Are e-tail returns burning a hole in your bottom line? Consider in-kind donations
The National Retail Federation estimates that about 20 percent of merchandise sold online is returned by the customer. And that's a costly proposition for e-tailers.
In most cases, returns mean the seller has paid for shipping twice (to and from a customer) without getting a sale.
Returned products need to be inspected and repackaged, which takes valuable time. That's if (a big if) the merchandise is returned in good condition. Plus, the retailer is taking a chance that the product won't go out of style or expire before it can be resold.
It's unlikely most returns can be resold at full price, so even new merchandise can end up at a liquidation warehouse or in the trash heap.
Rather than trashing merchandise or selling it to a liquidator, where you can't control brand identity, consider donating returned merchandise. The resulting tax break may be quite handsome, and it may even be more financially beneficial than reselling the merchandise at a cut-rate price.
Just donating the goods to a nonprofit, though, comes with its own headaches. The retailer has the task of vetting an organization, making sure it will accept what's being offered, understanding how it will be valued, and figuring out how and where merchandise has to be delivered.
Gifts-in-kind donation organizations do that legwork for you. These organizations will accept most of your overstocks and returns, whether it's a truckload or a few cartons, at any time of the year; ensure those items go to qualified nonprofit organizations, and, if you wish, give you a full accounting of how your donations were used.
Thanks to the generosity of donors, quality, new merchandise is given each year to U.S. schools, churches and nonprofits, allowing them to stretch their budgets, get more done with less money and even expand services.
Donated merchandise runs the gamut from educational products, safety supplies, books, clothing, crafts, office items and a myriad other goods. Many of this country's leading corporations have discovered that in-kind giving is extremely beneficial to their bottom line and they're doing something good to boot.
Giving in-kind makes you feel good, and you are assured that your merchandise won't end up on the open market or have the brand diluted. Plus, your company may qualify for a substantial tax deduction.
Section 170(e) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code states that when Regular C corporations donate inventory to qualified nonprofits -- also known as 501(c) (3) -- they can receive a tax deduction equal to up to twice the cost of the donated products.
Under the tax code, deductions are equal to the cost of the inventory donated, plus half the difference between the cost and fair market-selling price, not to exceed twice the cost.
For example, if your product costs $10 and you retail it for $30, the difference is $20. Half of $20 is $10. So $10 (product cost) plus $10 (half the difference) equals a $20 deduction. As $20 does not exceed twice the product cost, it is an allowable deduction. It's that simple.
There's no one solution to the issues caused by customer returns. But in-kind donations can be an integral part of the solution for your business and will certainly help others.
• Gary C. Smith is President and CEO of NAEIR, National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources, the largest gifts-in-kind organization in the U.S. Galesburg, Ill.-based NAEIR (www.naeir.org) has received donations of excess inventory from more than 8,000 U.S. corporations and redistributed more than $3 billion in products to nonprofits and schools. Gary can be reached at (800) 562-0955.
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