Some startups are born after an entrepreneur spots a missing niche in the market: ReturnRunners, for instance, was started after its founder saw a need for a service that could help her return unneeded purchases in an age when she could outsource her groceries, dinner or dry cleaning. “Returns was always one of those chores that fell to the bottom of the priority list,” ReturnRunners Founder and CEO Fara Alexander said in an interview with PYMNTS.com.
Alexander, like many shoppers pressed for time, bracketed her purchases: She bought more than she needed to have the flexibility to try items on at home and decide which products to keep. While she intended to get unneeded items back to the store, many of those items were piled in her closet or trunk of her car as she had no convenient way to return them. With that need in mind, she started Return Runners to help pick up returns from consumers and bring them back to brick-and-mortar (or online) retailers.
To request this service from her company, consumers download an iOS or Android app or place an order directly through the company’s website. Consumers then choose the merchant where their returns will be sent, upload a photo of their receipts and schedule a time as well as a location for pickup. Her company will then dispatch a runner and pick up the items. After the item is returned, the company will then follow up by email with a confirmation receipt, so consumers know the exact amount of the refund. As the company also helps consumers with online returns, runners will also drop off packages at UPS and provide tracking information for the delivery to consumers.
In order to bring in revenue, the company charges a service fee. Alexander noted that there is a base rate that includes the pickup and return of one item. Beyond that first item, Alexander said, consumers are charged an additional fee for each additional item. (Customers can then make their credit or debit card payments through Stripe.) When it comes to logistics, Alexander said that most often the company’s returns are completed within 24 hours of when the company picks up the item except in extenuating circumstances. A customer might, in one case, request service on a Sunday, and the post office might be closed the next day.
The company has worked with more than 80 local retailers and online stores, but Alexander does have some limitations as to the types of items her service will accept. For starters, she noted that items must be under 20 pounds and smaller than 3 feet by 5 feet. And, as the company seeks to be the first line of defense in mitigating retail return fraud, Alexander said that all returns need to be within the policy that the store employs and accompanied by a proof of purchase. “We won’t take anything back that doesn’t have a receipt,” Alexander said.
The Retailer Side of the Equation
While Alexander initially started out to solve the returns problem, she said the company’s long-term vision is to build partnerships with retailers to help them engage consumers. Now, she has been working with some higher-end boutique clients in Chicago, and she has learned retailers are not only interested in having an easier return solution for customers, they are interested in tapping into her company’s offerings as a suite of services. In such cases, she could utilize her system of runners to help with same-day delivery, size exchanges and alterations. Retailers could, for example, take advantage of such a solution to help facilitate an exchange when a runner picks up a return.
And, while the company is focused on returns, she said there is additional value in tapping into that network of runners to facilitate and create retail partnerships. As is stands, there are couriers, legacy shipping companies and last-mile delivery companies but “there’s no company that’s really focused on … the different elements of what a retailer might need to help engage their customers.” Startups such as ReturnRunners, however, can, in the words of Alexander, use their infrastructure to, in a way, “bring the store into the home of the customer.”
Startups like ReturnRunners, then, can start out with one purpose, such as easing returns for consumers, and end up evolving into serving new markets — like retailers looking for new solutions heading into the future of retail logistics.