Case Study: How a Brooklyn Retailer Brings E-Commerce Shoppers In-Store

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Merchant: Woods Grove
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Vendor: Happy Returns
Bottom Line: Accepting returns for e-commerce stores is one way for brick-and-mortar retailers to bring new customers into the fold.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. As a local store selling gifts and other mid-century modern vintage items in Brooklyn, New York, Woods Grove has a hard time competing with national chains. But the local retailer has managed to piggyback on the success of e-commerce heavyweights like Everlane and Tradesy by accepting customer returns on their behalf.

Woods Grove is working with a hyperlocal vendor called Happy Returns, which facilitates in-person returns for online shoppers, as the host of a “Return Bar.”

Shoppers who want to return purchases they’ve made at selected online retailers visit the Happy Returns website, where they’re directed to the nearest Return Bar. For Brooklyn shoppers, Woods Grove is one of just a handful of nearby spots where they can bring back their purchases. The hope is that while shoppers are inside Woods Grove making their returns, they’ll see something they like and buy something from the store.

It’s a strategy that’s paid off well so far. Woods Grove owner Chris DiChiaro has seen a 35% to 40% ratio of people buying things in his store when they come in to return something they bought from a different retailer online.

“We are a local shop that relies on word of mouth and foot traffic,” DiChiaro says. “Maybe they buy something right there or they keep us in mind when looking for a gift in the future.”

One of the ways DiChiaro has been able to encourage people to make purchases while they’re returning their online orders is with good old fashioned customer service — the kind people aren’t getting when they shop at e-commerce stores.

“We ask them how far they have traveled to come to us and if they have ever been in before,” he says. “If not, we explain a little bit about ourselves in order to entice them to browse.”

DiChiaro sees the strategy paying off especially well during slower months of the year. For example, January is typically a slow month for Woods Grove, but it’s a big month for returns, and DiChiaro says he’s looking forward to the extra foot traffic that he expects his Happy Returns partnership to provide.

“The big rush for me is in January when I believe many more Happy Returns will happen, but my normal business is very slow,” he says. “Hoping the increased traffic will translate to sales for me.”

Although there were concerns at first about how long it would take to process returns and how detrimental that might be during the peak holiday shopping season, DiChiaro says those concerns have been largely unfounded.

“So far it has been fine and customers are very understanding when we ask them to wait a little bit while I handle sales from customers,” he says.

DiChiaro doesn’t view his partnership with Happy Returns as a marketing strategy, per se. He does see it as a strategy for getting new people into his store, much in the same way that store owners in the early 2010s saw Groupon as a tool for bringing in new customers (but without the unsustainable discounts). He envisions a time in the future when he’ll be able to tie Happy Returns to other digital marketing platforms as a way to retarget those shoppers with offers to bring them back to his store even after they’ve made their returns.

“I have found it very hard in the past to realize the ROI of my marketing and therefore may have wasted money,” he says. “I think in the future, it could be utilized as a campaign tool by contacting those customers in the future with [information] about my store and perhaps some discount.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.