Handling It: Happy Returns’ spot at Santa Monica Place.

Handling It: Happy Returns’ spot at Santa Monica Place. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

David Sobie says there is one element of online shopping best done in person: returning the stuff you don’t want.

His Santa Monica company, Happy Returns, provides shoppers of certain e-commerce companies a spot to drop off returns without needing to deal with packing tape or shipping costs.

“If given the choice, consumers overwhelmingly prefer to return products in person, rather than (through) the mail,” said Sobie, 44.

In April, Happy Returns raised $1.9 million in funding from Upfront Ventures, Lowercase Capital, and Maveron, and launched its first “return bar” at Santa Monica Place.

It since has expanded to Canoga Park; San Francisco; Chicago; and Washington, D.C. Some sites operate in partnership with malls, which incorporate the service into their concierge desks and are happy to welcome an extra stream of customers who might end up buying from brick-and-mortar stores.

When a customer wants to return an item, Happy Returns ships it back to the retailer, which is charged a fee usually of no more than $10 based on shipping costs. Fewer than a dozen e-tailers have signed up for the service thus far.

“Part of our core hypothesis is that we think that not only will this be good for shoppers, but for the retailers that solve this pain point,” Sobie said.

Its next challenge is to scale up – both in building a network of locations and attracting retail partners. But big moves might wait until after the holidays.

“Right now, we’re heads down,” Sobie said. “This is the busiest time in retail.”

– Daina Beth Solomon

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