- Happy Returns, a consumer retail and e-commerce returns service, announced it will start processing cardboard "box-free" returns, according to a press release emailed to Supply Chain Dive. The company is rolling out its own recycled plastic tote containers in a bid to eliminate the cardboard waste currently generated by packaging and shipping return items.
- "What we hear a lot from consumers is 'I loathe the arts and crafts project of having to print the label, find a box, tape it up, and ... then wait for my return to process,'" David Sobie, CEO and co-founder of Happy Returns told Supply Chain Dive. The company attempts to remove this pain point through its network of in-person "return bars," enabling customers to drop off returns in-store or at central bar locations shared by multiple brands.
- The new reusable container "reduces the amount of [greenhouse gas] emissions associated with packaging by 0.12 pounds per item returned," according to a commissioned study prepared by York Engineering. "The Happy Returns model also minimizes the amount of cardboard that would be required for return shipments – by nearly 73% in weight and 92% in area."
Happy Returns' goal is to streamline returns processes as e-commerce and buy-online-pickup-in-store purchases continue to grow year over year. "Customers recognize the e-commerce returns process is pretty broken," said Sobie.
Through Happy Returns' model, customer and retailer partners benefit from having returns and refunds instantly processed on-site at the bars, without a trip to the post office to buy or ship boxes. And Happy Returns takes care of sorting and returning products to brands' fulfillment centers. The second half of this process makes use of Happy Returns' reusable totes, allowing the company and its brand partners to reduce cardboard waste on the back-end.
Sobie said the company is currently phasing the new totes in at return bars and in fulfillment centers and approximately 10,000 will soon be in circulation, a figure expected to grow to as more brands sign-on and return bars open nation-wide. He estimates the company's 400 return bars handle over 8,000 bulk shipments per month. Currently, fashion retailers Draper James, Revolve and Rothy's are the first to sign on to the new cardboard-less returns program.
Happy Returns currently operates two "hubs," one in California and one in eastern Pennsylvania, where returns are sorted and re-packed for distribution back to retailers' individual fulfillment centers. This adds a couple of extra days to the returns process compared to a customer mailing back their return directly, however, Happy Returns' partners, and their customers, have reported two major benefits from using this model beyond just reducing their carbon footprints, Sobie said.
The first benefit is for consumers who can drop off their returns and receive a refund instantly as opposed to mailing them in and waiting multiple days to verify everything was received and processed.
The second benefit is for retailers. Currently, return bars are concentrated in shopping malls, but Sobie said bars will soon open in individual stores. Brands that are near, or directly host, return bars have reported elevated foot traffic (a trend that parallels results from stores offering BOPIS programs) and have benefited from consumer willingness to "reinvest" their instant refunds by making new purchases while they are in the store.