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An Amazon distribution center in Germany. Photo: Uli Deck/Getty

With the limitless selection and convenience that e-commerce offers consumers, online retailers are selling more and more goods. But they are also taking a lot back.

What's going on: Some of the biggest e-commerce businesses report staggering sales numbers — but huge pieces of that revenue often get erased in refunds to customers and shipping costs for returns.

By the numbers:

  • Customers returned $351 billion of all purchases — brick-and-mortar and online — in 2017, according to the National Retail Federation. That's about 10%.
  • Return rates jump to about 30% or higher when looking at just online purchases. For example, Revolve, the popular online clothing seller, made $400 million in net sales in 2017, but paid out an almost equal amount, $385 million, for returns, writes Recode's Jason Del Rey. That doesn't include the cost of return shipping.
  • About 6.5% or $22.6 billion of the returns were labeled fraud or abuse of store return policies. That includes falsifying receipts to profit or buying something with the intention of wearing it once before returning it.

Companies have taken steps to limit money lost from ceaseless returns. Amazon customers report being banned for excessive returns, per WSJ.

  • Amazon has also tried to anticipate clothing returns with Prime Wardrobe, a service through which shoppers receive a variety of sizes and colors to try. After picking the fit and style they like, customers can send back the rest in a prepaid box in one fell swoop.
  • Optoro, a tech startup that calls itself a returns optimization platform, has warehouses across the U.S. that accept returns, inspect them and then resell them on Amazon or eBay. Its clients include Target, Walmart’s Jet.com and Staples.

Go deeper

Biden threatens new sanctions against Ethiopian officials over Tigray conflict

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden on Friday signed an executive order allowing the Treasury and State Departments to impose sanctions against Ethiopian officials "responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict" in the Tigray region.

Driving the news: Hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine conditions in Tigray, but less than 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies has reached the region over the last month "due to the obstruction of aid access" by the Ethiopian government, according to Biden administration officials.

Top general: Calls to China were "perfectly within the duties" of job

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told the Associated Press on Friday that calls with his Chinese counterpart during the final months of Donald Trump's presidency were "perfectly within the duties and responsibilities" of his job.

Why it matters: In his first public comments on the calls that have prompted critics to question whether the general went too far, Milley maintained that such conversations are "routine," per AP.

The consumer's massive "war chest"

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Economists expect the pace of economic growth to cool off now that government transfer payments like stimulus checks and emergency unemployment benefits are in the rearview mirror. But evidence suggests that the U.S. consumer is sitting on a lot of financial firepower that could be a key driver of growth in the quarters to come.

Why it matters: U.S. consumer spending is massive, representing about 70% of GDP.