online shopping

Where Do the Returns Go? You May Be Surprised

Online retailers don’t always restock the items you ship back to them

NBC Universal, Inc.

We’re all doing more online shopping these days; it’s just so convenient. But we’re more likely to return something that we buy online than in the store, and that’s causing big problems for retailers.

Adam Vitarello is the president and cofounder of Optoro, a D.C.-based company that helps retailers process their online returns.

“Imagine you have almost over $100 billion worth of returns in the 2020 holiday season, a crazy amount, almost all of which were still working or new, or like new, and many of these things ended up in the landfill,” Vitarello said.

Vitarello says more than a billion pounds of unwanted merchandise ends up in landfills every year. All that waste is bad for the planet and retailers' bottom lines. So why does it happen? Inspecting returns is a costly and time-consuming effort.

“They set it aside, and honestly, not for any nefarious reasons, but because it’s annoying, a lot of times people just throw it away,” Vitarello said.

Optoro saw this as an opportunity and started buying the unwanted items. They sell individual items directly to consumers through their website BLINQ.com. They also sell the items in bulk to online resellers through their platform BULQ.com.

David Noland in Manassas, Virginia, resells items online full-time. He started his business a few years ago so he could spend more time at home with his son. 

“I replaced my full income that I was making,” Noland said. “It wasn’t easy from the beginning, starting at zero, but I replaced what I was making at a salary job and I make my own hours.”

BULQ doesn’t only sell returns. Noland also buys boxes of brand new items as well — overstock or past season merchandise. While you won’t get individual pictures of the actual items in the BULQ box before you buy it, you can see a manifest with stock photos.

Reselling does not have to be a full-time job. A lot of people use BULQ as a side gig to pay off bills or fund family vacations.

Noland’s advice to anyone wanting to give reselling a try? “One is giving it the proper time it needs. With reselling it’s not something that happens right away, but if you put that dedication in you will see results,” Noland said. “You know, I put a lot of time in, a lot of late nights when I was building this business, and here I am today three years later still doing it.”

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