Paper Source, the Chicago-based stationery and gift retailer, is bringing much needed foot traffic into its brick-and-mortar stores — even during the pandemic — thanks to a returns program it launched with Happy Returns. “Return Bars” allows online shoppers from Happy Returns’ retail partners to return products in person at all Paper Source stores, eliminating the hassle and wait of returns by mail. Online customers bring the item into Paper Source stores — without labels or packaging — and provide an order ID or QR express code. Then, store associates, known as Returnistas, verify items for exchange or return. Happy Returns then transports the items aggregated in reusable packaging to designated locations. To learn more about this partnership, we spoke with Jenica Myszkowski, chief operating officer at Paper Source.

Jenica Myszkowski, Chief Operating Officer, Paper Source

Inner Circle: Please tell us about Paper Source and your role with the company?
Jenica Myszkowski: I’m the chief operating officer for Paper Source, a lifestyle brand that provides inspiration and products that help our customers to live better, give more often, create from the heart, and celebrate all of life’s moments.

IC: When did Paper Source start working with Happy Returns, and why?
JM: We began working with Happy Returns in early 2018 as part of a business initiative to enhance our retail experience. We hoped the program would increase foot traffic that converted in the retail location, and we’ve been happy to see that strategy realized.

IC: How does Paper Source work with Happy Returns? Does the brand have Return Bars at all of its stores?
JC: Paper Source hosts Return Bars at all of its stores across the country. The Happy Returns’ customer base includes an impressive roster of prominent digital and omnichannel retailers, including Rothy’s, UNTUCKit, REVOLVE, and more. Online shoppers overwhelmingly prefer to return in-person, so the Happy Returns online return and exchange service promotes Paper Source locations to shoppers in nearby ZIP codes.

IC: Can you walk us through how the program works?
JM: Our Return Bar program functions as it does at hundreds of other locations in Happy Returns’ nationwide network. Some shoppers arrive having started returns online; others begin returns in our stores. Either way, shoppers easily return items without printing, packaging, or person-to-person contact. The box, label, and contact-free experience lasts under 60 seconds, and shoppers receive refunds immediately. All returned items are collected inside eco-friendly, reusable boxes. The aggregated items then ship — leveraging Happy Returns’ low carrier rates for economies of scale — to regional Return Hubs, where they’re sorted, dispositioned, and processed.

IC: What are the benefits of having Return Bars in your stores?
JM: In addition to offering our standards in service and experience, Return Bars directly increase store sales by 6 percent and online sales by 17 percent. We also found that Happy Returns’ shoppers spend 21 percent more than our existing customers. It’s an honor to appear alongside such respected names in retail, and the program’s ease of operation is a major benefit.

IC: What are the sustainability benefits of working with Happy Returns?
JM: As mentioned, customers visiting Return Bars place items inside single reusable boxes. Items are then aggregated and picked up when full, going back to Happy Returns’ hubs for processing. The process significantly reduces cardboard and fuel waste. We’re proud to play a role in the industry’s only cardboard-free returns program, which reduces the environmental impact of individually shipped cardboard boxes. Cardboard e-commerce returns kill 1 billion trees a year.

IC: Since launching the program, can you talk about some results. Did you get new customers as a result? Repeat customers spending more? And if so, how do you think the Return Bars contributed to these types of results?
JM: In addition to the results shared earlier, Paper Source’s existing customers spend an average of 3 percent more when using the service. And new customers come back to Paper Source stores later, without returns, just to shop.

IC: Are you still making the Returns Bar experience available during the pandemic? Do you have any results you can share around that?
JM: Return Bar foot traffic played a vital role in store reopenings, with a contact-free return process. Upon reopening, we received many calls from customers eager to bring their returns again. The program’s NPS score also remains as high as before the pandemic — a staggering 94!

IC: What’s next for your partnership with Happy Returns?
JM: Happy Returns’ Return Bars will continue to be a core part of our retail strategy, giving consumers a reason to visit and shop. We will pilot new service models in our existing locations and we will include Return Bars in our new store locations.