Invent better

This post by Marco suggests that there is nowhere to place blame for the current retail practice of destroying/returning unsold merchandise.

Stating that something is an industry-wide practice does not mean that it is acceptable, or excusable, or even understandable.  Manufacturers are not pushing “risky” products on retailers, especially not at the Wal*Mart size, who then require a return policy to safeguard their profitablity.  Far from it.  Major retailers assist in the design, down to color coordination across product lines, of the products they carry.  They demand pricing, guaranteed margins, and a wide variety of discounts.  They *then* demand return policies on unsold goods.

This is a way of maintaining their margins.  It is not compensation for “trying” new products on the store.  Rather it leads to extensive sales, because they can return what does not sell for guaranteed margin dollars, thus forcing the manufacturer to pay for retailers discounts.

While the practice is industry-wide, and in fact spans almost every kind of retail, it is not available to smaller stores in the same way as it is to big box stores like Wal*Mart.  Therefore Marco is wrong, and Wal*Mart is a fair target of the original NYT piece, because they are responsible (both through sheer volume and through relative influence with suppliers) for a disproportionate amount of the destruction of un-used, un-sold, un-flawed merchandise.  While they may not like it, being the biggest will always lead journalists to use Wal*Mart as an example.  Simply saying that “other retailers do it too” is not a solution.

What is a solution?  Better inventory and customer interest models?  A return policy that does not re-imburse 100% and so encourages retailers to order only what they can sell, or to sell what they order, and thus puts a price on destruction?  Smaller stores?  More regionalization of products so that they are more likely to appeal to the customer?  I do not know for sure, but certainly there is a solution.

The idea that problems are everyone’s fault, and thus no one’s, is precisely wrong. When there is no current solution it is time not to shrug and move on but to invent one.