How big a percent of the workforce deal only with returns? I get this “the universe never ends” feeling thinking about it. Help.

I don’t know about clothes, but as a truck driver, I used to collect small electrical and electronic items from a major department store’s warehouse and deliver them to a company that inspected them and re-packed them in original (supplied by the makers) packaging. They were then returned to the store. All of this must have cost a good deal of money, but clearly the store calculated that their free returns policy bought in enough new business to cover the costs. I imagine that something similar happens with garments.

I assume the online stores do what the brick and mortar stores do, put them back on the shelf. They’re supposed to be unused, the online stores probably get stuck with more obviously worn clothes than the brick and mortar stores because it’s not worth sending the clothes back again instead of just saying no at the return window.

In a B&M, if I try on several pairs of jeans in the fitting room and the clerk puts them back on the shelf, that is no different than if I take them home and then return them, and the same clerk puts them back on the same shelf.

If the labels have been cut off, that’s a different story. I’m assuming an online shipper accepts returns only with the original labels as intact as if they had been tried on in a fitting room.

QVC sells huge amounts of clothes online, with a 30-day no-questions-asked return policy, and frequently puts the returned clothes back into the pile to be resold.

If a clothing item sells out, and you put in a waitlist order (to be filled when the item is available), you’re very likely to receive someone else’s return. You can tell because it might be missing tags, be wrinkled or otherwise look like it might have been worn, or even have something left in a pocket. I’m not that picky about having pristine new clothes, and have received a number of obvious returns. As long as I can get the item I want in my preferred size and color, it doesn’t bother me.

If a returned item is slightly damaged in some visible way – a small stain, missing a small embellishment, etc., QVC will label it “As Is” and sell it for a slight discount.

Nordstrom sells both in-store and online, and puts the returns right back on the rack. I frequently order online, but return in-store, and I have seen items I returned back on the rack the next day. If a particular store has only one of an item that it didn’t carry, that means it was a return from an online purchaser.

NinetyWt had a thread on Giraffeboard about just that. Found an SD card in a QVC order.
The pictures on the card gave enough clues to get the card back to the owners.

This is slightly different, but I’ve noticed that at Old Navy, where they do in store returns of online purchases, returns of sizes they don’t carry in store go straight to clearance (and the handwritten price tag says that.) So if you’re a petite or a tall or whatever, you might be able to find the exact same thing that’s full price in front, in your size, that they don’t even technically carry in stores.

I know that LL Bean, for one, has outlet stores. They may sell the returned merchandise through those stores.

I work for one of the largest retailers on the planet. We offer a “return anything, anytime, you don’t even need a receipt” policy. Last peak season I did a stint in Returns. By that I mean I processed the merchandise that was returned; I wasn’t doing customer service accepting returns. In that capacity, I worked with a crew of about 20, and there were three shifts running. The short version of what happens to returns is that they are either:

1 - Returned to stock. If it is “first quality”, no stains, no wear, no odors, no nothing (usually still folded/bagged/boxed - but sometimes it’s a pair of pants tried on for fit and then sent back, or things like that). But the returns were marked for remote sales (Internet, mail-order) as opposed to sent back to a store. However, depending on demand, it might go right back on a store shelf.

2 - Sent to the Outlet Store. If there is non-significant wear or stains or defects (spot on the back of coat that you’ll never see unless someone points it out to you or the zipper doesn’t work smoothly or there’s a thread hanging off a cuff), it’s repackaged the same as first quality, but it’s sold at a discount at the Outlet Store.

3 - Sent to the Employee Store. Anything else that’s not just god-awful goes into our Employee Store where we can get some really good shit for really cheap (I got pair of $100 hiking boots for $3.75 (sure they were a little dirty, but fuck it)).

4 - Destroyed. If it’s a totally lost cause we just rip it up and toss it away.

Do they do anything to ensure that there are not, for example, a few bedbugs hidden in the fold or seams?

That’s part of the processing. They come bagged from the stores and the processors inspect and clean if needed (like lint rolling and simple things like that). It was actually a pretty disgusting job.

I should say too though, we processed specific returns of specific items. If someone returned a 40 year old shirt that still had the tag in it, we didn’t deal with that. 95% of the stuff we dealt with was first quality. It was the other 5% that was disgusting.

Thank you all for the replies, Jack Batty especially, sharing his own experience.

So there’s a system where every garment is inspected by someone (sight, smell, touch) and then it goes to this or that container depending on the guy’s judgment. There must be hundreds of people just doing that for a living at Zalando for instance?

“Hey, Gerhard, these pants from Wakinyan, I’m not sure, smell good enough for you?”
“Ja, put them in zie plastic bag and sell them. Nobody notice.”

The pants I tried today may very well have been between the sheets of an Italian mechanic’s bed last weekend, together with the infamous Alley Dweller bedbugs, and God know who else?

No, but serously, so this how it works (and my question is about clothes specifically - lots and lots of clothes arriving daily)?

sort of related , but clothes that don’t sell don’t go back to the maker. They often go to places like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Uptons, etc. along with outlet stores The trip from manufacturer to store is only 1 way.

But the bedbugs . . . ? :eek:

Like, do you actually fumigate your returned clothes too? How else would you be sure there were no bedbugs that you might have missed? And what about bedbug eggs? I don’t think even fumigating kills those. Then what?


Imagine, someone else was wearing those clothes!

Bed bugs aren’t a huge issue. In theroy yes, bed bugs eggs could be in clothes, but bed bugs live about ten feet from their source, which is you. Unlike lice, they don’t live on people or in clothing. They bite you and go back to their home. Usually it’s the careless bed bug that gets suck on your clothes when they’re on your bed.

Now body lice, cousins to head lice and pubic lice, live on clothes, I would be more concerned about them then bed bugs.