US shoppers will return an estimated $90bn worth of unwanted items back to retailers, according to Optoro, a Washington-based technology company.

Only half of these returned goods will end up back on retailer’s shelves.

In many cases, retailers will bin the unwanted items. An estimated 5m pounds of rubbish is generated from returned items every year.

Meanwhile, the value of returned purchases amounts to close to 25 percent of the total value of returned goods each year.

United Parcel Service Inc, the world’s largest package delivery company, said on Wednesday that it was on track to return a record number of packages this holiday, having handled more than 1m returns to retailers every day in December.

Online vs brick-and-mortar

While the majority of physical retailers swallow the freight cost of returning an item, online retailers including Amazon don’t.

Customers often opt to return items to e-commerce platforms, which make the return process more convenient.

Bruce Cohen, who heads strategy and private equity for retail and consumer products at consulting firm Kurt Salmon, a unit of Accenture said:

Being able to return is now a competitive tool. If it’s a pain for customers to return items, they will go elsewhere.

Amid concerns that customers prefer the perks of online shopping to those offered by physical shops, US department store Kohl’s announced earlier this year that it would start accepting returns at its stores for items bought on Amazon.

Meanwhile, courier companies FedEx and UPS are constantly looking at ways to make deliveries and returns easier for customers, which includes setting up more drop-off locations.

FedEx alone has set up pick-up and drop-off locations across the US at more than 7,500 Walgreens drugstores, as well as at some Kroger and Albertson’s supermarkets.

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UPS, which said 5.8m packages were shipped back to retailers in the first week of January this year, boasts more than 27,000 drop-off points.

This year’s holiday shopping season saw record-breaking online and in-store spending of more than $800bn, according to Mastercard’s analytics arm.