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Want to promote sustainable products? Reduce returns with customization.


If there is one word these days that makes every brand leader’s ears perk up, it’s sustainability. A genuine interest among brands in improving the stewardship of our planet’s resources and consumer demand for sustainable products are powerful drivers of change.

landfill - sustainable products

There has never been a greater sense of urgency and collective awareness of the complexities surrounding environmental and social sustainability. Post-pandemic, consumers are increasingly aware of the real impact industries have on our natural world.

That includes the links between product returns, landfills, and climate change.

Addressing this problem helps lend credibility to the sustainability initiatives brands are eager to trumpet. But where should they begin?

Environmental concerns are driving buying behavior.

Hyper-awareness of the state of our environment is driving buying decisions. In post-pandemic 2021:

  • • A third of U.S. online adults say they spend more time thinking about the climate than they did before the pandemic.
  • • 32% of U.S. consumers prioritize companies that are actively reducing their impact on the environment. 
  • • 68% plan to step up their efforts to identify brands that reduce their environmental impact.

Consumers are also increasingly aware that many of their favorite brands are unable to repurpose or resell their returns in a cost-effective manner – and that they tend to end up in landfills.

Consumers see the link between sustainable products and processes.

The average consumer of a major apparel brand may not know all the ins and outs of how landfills are connected to sustainability, but they know enough.

Add these consequences to the generally distasteful image of Americans adding nine billion pounds of apparel and footwear waste to landfills every year, and the opportunity is clear.

Brands can significantly bolster the claim that their products are sustainable when backed up by sustainable processes. 

That means reducing waste. 

And since processing all those returns will never be cost-effective enough to avoid waste, we have to work on preventing returns.

Sustainable products aren’t truly eco-friendly if they end up in landfills.

Customization helps prevent product returns.

Why do consumers return products? For many reasons, but let’s run through some of the most common ones:

  1. Ordered the wrong product. The consumer wishes they got something different. Maybe they even clicked on the wrong SKU by mistake.
  2. Product wasn’t what they expected. For whatever reason, it didn’t live up to their expectations. Maybe they were unsure in the first place but just wanted to try it out.
  3. Purchased as a gift, and the recipient didn’t like it. This definitely drives a lot of returns after the holidays.
  4. They don’t need it anymore. In the time it took for the product to arrive, they decided against it. Maybe they got impatient and bought it at a retail store.

Now, why might returns be less likely when consumers are able to customize their purchases? Take these scenarios one at a time from their point of view.

  1. You are far less likely to order the “wrong product” when you’ve taken the time to decorate or otherwise personalize your purchase.
  2. When you invest time and money in customization, you’re more emotionally invested in the purchase. Buyer’s remorse is far less likely.
  3. The recipient of a gift customized for them is more likely to appreciate the gesture and less likely to return it. As they say, “it’s the thought that counts.”
  4. There is no substitute for a customized product. It’s a unique purchase you can’t make anywhere else.

The bottom line is that when you customize a purchase, it becomes something special, unique to your personal taste. You’re less likely to return it. It’s less likely to go to a landfill.

Customized products are truly sustainable products.

Consumers are demanding personalization, too.

Making the move to customization kills two birds with one stone. In addition to helping to meet the consumer demand for sustainability, it meets the increasing demand for personalization as well.

According to the 2019 Deloitte Consumer Review, more than 50% of consumers showed interest in purchasing personalized products for themselves, friends, and family. Today, brands are leaning hard into this growing market and cashing in.

Reduce returns, become a sustainable products brand.

Moving from a traditional mass production operation with massive a high rate of returns to embrace lean production, customization, and return reduction doesn’t happen all at once.

From setting up the most cost-effective customer interface for online customization to order management and logistics, you’ll want to take this step-by-step.

As product customization experts, JTB Custom is here to help every step of the way. All it takes to get started is a sincere desire – to promote sustainable products through return reduction or to cash in on the product personalization trend (or why not both?).

If you’re willing to take on the challenge, then no matter where you are on the journey toward customization, we’re ready to meet you there.

Talk to an expert today.