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CBRE Report: Holiday E-Commerce Returns Could Reach $32 Billion As Online Sales Surge

Returns Of Merchandise Bought Online Typically Amount To 15%-20% Of Overall Sales, Far Outpacing 8% Return Rate For Goods Bought In Stores

COLUMBUS, OH – Dec. 14, 2017 – As e-commerce claims an increasingly larger portion of holiday retail sales, retailers’ efficiency in limiting and handling returns of merchandise bought online – which could amount to as much as $32 billion this year – will make or break the holiday season for many, according to CBRE.

E-commerce consistently generates more returns than brick-and-mortar retail, partly because shoppers often can’t sample online merchandise before buying it and partly due to the widespread practice of online shoppers ordering several versions of a product and returning those that don’t appeal.

Historically, returns of store-bought merchandise have amounted to 8 percent of total retail sales. However, for e-commerce, that share ranges from 15 percent to 30 percent, depending on the product category.

“The continuous growth of E-commerce and related industry components such as Reverse Logistics, will continue to have a positive effect on warehouse space absorption,” said Jeff Lyons, senior vice president at CBRE. “With a large year-over-year growth related to both, end users will continue contracting out reverse logistics accounts to 3PLs, meaning more demand in marketplaces central to large populations. Industrial real estate from an investment standpoint, has become the darling of the investment class, and can widely be attributed to the ever-changing habits of how to consumer’s purchase and returns goods which is driving the need for warehouse space.”

Assuming that those percentages hold true, the value of returns this season will increase by the same 13.8% that Adobe Analytics predicts for the increase in online sales this season. Adobe foresees online sales this season reaching $107.4 billion, up from approximately $93 billion last year. By extension, CBRE calculates that the projected ceiling for returns is $32 billion, up from roughly $28 billion last year.

“Speed and efficiency in processing e-commerce returns, with an eye toward preserving as much value of the merchandise as possible, often separates the top-performing retailers from the not-so-successful ones in the weeks after Christmas,” said David Egan, CBRE Global Head of Industrial & Logistics Research. “This intricate process requires many components, including a precise network of warehouses for handling returns, robust inventory management systems and extensive customer analysis on the front end to limit the probability of returns.”

Those well positioned to thrive in the online-returns market – also called reverse logistics – include third-party logistics firms and owners of 3PL facilities, according to CBRE. Many retailers opt to contain costs and preserve their retail focus by outsourcing reverse-logistics functions to 3PL firms that specialize in that field.

To read CBRE’s latest report on holiday-season reverse logistics, click here.

About CBRE Group, Inc.

CBRE Group, Inc. (NYSE:CBG), a Fortune 500 and S&P 500 company headquartered in Los Angeles, is the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm (based on 2016 revenue). The company has more than 75,000 employees (excluding affiliates), and serves real estate investors and occupiers through approximately 450 offices (excluding affiliates) worldwide. CBRE offers a broad range of integrated services, including facilities, transaction and project management; property management; investment management; appraisal and valuation; property leasing; strategic consulting; property sales; mortgage services and development services. Please visit our website at

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CBRE Report: Holiday E-Commerce Returns Could Reach $32 Billion As Online Sales Surge


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