Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Southampton Business SchoolOur research

Product Returns Research Group (PRRG)

shrinkage ECR

Product returns are an increasing problem, especially in multichannel retail. For instance, many consumers find it very convenient to order products for Click&Collect and then return unwanted products to store. Many retailers consider dealing with returns as an unavoidable cost of doing business, yet they are unaware of the scale and importance of the returns problem. It is a multifaceted challenge that requires interdisciplinary solutions. We are a team of academics working with retailers and manufacturers to explore ways to streamline returns processes, assess the true costs of returns, influencing customer behaviour, making returns more sustainable, using circular economy concepts, and other aspects.

Our newest project, entitled "Forecasting and influencing product returns and fraud rates in a Covid-19 World" is funded by the ESRC.

Our article in The Conversation has been read over 65,000 times so far, been translated to Indonesian, and been picked up by over 50 Media outlets.

University of Portsmouth logo

The ground-laying project was conducted by the University of Portsmouth on behalf of the ECR Community Shrink and On-shelf Availability group. A growing cross-institutional research group has emerged from it, with people working on various streams of research relating to product returns. The team currently includes researchers from the universities of Southampton and Portsmouth. We are also working with researchers from Cranfield, Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam.

Please get in touch with Gina at (product-returns@soton.ac.uk) if you are:

MembersJob role
Denise Baden Professor of Sustainable Business
Steffen Bayer Lecturer in Business Analytics
Regina (Gina) Frei Associate Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management
Enrico Gerding Associate Professor
Lisa Jack Professor of Accounting at Portsmouth Business School
PK Senyo Lecturer in Information Systems
Jason Sit Senior Lecturer in Global Marketing at Portsmouth Business School
Gary Wills Associate Professor in Computer Science


We collaborate with the Reverse Logistics researchers at the Universities of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and Cranfield.

Former:

Dr Sally-Ann Kryzyaniak

Contact details

product-returns@soton.ac.uk

Please join our LinkedIn group

  • The PRRG has been awarded a research grant under the UKRI's call to get funding for ideas that address Covid-19. The project will be a collaboration between the Business School, the School for Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) and the Efficient Consumer Response (ECR) Community, an association of retailers and manufacturers. (The ECR Community Shrink & OSA Group website)
  • We are running a survey on shopping behaviours during the Covid-19 phase. Please watch the introductory video (less than 1 minute). Begin the survey (anonymous link).
  • Workshop for academics interested in product returns research at the University of Southampton - details to follow
  • ECR Community retailer workshop in Crick on 22 April - details to follow; see the 2019 version
  • Our latest journal article in Business Strategy and the Environment.
  • Gina delivered two sustainability workshops for year 10 students at the University of Southampton on 10 March 2020. They explored how access-based business models (sharing, borrowing, renting, products-as-services) could contribute to achieving the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.  
  • Check out our latest book in the Springer book series "Greening the Industry Network Studies": Sustainable Development Goals and Sustainable Supply Chains in the Post-global Economy 
  • Gina participated in a panel discussion on the UN's Sustainable Development Goals at the EurOMA Sustainable Operations and Supply Chain Forum, Nottingham, UK, 10-11 February 2020. 
  • A new edition for the Springer book series "Greening the Industry Network Studies" is in the pipeline: Africa and Sustainable Global Value Chains. Get in touch if you would like to contribute! 
  • Sustainability in Retail Product Returns: An Investigation into the Role of Jobbers (RoJob)

    Online shopping is growing, and returns of purchases (including stock that became obsolete, outdated or damaged anywhere along the forward or reverse supply chain) are causing significant issues, both financially for retailers and in terms of environmental sustainability. Products returned in imperfect state, or out of season, are often auctioned off to third parties (‘jobbers’). We will use a multiple case-study approach based on sellers and buyers in the retailer-jobber to understand the different routes that products take once they are sold on through jobbers. Data collection will include interviews, observations and process mapping, supported by a review of academic, professional and media publications.

    Our underlying research questions are: “How sustainable are jobber operations, and can circular economy principles improve the value proposition for both retailers and jobbers?”

    The research objectives are:
    • Determine the value in jobbed products for the good of society and the environment; their potential to contribute to the Circular Economy and/or Sharing Economy.
    • Identify the stakeholders who benefit from jobbing.
    • Identify all the exit options (for example, sale, recycling) for returned products and other unsold stock sent to jobbers.
    •  Map the reverse supply chain, including identification of who is buying and selling the jobbed products down the chain.
    • Identify whether opportunities for fraud exist in the reverse supply chain.
  • Cost calculator: a tool to calculate the true costs of returning a product (more details to follow)
  • Consumer behaviours (details to follow)
  • Alternative business models (details to follow)

