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Online Returns Provide a Reason to Go to the Mall

Few issues prove more vexing for online sellers than a customer returning an item. Losing the sale represents one piece of that return – there’s also the logistics involved in handling it. That’s the area where Mark Geller and David Sobie of Happy Returns want to smooth the returns process, and do so in a brick-and-mortar way.

The company’s initial presence in Santa Monica provides a view of how the customer interaction works. Sellers sign up for the service, and a customer who has a return can bring their item to the Return Bar rather than a shipping counter to send it back.

Founders Geller and Sobie informed EcommerceBytes on how the process is as customer friendly as possible. “With Happy Returns, there is no printing, no packing, and no shipping – and it’s all free for the customer.”

“For any of our participating retailers, the customer does not need external packaging or a receipt or packing slip of any kind. They simply hand us the item, tells us their email address and the reason for the return, and we take care of the rest,” they said.

Functionally, returns work just like they would for a brick-and-mortar retailer. “There is no pre-approval of any kind required. It’s just like returning an item you bought at a physical store, except we are acting as a virtual store for the retailer,” the founders said.

Returned items are shipped back to the retailer in the most cost-efficient way possible. They noted this depends on the urgency with which a retailer needs the item back, and Happy Returns can accommodate specific requests depending on the retailer.

Return Bar staff verify what’s coming back is a real item and not a proverbial box full of rocks. “We perform a standard check on each item to confirm the item is genuine and in returnable condition. In some cases, we may share photos of the item with retailers to confirm authenticity of high-end items,” they said.

Pricing for participating sellers is charged as “a per-item fee for each item returned through the service. The fee depends on the item type and is in the range of a few dollars for common items,” the company said. “Then we pass through the cost of shipping to the retailer.”

“However, since we aggregate the items prior to shipping, retailer shipping costs will typically be significantly lower than if the items were returned one at a time, saving money overall.”

“We package and ship all items from our central processing facility. The customer absolutely does not have to bring any external packing or shipping materials – just the items they want to return.” the founders said. “We create special labels for returning the items to the retailer in bulk, which saves time and money for everyone.”

The company has plans to expand further into Los Angeles and north to San Francisco, before moving into other major cities. “Eventually we will have return drop-off locations throughout the country, making the service convenient and accessible to the vast majority of online shoppers,” they said.

Right now it looks like Happy Returns should be of interest to online sellers with significant return activity. According to Happy Returns, “The partners who will get the most benefit from the service are probably those who are doing at least a few hundred returns per month.”

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David A Utter
David A Utter
David A. Utter is a freelance writer based in Lexington, KY. He has covered technology topics from search to security to online business and has been quoted in places like ZDNet and BusinessWeek. He considers his appearance on NPR's "All Things Considered" with long-time host Robert Siegel a delightful highlight. You can find him on Twitter @davidautter and on LinkedIn.