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  • Writer's pictureJames Rigg

Fast Consumer Electronics: The benefits of introducing circularity

The environmental impacts of fast fashion are now high on both businesses’ and consumers agendas. Recently, leading e-commerce marketplace eBay struck a high-profile partnership with reality TV show Love Island, encouraging its contestants and viewers to choose pre-loved over new and cheaper alternatives.

However, this concern and behavioural change doesn’t seem to have reached the fast consumer electronics industry yet. Research shows a third of consumers don’t know what e-waste means, and 18% are unaware of the term altogether, despite consumer electronics being one of the fastest-growing markets in the world.

The demand for technological devices and appliances has been growing exponentially as technology advances, leading to an ever-growing influx of returns and repairable items. Alarmingly, despite this, it is estimated that only 17% of e-waste is recycled.

Environmental impact

The environmental benefits of re-selling refurbished electronics are clear and undisputed. Consumer electronics contain a wide range of materials, from metals to plastics, which take hundreds of years to degrade naturally if simply discarded in landfill. When reused and resold, these materials are preserved and repurposed, reducing the strain on natural resources caused by excessive manufacturing.

Consumer returns of electronic products like mobile phones and tablets were found to cause an estimated 18 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year if discarded. However, when refurbishing these items, they will only produce half the amount of emissions. This significantly reduces the strain on the environment caused by discarding them.

So why are businesses and consumers alike not paying closer attention to the dangers of dumping electronics into landfills?

Business scepticism

There is a hesitancy amongst some retailers and manufacturers to re-sell re-furbished items as they believe it will damage their brand reputation. There is a misconception among some consumers that refurbished goods are of lower quality. However, in reality most returns have only been sent back to the retailer for minor technical faults or cosmetic damage, all of which can be easily repaired by professional electronic refurbishment teams.

Furthermore, it seems that consumer opinions on re-sold electronics are changing. YouGov research revealed that there is certainly an appetite for buying refurbished electronics with more than two thirds (69%) of consumers across the globe having already bought a refurbished or recycled electronic item. In fact, the UK and America are leading the way with around four in 10 consumers purchasing repurposed electronics. Evidently, consumers are open to purchasing refurbished electronics, they just need to be given the chance.

Commercial benefits

Retailers and manufacturers should be capitalising on the willingness of consumers and optimise the refurbishing and reselling opportunities of returned items. By reselling repaired products at a slightly lower price, businesses have the chance to gain some profit from items that would otherwise be discarded, reducing the financial impact on their bottom line. This can also come down to an ethical decision for retailers and manufacturers as refurbishing a product could potentially cost more than disposing of it. However, preventing consumer electronics going to landfill unnecessarily improves the sustainability credentials of a business.

It also has the opportunity to introduce the product to a broader customer base, that may have not been able to afford the products at their initial price. Offering some lower cost items can attract customers with a smaller budget to the retailer, maybe for the first time. Allowing businesses to expand their customer base and therefore unlock additional revenue.

Professional return management companies can provide expertise, support, and guidance through the process to ensure that businesses can take full advantage of its returns. They can refurbish the items effectively then re-sell on external marketplaces or the retailers own stores to offer complete control and a bespoke service.

Increased stakeholder satisfaction

Consumers are increasingly looking for companies that prioritise sustainability and environmental responsibility when choosing where to spend their money. When asked about the reasons most important to them when purchasing electronic products in the future, 31% of consumers placed sustainability top. This was above design (24%), brand name (21%) or whether it was the latest model (10%). Clearly, sustainability is a top concern for customers, therefore those businesses that are committed to a circular process can enjoy greater customer satisfaction and respect, which translates into increased sales.

Whilst stockholders, shareholders, and regulators have a vested interest in the business operating in a sustainable manner. Transparency with investors on ESG efforts will make it more attractive to further investment, with Deloitte finding that a 10-point higher ESG score is associated with an approximate 1.2x higher EV/ABITDA.

Overall, reselling, and refurbishing consumer electronics provides a number of commercial benefits to businesses. It helps them to reduce their environmental footprint, generate more revenue, and increase stakeholder satisfaction by emphasising sustainability. For these reasons, it is an attractive option for retailers looking to maximise profits while also doing their part for the environment.

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