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How E-Commerce Can Reduce Both Shoe Returns and Environmental Effects

A mobile 3D foot scanning app can help solve some of the biggest e-commerce challenges for footwear brands: the online fitting experience, the dreaded returns, and the resulting environmental waste.


During the 2020 pandemic, many trends that were already taking place in retail sped up and benefitted shoppers by making their experience more convenient, seamless, and safer. Trends like appointment scheduling, virtual fittings, curbside pick up, and contactless payments, to name a few. Yet, one negative uptick for online consumers, retailers, and the environment is free returns due to inconsistent sizing. Both of these factors help create a return culture when it comes to online shopping.


How did the return culture emerge and become such a significant factor in environmental waste? Retailers started offering free shipping for purchases and returns to stay competitive, and customers now expect it before making a purchase. According to Susan Cullinane, a professor at the University of Gothenburg's School of Business, Economics and Law, "almost no-one dares to charge for returned goods." In her report, Substantial Environmental Impact From Returned Goods, the return culture started because of free return policies coupled with inconsistency in sizing, both harming the environment and customer satisfaction.


For example, an avid sneaker buyer with size 9 feet understands that receiving a comfortable fit could mean ordering a size 8.5 or even a size 10, depending on the brand or model.


Footwear Fit Inconsistencies

Shoe fit measurements are a challenging task, says Ales Jurca, VP of Footwear Research at Volumental, shoppers often try on at least five pairs of shoes before finding a comfortable fit. Yes, five pairs of shoes because of the sizing inconsistencies between brands.

Online shopping, inconsistent sizing, and free returns have turned homes into private fitting rooms and contribute to environmental waste. The average e-commerce return rate is 2-3 times higher than in-store. However, over-ordering and free returns are not sustainable solutions for the environment, the customer journey, or a brand's reputation.

How much does the retail industry contribute to environmental waste? Each year, the US retail returns contribute 5B pounds of landfill waste plus a staggering 15M tons of CO2, according to an ongoing analysis by Optoro. The good news is, one survey revealed that 88% of consumers have an interest in purchasing from companies that have sustainability initiatives.


Solving Shoe Fit with a 3D Mobile Foot Scan App

What can shoe brands do? Brands that can deliver an accurate online shoe can reduce returns ;and ultimately contribute to sustainability efforts. With the myriad of complex manufacturing processes, standardizing shoe sizes is nearly impossible. Instead, "retailers can apply digital technology to help customers make better choices while shopping," says Cullinane.

By enhancing the shopper's experience with accurate size recommendations, retailers help free shoppers from ordering multiple sizes, reduce packaging waste, and help eliminate drive time to return drop-off sites.

Brands that want to stay a leader in a customer's online shopping journey, and keep their trust in sustainability initiatives, need to solve fit.

To help bring an in-store FitTech™ experience to online shoppers, Volumental developed a 3D mobile foot scanning app using computer vision and artificial intelligence to help online shoppers with shoe fit recommendations. When brands implement digital technology for online shopping, customers can have more confidence finding their exact fit in each brand and style and help reduce online returns and environmental waste.