The new warehouses in contrast were sited near towns so that van drivers could access them and take advantage of the “extra mile” of delivery. As a result modern warehouses near big markets have become essential to Amazon, Target and others.
They have also become one of the darlings of the stock market, in contrast to most real estate, which is going through the doldrums, even with Brexit stockpiling.
These warehouses do not just deliver goods and parcels, they also need a vast amount of space for the huge volumes of returns. An executive in Dublin, who was regional head of one clothing e-commerce business, told me this year he reckoned 50% of his goods came back as returns.
That may be an exaggeration, or maybe his fashions looked good but were in fact shoddy. But conventional industry estimates in the United States for all shopping, not just clothing, suggest 30% are returned, compared with 8.9% in conventional stores.
Perhaps the UK is similar, though the data is not available. In fact, Zalando, Europe’s biggest online-only fashion retailer, also has returns in the region of 50%, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, one of the few economic consultancies to probe into this area.
Barclaycard says its retailers have seen a rise in refunds of 37% since 2016.
Again, according to the CEBR, when an item is returned it is not immediately put back for resale. Instead it could pass through many pairs of hands for assessment.