Finished projects

Other related projects

  • Food fraud
  • Green Stories 
    The Green Stories competitions engage writers in imagining positive visions of what a sustainable society might look like.
  • The Sharing Economy
    We are excited about the potential for more sustainable business models that disconnect financial returns from consumption, for example models based on access over ownership or sharing economy principles. Denise Baden has engaged in research on the existing landscape of Libraries of Things in the UK and is involved in setting up similar at the University so that the thousands of Chinese students who arrive every year, buy items such as kitchen items and then leave them when they return, can instead borrow them for the duration of their stay. As the cost of product returns becomes increasingly burdensome to companies, developing business models around borrowing rather than buying may start to make business sense, as well as providing a more sustainable form of access to goods.
  • PlastiCity project
    PlastiCity is an Interreg2Seas project (2019-2022) working on increasing plastics recycling rates in England (Southend-on-Sea), France (Douai), Belgium (Ghent) and The Netherlands (The Hague). Partners involved include city councils, waste recycling companies, waste collection companies, and universities.  Read more about it on the Capture Resources website.

  • Frei, R., Jack, L. and Brown, S. (2020), "Product returns: a growing problem for business, society and environment", International Journal of Operations & Production Management (ahead-of-print)
  • Frei R, Jack L and Krzyzaniak SA (2020). Sustainable Reverse Supply Chains and Circular Economy in Multichannel Retail Returns. Business Strategy and the Environment (online first).
  • Frei R, Jack L and Krzyzaniak SA (2020). Sustainability in product returns. EurOMA Sustainable Operations and Supply Chain Forum, Nottingham, UK.
  • Baden D, Peattie K and Adekunle O: 2019, Sustainable business model innovation: the potential of libraries of things. EURAM, Lisbon.
  • Frei R, Jack L and Krzyzaniak SA (2019). Sustainable reverse supply chains for retail product returns. In: N. Yakoleva, R. Frei and S. Rama Murthy (eds.), Sustainable Development Goals and Sustainable Supply Chains in the Post-global Economy. Greening of the Industry Network book series. Springer, Heidelberg.
  • Jack L, Frei R and Krzyzaniak SA (2019). Return to sender - Is there a point of no return for online and omni-channel retailing? Loss Prevention Magazine Europe, 1 April 2019. (Online article)
  • Jack L, Frei R and Krzyzaniak SA (2019). The hidden costs of online shopping – for customers and retailers. In: The Conversation, 21 January 2019.
  • Jack L, Frei R and Krzyzaniak SA (2019). Buy Online, Return to Store; The Challenges and Opportunities of Product Returns in a Multichannel Environment. Research commissioned by the ECR Shrink Group Project report available to download.
  • Norina P and Sit J (2019, October 30). What makes online shoppers become 'serial returners'? Canvas8. Available online: 
  • Sit K (2019, December 27). How sales shopping is killing the planet. The Conversation.
  • Sit K, Molinillo S and Frei R (2019, September).  I Return the Product (Again) So I Can Shop (Again): I return the product (again) so that I can shop (again): Identifying and profiling prone product returners. In International Symposium on Consumer Personality in Contemporary Contexts, Thessaloniki, Greece.
  • Weeks G, Kabra E, Hamer B, Taylor A, Atigolo A and Sit J (2019, July 11). Do people care about environmental returns? Canvas8.
  • El Baz J, Frei R and Laguir I (2018). Reverse supply chain practices in developing countries: the case of Morocco. Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management (JMTM), 29(1), pages 198-216. 
  • Baden D (2017). CSR: An opportunity for SMEs. In Innovative CSR (pp. 84-101). Routledge.
  • Frei R (2017). Towards a decision-making framework for reverse supply chain. Presented at Greening of Industry Network: Sustainable Development Goals and Supply Chains Symposium, Royal Holloway.
  • Frei R, Bines A, Lothian I and Jack L (2017). Understanding Reverse Supply Chains. International Journal of Supply Chain Management and Operations Resilience, 2(4), pages 246-266. 
  • Baden D (2016). A reconstruction of Carroll’s pyramid of corporate social responsibility for the 21st century. International journal of corporate social responsibility, 1(1), 8.
  • Butar Butar M, Sanders D and Frei R (2016). Measuring performance of reverse supply chains in a carpet manufacturer.  Journal of Advanced Management Science, 4(2), pages 152–158. 
  • El Baz J, Frei R and Laguir I (2016). Exploring reverse supply chain practices in Morocco. Int. Conf. Project and Logistic (PROLOG), Agadir, Morocco. 
  • Frei R (2016). Reverse supply chains. In Weetman C: A Circular Economy handbook for business and supply chains. Kogan Page, London, p.323-329. 
  • Frei R, Lothian I, Bines A, Butar Butar M and Da Gama L (2015). Performance in Reverse Supply Chains.  Logistics Research Network Annual Conference (LRN), Derby, UK.

We explore the applicability of circular economy principles to multichannel retail. Figure 1 shows the original version for manufacturing(used with permission, courtesy of Tecnologie del Filo, Tecniche Nuove, Milano), whereas Figure 2 illustrates the application of the circular concept to product returns.

General
The original version
Circular retail product returns
Circular retail product returns
Privacy Settings