The Optoro sustainability team spent an action-packed week in Oakland for the VERGE Circular Economy Conference hosted by GreenBiz.
Ann Starodaj, Optoro’s Senior Director of Sustainability, joined John Pflueger, Principal Environmental Strategist at Dell, and John Atcheson, Co-founder/CEO of Stuffstr, for a panel discussion called Operation Take-Back: Models, Markets and Reverse Logistics.
A key theme of the panel was how retailers can launch successful take-back programs as a means of creating more circularity within the consumer goods sector. Unlike the linear, take-make-waste model of consumption, the circular economy encourages reuse of materials to minimize waste and demand for additional consumption. A circular economy separates the ability to achieve economic growth from the consumption of natural resources.
Here are three recommendations for retailers and brands looking to implement their own take-back programs.
1. Identify and quantify benefits
The misconception that take-back programs are costly and inconvenient can be overcome by identifying which benefits the program will reap for your brand. The benefits to Dell for their successful recycling take-back program—which is on track to reach a goal of collecting 2B pounds of used electronics by 2020—include lower environmental impact, access to an alternative supply of raw materials, and reduced risk of mishandling e-waste.
Dell uses plastic and metal from returned electronics as raw materials for new products. According to Dell, the gold reclaimed through the process has a 99% lower environmental impact than traditionally mined gold. They’ve even used some of the gold to partner with jewelry designer Nikki Reed to create an upcycled jewelry line!
2. Use take-back as a way to engage customers
Having a proactive take-back program is a great way to engage customers. After all, a product return is a way to bring foot traffic to your stores or engage shoppers via email. Optoros’ recent State of Retail Returns Report highlights a number of stats about how critical customer satisfaction is during the returns process.
Stuffstr’s recent pilot with John Lewis is a prime example of how customer engagement is critical to take-back success. With the click of a button, Stuffstr will arrange a pick up at customers’ doors and provide cash back towards future purchases at John Lewis. Customers have been delighted by the pilot and hope to expand to more product categories in the near future.
3. Be equipped with best-in-class technology to process inventory
Conference goers seem to all agree that a circular economy can’t be successful without the ability to match supply of materials with demand in a cost effective way. In the context of a take-back program, what does a brand do with millions of pounds of returned clothing? How do you know when you have enough of a product or material to make recycling cost effective? To answer these questions, brands and retailers need to track location, volumes, and condition of every product that is returned. Optoro’s Returns Optimization Platform is one solution that enables retailers to process both unwanted returns from customers (i.e. buyer’s remorse) and proactive returns (take-back and trade-in product) with unit level visibility. Using sophisticated technology to process returns allows a retailer to understand the costs associated with each possible disposition of an item (e.g., recommerce, recycle, or donate).
Retail plays a critical role in our collective ability to make our model of consumption more circular. Retailers should view take-back as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle, to rethinking our supply chains.