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The Hamburg-based toern startup is on a mission to reduce the number of products returned to mail-order companies. Around one in ten orders is returned and many shoppers even plan to return some products when shopping online, according to the Bitkom digital association. Obviously, returns of unsold products are not environment-friendly and cause a considerable amount of extra work for suppliers. Enter toern’s efficient alternative.

The toern-team

Online shopping with impact

The idea behind toern, founded by Alena Schneck and Jonas Zeuner, is simple. If you do not like an item ordered online, send it onto the next recipient instead of sending it back to the mail order company. The sender receives the usual returns slip and forwards the unwanted goods to the next recipient. Apart from the end buyer, nothing changes. The toern company connects to the online shop via an API interface and can view its customers' returns data. If the returned goods are in good condition, they can be put back on sale online. Last autumn, toern went live and carried out initial tests with the retailer SORBAS SHOES. Schneck quickly realised that toern simply had to save resources to offer customers a genuine service. The startup combines her experience in the textile industry, where she worked for many years, with her vision of owning a sustainable company.

First established in Wedel in the state of Schleswig-Holstein and backed by the Wedel University of Applied Sciences, toern moved to Hamburg in 2023. The city has many benefits as Hamburg is a flourishing logistics center. The headquarters in the Digital Logistics Hub is exciting for startups, corporates and investors alike and has good links to partners such as the major German mail order company Otto Group and Tchibo. Hamburg offers founders good funding opportunities and many available employees. A grant from the IFB last November has enabled the two founders to continue building their company full-time.

"The startup ecosystem in Hamburg is very informal. Everyone helps everyone else as long as you ask! We've been based in the beautiful Digital Logistics Hub since autumn 2023. In addition to the charm of the Speicherstadt, we benefit from the hub’s ecosystem, which has already enabled us to hold workshops with Tchibo and the Otto Group, for instance, as well as to undertake countless stage appearances."
Alena Schneck, co-founder of toern

Schneck learnt plenty during the startup phase when she and Zeuner could count on the expertise of mentors in online shopping. Offers from the startup ecosystem such as the Startup Port also made the early phase much easier. “Above all, networking early is a must. Networking and publicising your idea is always an investment in yourself and not simply an idea. I would always recommend marketing yourself as well.”

However, the right timing is crucial. Has the product been sufficiently tested and validated? If not, talking to investors too early could mean wasting an opportunity that could prove successful later.

© Bench Accounting, Unsplash

Modern returns

The range of toern’s services counters the problems associated with online shopping in the 21st century. Developments such as the Ecodesign Regulation for sustainable products, which was adopted by the EU in late 2023, point to the present upheaval all over the industry. Consumers and the government are calling for more consistent resource-saving measures in the fashion industry. The toern startup is jumping on this bandwagon and heading towards a sustainable, modern era. Hopes are now high that its solution will appeal to all those who want to avoid pollution. Fine-tuning its product is now top of the agenda and targeting more and more large companies. toern is ready to make a significant contribution to optimum shopping structures and to gradually live up to its vision of a more sustainable fashion industry.


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