Sustainable reverse supply chains and circular economy in multichannel retail returns

Regina Frei, Lisa Jack, Sally-Ann Caroline Krzyzaniak

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The percentage of products being returned in multichannel retail are high and further increasing, yet many retailers and manufacturers are unaware of the importance and scale of this issue. They consider dealing with returns as a cost of doing business, and are oblivious of the potential for conflicts between their Corporate Social Responsibility commitments and their returns practices. This article investigates how far sustainable practices and Circular Economy concepts have been implemented in retail returns systems; it identifies vulnerabilities, barriers and challenges to the implementation of sustainable, circular practices, and suggests ways to overcome them, as sustainability, loss prevention and profit optimisation can go hand in hand with the right approach to the organisation of the reverse supply chain. Implications of this research on strategic management are outlined. The research was conducted using in-depth interviews and observations with 4 major retailers in the UK, 17 structured interviews, 100 retailer website reviews and 3 retail community workshops, all with British and other European retailers.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalBusiness Strategy and the Environment
Early online date11 Feb 2020
Publication statusEarly online - 11 Feb 2020


  • product returns
  • multichannel retail
  • reverse supply chains
  • reverse logistics
  • sustainability
  • circular economy


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