Switzerland debates new charge for returning online orders

Switzerland debates new charge for returning online orders

The Environmental Commission of the Swiss Council of States has called for a plan that would see customers pay for items that they return from an online order. Officials within the government argue that free returns policies are damaging to the environment, but retailers say they are already taking steps to prevent excessive returns.

Free returns policies under the spotlight in Swiss Parliament

At a meeting this week, the Environmental Commission of the Council of States called on the Federal Council to examine “which changes to the law are necessary to ensure the application of the polluter pays principle for returns in online mail orders.” Specifically, the order called on the government to explore whether customers should be required to pay for every order they return through the post.

A study from DPD recently revealed that approximately 28 percent of all parcels from online stores are returned. Another report from the University of Applied Sciences in Lucerne and the Swiss postal service found that while roughly 7 percent of parcels in Switzerland are returned, some companies see 60 percent of their products returned for free.

Swiss lawmakers debate an advanced return fee

Under the plans proposed by the commission, every online order would include an “advance return fee.” This fee would then be refunded once the customer chooses to keep the item they purchased, under what is often described by the Swiss authorities as the “polluter pays principle” - an international term used to describe an environmental policy that specifically charges the company or individual producing the greenhouse emissions.

In a statement given to Watson, the commission argued that free returns are neither beneficial for companies, customers or the environment, noting that as retailers face higher costs, the environment would be impacted “because usable items end up in the trash and are previously transported back and forth over long distances." 

They added that free returns put those “who order carefully and with serious intentions to purchase” at a disadvantage, as they have to foot the bill for free returns through higher prices. Their proposal will now be considered by the Federal Council.

Retailers in Switzerland oppose the surcharge

For their part, supermarkets and online retailers are lukewarm about the idea, noting that they themselves already have incentives to reduce the number of products returned. “Unnecessary returns are not in our interest”, a spokesperson for Digitec Galaxus told Watson

Bernhard Egger, managing director of the Swiss Trade Association, also didn’t see the need for an extra charge. ​​“Retailers are already implementing many measures to reduce returns. These include improved product descriptions, size tables, customer reviews and bonus systems for those customers who rarely return items,” he explained.

For him, the law would only lead to “Swiss retailers being disadvantaged compared to international players" by a policy that is "disproportionate and extremely administratively burdensome.” He concluded that the excessive use of free returns is a social problem: “We all have to ask ourselves how we deal with our resources. A new law will make no contribution to this.”

Thumb image credit: Tiwiplusk /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

Read more



Leave a comment