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(Bloomberg) -- A boom in Swiss exports of clothing and shoes isn’t quite what it seems.

Foreign shipments of textiles and footwear rose 10 percent in 2016, second only to pharmaceuticals and chemicals. Yet what that really reflects is dissatisfied shoppers sending back their purchases.

Switzerland isn’t part of the European Union’s customs union, so online purchases made abroad or sent back are booked in the trade statistics. Switzerland isn’t part of the European Union’s customs union, so online purchases made abroad or sent back are booked in the trade statistics. And there’s a 300 franc-per-day ($301) limit on individuals bringing goods across the border, so internet shopping makes sense.

Zalando SE offers clients free shipping and returns, making it a popular online retailer for the Swiss. The Berlin-based company reported a 17 percent rise in revenue growth for the region of Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the first quarter.

Last year, returns accounted for nearly a third of the textile-shoe-clothing category’s exports, according to Switzerland’s Federal Customs Administration. The trend was even more pronounced in the three months through the end March: some 40 percent of the 962 million francs exported were returns.

(For more economic analysis, see Benchmark)

To contact the author of this story: Catherine Bosley in Zurich at cbosley1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Gordon at pgordon6@bloomberg.net, Zoe Schneeweiss

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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