Happy Returns, a three-year-old service that makes returns easy for those shopping online, is expanding its network of drop-off locations or “return bars” to colleges and universities.
Since July 2, return bars opened in Portland State University, the University of Arizona and North Carolina State. Happy Returns will also enter the University of Washington and Gonzaga University in September.
“College students are a great fit for Happy Returns since they do most of their shopping online, don’t want to bother with printing shipping labels and crave an easy and immediate refund,” said David Sobie, cofounder and chief executive officer of Happy Returns, based in Santa Monica, Calif. “They are also passionate about preserving the environment so they appreciate Happy Returns’ box-free returns producing lower carbon emissions than other return methods.”
So far, about two dozen brands, most selling apparel and accessories, participate in the Happy Returns service, including Everlane, Eloquii, Untuckit, Rothy’s, Jaanuu, Carbon38 and Thursday Boot. The brands inform their customers about the Happy Returns option, which makes returns easy since no packing, labeling, mailing or receipts are required, just dropping off at the return bar.
Happy Returns operates inside campus bookstores, though future drop-off locations could be elsewhere in student unions. College administrations like Happy Returns because it’s a convenience that keeps students on campus longer and generates traffic at the bookstores.
“Happy Returns integrates right into the bookstores’ cash registers,” explained Sobie. “No physical space is needed other than the space to store the returns. The bookstore provides the manpower and we provide the technology. We train the staff how to use it and we drive the customers there.”
Sobie said 10 to 15 return bars should be on campuses by the end of the year, and many more in 2019. “We are growing rapidly and we look at college and university campuses as one of the engines for growth.”
Happy Returns has already grown to 28 cities across the country. There are 155 return bars in the common areas or at the concierge desks in malls, as well as in certain stores and campus bookstores.
“Returnistas” ask shoppers where the purchase was made and what e-mail was used for checkout. They use the Happy Returns app (connected to the back-end of participating retailers and brands) to pull up orders and verify the product is being returned within the allowed window of time and that it wasn’t a final sale. Returnistas inspect the product to determine if it’s in returnable condition. They ask why the item is being returned and offer refund or exchange methods provided by the retailer. The Happy Returns app triggers a store credit or refund to the individual via the retailer on whatever payment was used for the purchase and sends an e-mail receipt.
Happy Returns, which isn’t profitable yet, raised $14 million through three rounds of financing, largely through U.S. Venture Partners and Upfront Ventures. The online retailers are charged a per-item return fee for participating in the Happy Returns service, ranging from $3 to $11 depending on size and weight. However, Happy Returns saves companies money by aggregating returned items at a central logistics facility in Los Angeles into a single box before it’s shipped back to them.
“We are more cost-effective than returns by mail,” said Sobie.