Fighting The Friction In Retail Returns

Fighting The Friction In Retail Returns

Free returns have become something of a standard offering for eCommerce consumers. What better way to compensate for an improperly fitting clothing item or a purchase not quite living up to snuff than making it easy and free to send it back?

A solid strategy, if it weren’t for one particular issue that most eCommerce consumers have experienced. Free returns aren’t exactly free – especially when counting time as a commodity of value. Depending on how a customer makes a return, some retailers will take a portion of the return shipping costs out of the refund amount. And even if it is legitimately free, the customer still often has to repack the item (and find new packaging materials), make a shipping label and drop off the package at a proper shipping location.

Once all that is done, a refund may still be seven to 10 business days in the offing.

It is, in short, often a friction-filled, time-consuming experience. And that is where Mark Geller, David Sobie and their reverse logistics startup Happy Returns enters the fold. The company works with online retailers to facilitate returns with better options for consumers and a more efficient supply chain. The startup works with such notable names as Everlane, Rothy’s, Revolve and (most recently) the plus-sized women’s retailer Avenue.

The concept behind the firm, noted COO and Co-founder Geller, is pretty simple. For all that has been invested in building the networks to deliver packages quickly and seamlessly from distribution centers, the process isn’t nearly as neat and smooth when trying to get those packages back from customers. Happy Returns’ goal is to even out that expectation of services.

The plan was to take the third-party network of return locations that huge physical retailers currently enjoy and extend it to smaller and digital retailers – and then pair that with a direct online interface for initiating returns and exchanges. Customers want free returns, Sobie noted - but free is not a sufficient condition for a good experience. They also want something that is simple, sustainable and, perhaps most importantly, fast.

“With Happy Returns, the customer hands the items to a human being, with no box, label, printing or packing tape, and has the item approved immediately with a refund or exchange initiated in real time,” Geller noted in an interview.

The firm’s services fall into two major categories, he said. The first is an easier to navigate online returns software solution that provides the consumer with a clearer, more direct path to complete the task. About half (52 percent) of all returns stem from a color or size issue, which usually means the customer is actually looking to exchange the item, not return it. That allows for easier, one-click switches, as opposed to the consumer entering into two different flows: one to return the good and one to rebuy in it the correct size.

The second part of the offering is the easy drop-off and exchange locations, which eliminates the need for new packaging while ensuring immediate provisional refunds or product switches and minimal shipping costs.

This change is in the retailers’ best interests, noted Geller and Sobie. Managing and tracking returns can be tedious and time-consuming, and Happy Returns can do it faster and at a lower cost than most brands. Moreover, the more streamlined return process makes for happier customers who are more eager to shop and try new things, because they know that if it doesn’t work out or isn’t quite right, it will be easy to switch or return items.

And, Geller noted, it will hopefully become even easier going forward.

“We want to continue to earn our reputation as a retailer’s best ‘partner for life’ for all aspects of returns,” he said. “Leading retailers have inspiring visions for their companies extending decades into the future … we want to be the partner they can rely on to solve this challenging area of their business so they can focus on what they do best – building and growing great brands.”



The September 2020 Leveraging The Digital Banking Shift Study, PYMNTS examines consumers’ growing use of online and mobile tools to open and manage accounts as well as the factors that are paramount in building and maintaining trust in the current economic environment. The report is based on a survey of nearly 2,200 account-holding U.S. consumers.