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Returnless in the spotlight

Easier, cheaper and more sustainable returns 

“What is your order number? Let me see if we have received your return parcel.” E-commerce expert Marijn Prijs is sometimes amazed by the many consumer questions that webshops get about returns. He and technology expert Chris Boer decided that this had to change. It should be easier, cheaper and more sustainable. They created a tool called Returnless to automate and simplify return processes for both e-commerce entrepreneurs and their customers. We spoke with Marijn and Head of Finance Pieter Verstijnen about this popular return tool. And about how the sustainable scale-up programme Econnections helps them to make their green ambitions measurable.

Every webshop wants to grow. But what if the number of returns and the corresponding pressure on your customer service are also increasing? Then you really need to take steps as an e-commerce entrepreneur. Marijn: “Sales, market share, turnover, that is what it is all about in e-commerce! Everything that is not part of the sale is obviously not so sexy. If you look at the number of returns, you can significantly optimise your profits as well as your costs, customer service, operations, customer loyalty and reviews. Returns are simply a part of your webshop, as is marketing. But for years, there was zero focus on them in e-commerce. This is changing, and we can see this in the growth of Returnless.” 

Easy returns with Returnless 

Returnless is an online tool for returns. Here’s how it works: the webshop refers its customers to an online form for returns, which is easy to fill in on a phone. The customer indicates which items must be returned and the reason for the return. Returnless uses this data to create a return analysis for the webshop. With so-called return rules, the webshop can determine what should happen with a return. The consumer ultimately chooses how to send the parcel back and traces the return journey with track & trace. The result is a smooth return journey for the consumer. And the e-commerce entrepreneur has control over his returns. 

The return example of Travelbags 

A good example is the success story of Travelbags, a company that regained control on returns with the online tool. Marijn: “For Travelbags we made an analysis based on return data and sales data in cooperation with Heidi from Reductify. The analysis showed that 1% of the products was leading to 17% of the returns. These findings are extremely valuable! That 1% was, say, 100 products. Then they improved the content.” Pieter adds: “For example, the story of the black overnight bag. It was constantly being returned. Apparently people had the idea it was a big bag, based on the online content. That could easily be solved by making a clearer description of the bag.” Marijn continues: “And that is also my experience with large webshops. They fill shelves with thousands of items at once. There are economies of scale, but it can also lead to losing control of products. And that certain products, even entire categories, are no longer profitable. At best, you break even. Our tool can easily identify the real reasons for returns on these types of products.” 

Less impact of returns 

So, satisfied customers, happy e-commerce entrepreneurs and fewer returns. Because at the end of the day, Returnless is all about reducing the impact of returns. Fewer returns mean lower carbon emissions. Pieter is looking forward to the next step: “With the help of the sustainable scale-up programme Econnections, we will demonstrate how to reduce the carbon footprint of a webshop by preventing returns. With our tool, we already process more than one million returns annually, so we can make a significant impact. But we do not want to be greenwashing! Econnections is an excellent tool for that. We had our first session with consultants from Deloitte. And not least, they have mapped out the CO2 supply chains for major companies. It would therefore be great if we could literally say in our dashboard: you have avoided x returns, which reduces this much carbon emissions!” 


Making the logistics e-commerce chain sustainable together 

Econnections is an initiative to accelerate sustainability in e-commerce. The programme’s mission is to respond to the growing ecological footprint of the e-commerce sector by generating 500 million (more) sustainable online purchases by 2026.

We are very excited about Econnections,” says Pieter. “I have organised scale-up programmes myself, but the way in which all the partners put this programme together is really cool.” Marijn adds: “I attended the session at the head office of PostNL with two colleagues and we had a great day. We talked to valuable experts, specialists who normally charge a high fee, so that was very interesting! And now things are starting to happen. We have been invited by PostNL Operations to tell our story. That also fits in with the digital transformation of PostNL. We got a sneak peek behind the scenes at PostNL. That was so interesting! There are still many opportunities for PostNL in the returns process, because consumers have different expectations from the delivery of a parcel than a distribution centre. The parcel for the latter could perhaps take a little longer to arrive, which would be far more sustainable! I strongly believe that together we can make the logistics chain more sustainable.”


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