In Optoro’s 300,000-square-foot warehouse outside Nashville on a stiflingly hot afternoon in late August, Susan Cohan scans the bar code on a cardboard box holding 97 pink crocheted bikinis. The tops were priced at $27.99 and the bottoms at $19.99 at one of America’s best-known big-box retailers. But the suits had failed to sell. Optoro’s software tells Cohan to route the box to Bulq.com, a website run by Optoro that sells in bulk to mom-and-pop dollar outlets and online discount stores. The bikinis will fetch 20% of retail, says Tobin Moore, Optoro’s 35-year-old cofounder and CEO. “People aren’t going to be buying bikinis in September,” he notes.
Those bathing suits and the 50,000 other boxes of returned and rejected stuff sitting in Optoro’s warehouse represent a pounding headache for retailers and manufacturers. Of the $3.3 trillion Americans spent on merchandise in 2015, they returned 8%, or $260 billion worth, according to the National Retail Federation’s most recent figures. That doesn’t count items, like the pink bikinis, that never leave store shelves.
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