Return deliveries - costs in U.S. 2016-2020

In 2018, U.S. return delivery costs were estimated to be 381 billion U.S. dollars. This figure has been steadily increasing and is predicted to reach 550 billion U.S. dollars by 2020.

Return delivery costs

Return deliveries are when the purchaser of an item returns it to the supplier they bought it from, for example because it is damaged or not suitable for the intended purpose. Most commonly the term refers to consumer goods purchased online. The majority of e-commerce returns occur by post and generally at no cost to the consumer. On top of delivery costs, there are also expenses associated with processing the item once received, for example to resell the item, increasing the overall cost to online retailers.

Growth of e-commerce

The increase in total return delivery costs likely tracks the growth in online retailing. In the U.S., retail e-commerce sales increased by around 300 percent between 2009 and 2019, reaching over 140 billion U.S. dollars per quarter. Return deliveries are therefore likely to continue growing, meaning retailers may need to consider how to manage this increasing expense. Charging for return deliveries and restocking is very unpopular amongst consumers; making it unlikely retailers will start passing on return delivery costs. However, most retailers are open to the idea of banning serial returners from shopping on their website.

Costs of return deliveries in the United States from 2016 to 2020

Costs in billion U.S. dollars
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Release date



United States

Survey time period

2016 and 2017

Supplementary notes

Values are estimates.

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