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Plus-Size E-Commerce Brand Avenue Has a New In-Store Strategy

Avenue is back in the real world—sort of.

The plus-size women’s apparel chain, which shuttered all 222 U.S. stores in August, has a new brick-and-mortar presence, thanks to Happy Returns.

City Chic, the new owner of women’s apparel concept Avenue, has inked an agreement with the Los Angeles-based returns solutions startup, which has amassed a following of online retailers that use its services to allow customers to return items to a real-world outpost, rather than going through the hassle of mailing items back.

“Offering our shoppers Happy Returns for returning online purchases is a core part of our digital-only strategy,” City Chic CEO Phil Ryan said. “We expect Happy Returns’ solution for returns in person will help us succeed without a physical retail presence.”

Avenue customers can drop their returns at any of Happy Returns’ more than 700 Return Bar locations nationwide. Returns don’t require the repackaging and labeling typical of mail-back schemes, and refunds are initiated immediately, Happy Returns said.

Happy Returns’ network of drop-off points offer a “consistent experience for Avenue shoppers who have come to expect the ease, speed and convenience of returning to stores,” David Sobie, Happy Returns CEO and co-founder, said.

As digitally native brands multiply and consumers eschew unsustainable supply chains, alternative reverse logistics will serve an increasingly vital role in the lives of online shoppers.

“This is a way to have a physical retail presence, without actually owning brick-and-mortar stores,” Caitlin Roberson, Happy Returns’ vice president of marketing, said. The return process only requires that the shopper bring in the order’s QR code, the item being returned, and personal identification, she said. Items for each brand partner are aggregated and sent back every few days.

The Return Bar host store pays Happy Returns a subscription fee for access to its network. Hosts include shopping malls like Westfield and Simon, stores like World Market and Paper Source, and universities such as the University of Arizona and the University of Washington.

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The retailer or brand that is offering the return option, including direct-to-consumers like Revolve and Eloquii, pays a separate fee to Happy Returns for access to its software and Return Bar network, logistics and processing access.

Retailers can have returns sent directly to their processing center or have Happy Returns do the preliminary work of checking to see if the items are in good condition. The latter option requires a higher fee for reverse logistics.

The advantage for host retailers is access to potential new customers, similar to Kohl’s tie-up with Amazon.

“This is a benefit for host stores. Brick-and-mortar is challenged with getting foot traffic that’s new and in converting that foot traffic. Our program is an excellent source for customer acquisition. One national retailer [partnering with us] nets a 28 percent conversion rate on returns,” Roberson said.

Online shopping generates return rates three to four times higher than brick-and-mortar stores, which means that brands with a digital-only strategy need to consider the return experience.

“Eighty-seven percent of shoppers won’t shop at a brand after they have had a bad return experience,” Roberson said.