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Tech Forecast

Delivery Startup Shyp Wants To Make Returns Painless

Customers were already using its app to handle e-commerce returns. Now the company is turning the task into an official feature.

When Shyp launched its shipping service last year, a funny thing happened. The service—currently available in San Francisco, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Miami, with more locations on the way—lets you use an app to snap a photo of something you want to ship. A courier then shows up on your doorstep, packs your item using Shyp's own supplies, and then hands it off to a delivery firm such as Fedex, UPS, or the U.S. Postal Service. From the app to Shyp's warehouses to its special box-cutting machine, the whole process is custom-designed to help consumers ship stuff with as little heartache as possible, without leaving their home or office.

But Shyp quickly discovered that its customers were hacking its carefully designed closed loop of a system. When they wanted to return a product to an online retailer such as Amazon, they'd use the retailer's website to initiate the process and print a return label. But then instead of dealing with crating up the item and heading to a package drop-off, they'd send it back via Shyp.

Now the company is formalizing this idea. It's updating its iOS and Android apps with a new feature specifically designed to expedite returning unwanted items to e-commerce companies.

When you launch the updated Shyp app, it asks if you'd like to ship something to an address of your choice, or to return it to an online retailer. If you choose the latter, the app shows you a list of the 13 retailers Shyp users have been sending the most merchandise back to, including Amazon, Target, Gap, and Rent the Runway. For each one of these companies, Shyp has handcrafted a process based on that retailer's specific return logistics: For instance, the app will be able to tell if you type in an invalid Amazon order ID. (You can also return items to retailers that aren't on Shyp's list via a generic "all other retailers" option.)

With the garden-variety shipping jobs it handles, Shyp charges a $5 pickup fee, even if a user is sending out multiple items to different addresses. Customers also pay the retail price for whatever shipping option they choose—which, since Shyp receives volume discounts from its delivery-company partners, gives it an opportunity to make a profit as a middleman.

If an online retailer provides a prepaid return label, Shyp doesn't charge for shipping; the $5 pickup fee is all it gets. Cofounder and CEO Kevin Gibbon told me that handling such shipments is still worth the effort since it gives the company the opportunity to introduce itself to consumers who might use it for future mailing jobs.

Shoppers like generous return policies, but don't—I think this is a reasonable supposition—enjoy the effort of the actual returning of products. Retailers are okay with accepting returns, since doing so gives consumers the confidence to keep on shopping. So by making it more tempting to return items, it's possible that Shyp will make everybody happy. Including itself, if using the app does indeed leave consumers loving it and wanting more.

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