UPS Expects Nearly 2 Million Returns on a Single Day as People Return Christmas Presents

published Dec 28, 2019
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Credit: Jeramey Lende

Not every Christmas gift is a hit. Every year after Christmas, stores receive a significant amount of returns. UPS expects this year’s “National Returns Day” to fall on January 2.

Business Insider breaks down the numbers: “People are expected to deposit 1.9 million packages into the UPS network on January 2, the peak day for returns of the year. The figure represents a 26% growth in returns from last year’s National Returns Day.”

This growth is due in large part to online stores making it easier to both buy and return large quantities of items. As online shopping becomes more common (and, probably, as Amazon Prime makes it possible to receive almost anything in two days), retailers feel the pressure to offer free, or at least simple, returns.

When these retailers accept returns, they lose money on shipping. Last year, writes Business Insider, “returns cost retailers an estimated $369 billion in lost sales in 2018, or about 10% in lost sales, according to a separate study by Appriss Retail.

Online sales during the holiday season went up 18.8% this year from last year, while overall sales (including those made in brick-and-mortar shops) went up 3.4%. More sales will likely mean more returns, the consequences of which go beyond lost money for retailers.

In a recent story for CBC Radio, journalist Adria Vasil reported that a large percentage of returned items are not resold but instead thrown away:

It actually costs a lot of companies more money to put somebody on the product, to visually eyeball it and say, Is this up to standard, is it up to code? Is this going to get us sued? Did somebody tamper with this box in some way? And is this returnable? And if it’s clothing, it has to be re-pressed and put back in a nice packaging. And for a lot of companies, it’s just not worth it. So they will literally just incinerate it, or send it to the dumpster.

This isn’t the only way returns harm the environment. Fast Company cites the carbon footprint of transporting returned items, as well as the percentage of returned items that are thrown away:

Optoro, a returns logistics provider that works with companies such as Ikea and, says that 15 million metric tons of carbon are emitted because of returned merchandise every year. On top of this, Optoro has found that brands aren’t able to sell most of the returned goods through their website and stores. A mere 10% of products returned this holiday season will be restocked on shelves in an effort to sell it to new customers. The remaining $90 billion worth of product will never make it back to their stores or websites—instead, it may end up in landfills.

So what can we do about this disturbing amount of waste? Fast Company’s Elizabeth Sergen suggests that, if you don’t need anything for Christmas, tell your family not to buy you anything, or that if they really want to buy you something, they can make it a donation to your favorite charity or a gift card you know you’ll use. If you get a gift you don’t want to keep, consider giving it to a friend or an organization that could use it. And if you really need to return something, try to lessen your environmental impact by driving all your returns to the mall in one trip.