UPS's predictions aren't looking good for Mother Nature this holiday season

By Hannah Chubb
November 22, 2019 03:20 PM

When it comes to searching for Christmas presents, online shopping is the new norm. It’s just too easy to find a good deal, click “add to cart,” find a box on your doorstep — and send everything back if it’s not perfect.

In a recent report about “record-breaking holiday returns volume,” UPS used their data to make a startling prediction: More than one million packages are expected to be returned to stores via their service every single day during the month of December.

And one million is the low estimate. UPS explains in the report that beyond the everyday, there are also two major spikes in returns throughout the holiday season: one the week before Christmas, and one on January 2.

Before Christmas (the week of December 16), consumers are expected to return 1.6 million packages. This number is driven by the increase in retailer promotions that take place closer to Christmas, which people take advantage of for both friends and family and themselves.


The spike on January 2, which UPS has dubbed “National Returns Day,” is the largest of the year, with 1.9 million packages expected to be returned. This spike is expected to come from gifts received on Christmas, and items purchased during post-Christmas sales.

UPS expects that National Returns Day 2020 will see a 26 percent increase in volume over last year.

“As retailers start preparing for the busy holiday season, they should certainly be factoring returns into their business plans,” said Kevin Warren, UPS’s Chief Marketing Officer in the forecasting report. “Gone are the days where returns were isolated to January – today’s empowered consumers will be sending packages back to retailers all season long.”

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Beyond being a lot of work for each and every employee that helps get a package from the source to your door, an excessive amount of returns also means an excessive amount of waste.

Between the boxes, plastic and packing materials used for each package — and the carbon emissions from getting packages from A to B — the environmental impact of all these returns is more than a little harrowing.

It’s also worth noting, UPS’s estimate doesn’t include items sent via other shipping services, like FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service. Most estimates say UPS is responsible for about half of all packages shipped. So the number of returns per day could actually be closer to 2 million.