November 22, 2011, 4:31 PM

Free returns get easier for ShopRunner members

They can print out labels from the web and put packages in their own mailboxes.

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

Lead Photo

Even for consumers who belong to ShopRunner, which offers free shipping on returns, returning items bought online has been a hassle, says chief strategy officer Fiona Dias. Now ShopRunner, a members-only free shipping service that some 60 retailers offer, is making the process less painful.

The problem has been, Dias explains, that a shopper who wants to send back an item purchased online has to pack it up, address the package and travel to a post office or UPS or FedEx store to send it back to the e-retailer. ShopRunner’s experience in the year since it launched is that many consumers don’t bother to return items, even if they want to, and even though return shipping is free.

To make the service more attractive, ShopRunner this week is introducing a new feature called ReturnRunner that eliminates the need to go anywhere beyond the shopper’s own mailbox to post the package. A ShopRunner member can go to ShopRunner.com, print out a return label, attach it to the box and put it in her own mailbox for the local mail carrier to pick up. Or she can put the package into a U.S. Postal Service mailbox or hand it over at a UPS store or a post office. Eventually, the package goes to UPS, which delivers it to the retailer who made the sale.

ShopRunner, which made its debut in October 2010 as a way for retailers to match the $79-a-year free unlimited Amazon Prime service from Amazon.com Inc., has signed up 90 retailers, and about 60 of them are live with the service, Dias says. As with Amazon Prime, a consumer pays $79 for a one-year ShopRunner membership and pays nothing for two-day shipping from participating retailers. ShopRunner goes beyond Amazon Prime in offering free shipping on returns, but Dias says that feature has not been heavily used by ShopRunner members.

When consumers want to return a product and live near a store of the ShopRunner retailer they bought from, 95% of the time they return the item to the store. But shoppers who don’t live near a store, or who buy from web-only retailers return items infrequently. And ShopRunner figures that’s bad for business in the long run.

“An unhappy customer that bought an item from XYZ.com and doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of returning it is left with a bad taste in their mouth,” she says. “We don’t want that. We want customers to be happy so they come back a second and a third time.”

ShopRunner has not disclosed how many consumers have signed up for the service, which is also available for $8.95 a month, a monthly offer not available from Amazon Prime. Among the retailers participating in ShopRunner are Newegg Inc., No 12 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., No. 29, drugstore.com, No. 46, The Sports Authority Inc., No. 223, PetSmart Inc., No. 294, and Lord & Taylor. Amazon.com is No. 1 in the Top 500 Guide.

ShopRunner is owned by Kynetic LLC, a company launched this year by Michael Rubin, the founder of e-commerce technology provider GSI Commerce, which developed ShopRunner. EBay bought GSI this year, but Rubin retained a majority stake in ShopRunner.

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