Rothy’s now uses the store-based return service Happy Returns for its ‘return bars’ and returns software. The shoe retailer says consumers are now more apt to exchange a pair of shoes than return them. Plus, shoppers calling customer service asking about refunds has significantly decreased.

If the shoe fits, wear it. But if it doesn’t fit, Rothy’s wants its customers to return it.

Online shoe retailer Rothy’s recently started using return service vendor Happy Returns to make its returns process easier, says Heather Howard, vice president of operations and people.

“The industry spends so much time thinking about the fulfillment of getting your initial purchase in your hand, but doesn’t take time for what happens if it’s not the perfect item…and the whole reverse logistics side,” Howard says.

Happy Returns operates 700 “return bars” within physical stores in 143 metropolitan areas nationwide for an in-person return and immediate refund. Retail chains, such as Paper Source and Cost Plus World Market, house these Happy Returns hubs, which also drive foot traffic to the store, the vendor says.

For example, a shopper who needs to return a Rothy’s pair of shoes can go into a Paper Source and go to the main checkout counter. There, she tells the Happy Returns-trained Paper Source employee her email address that she used to purchase the order, and the employee can look up the order, inspect the item and issue the refund. The shopper does not need to repackage the shoes nor print a shipping label.

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Instead of shipping each return individually, the store sends all the returns together to one of two Happy Returns warehouses. A shipper picks the returns up from the retailer typically once a week, Happy Returns says.

Since Rothy’s started using the returns bar service, shoppers calling into its customer service center asking where their return refund is has “significantly” decreased to almost none now, Howard says without revealing more. The retailer has not reduced the number of call center employees. Although, it has not needed to hire more staff as sales continue to increase for Rothy’s, Howard says.

Without the return bar service, Rothy’s didn’t process returns—and thus shoppers didn’t receive their refunds—until the package reached a Rothy’s warehouse, which could have taken anywhere from 14-18 days, Howard says.

Shoppers can choose to have a refund, store credit or exchange, and since Rothy’s started the return service bars, shoppers choosing to do an exchange has increased 33%, Howard says.

Rothy’s offers free return shipping on orders, which is key for customer experience, according to an Internet Retailer and Bizrate Insights survey in June 2019 of more than 1,000 online shoppers. Free return shipping is the No. 1 most important feature that contributes to a superior shopping experience or a consumer’s desire to place an order with an online apparel retailer, as 55% of consumers ranked it in their top three features, the highest of any other feature, according to the survey. That same survey found that 26.1% of online consumers were frustrated by their inability to return an online order to a store.

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Rothy’s says this service has reduced its returns rate and increased shopper conversion and lifetime value, Howard says without revealing specific figures. Easy returns also help with customer retention, and, repeat customers return less because they know their size and what their fit is, Howard says. And so, it’s all about ensuring that the first-time customer knows that returns are easy and hoping to build their loyalty over time, she says.

Rothy’s began using the return bar service in May 2018 and then expanded in February 2019 to use Happy Returns’ returns software for the traditional way of returning orders to a Rothy’s warehouse.

Rothy’s currently has one “small” store near its San Francisco headquarters with plans to open stores in Washington, D.C., Boston and New York City by the first quarter of 2020, if not before, Howard says.

“We want to get closer to our customer so she can see, touch, feel and try on our product,” Howard says. “We’re expanding in a measured style. We’re not going to go Gap style, we just want to be in the community with our customers.” Apparel retailer Gap Inc. has 3,688 stores, according to Top500Guide.com.

Happy Returns charges merchants a monthly service fee for handling returns, as well as a per-item fee that ranges from $3 to $5, depending on the processing work that Happy Returns needs to do in its two processing hubs—one is located in Reading, Pennsylvania, the other is in Van Nuys, California.

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Rothy’s is No. 340 in the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000 Other web-mostly retailers that use the Happy Returns service bars include Parachute Home (No. 814), Huckberry (No. 1746 in the Internet Retailer 2019 Next 1000), American Giant (No. 1348), Ministry of Supply (No. 1655), Cuts Clothing and Draper James (No. 1738).

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