Cadillac Fairview, Teachers and ex-Shopify exec gamble on a new, old model for online returns: showing up in person

5 min read
Press: The Globe And Mail
ReturnBear x eShipper

The cardigan was right back where it started.

After an online shopper clicked the buy button, the grey top was loaded into a delivery truck at the Toronto warehouse of online clothing retailer Franc for a trip across the city. But, as with so many items bought on the internet, it was soon returned for a refund.

The online retail industry’s return process has long been fraught. It bogs down supply chains, adds costs and takes a toll on the environment through fuel burned during all that transportation – and through products that end up in landfills rather than being resold.

One waystation during the cardigan’s return trip was the offices of a company that is hoping to change all that. Led by Shopify Inc. veteran Sylvia Ng, with backing from mall heavyweight Cadillac Fairview Corp. Ltd., Toronto-based ReturnBear Inc. has spent the past year and a half pitching itself as an alternative for retailers that are fed up with the cumbersome and costly process of online returns. The startup grew out of Koru, the venture studio of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which also owns Cadillac Fairview.

Many online retailers tell Ms. Ng that 20 per cent to 25 per cent of their goods are sent back – and the Washington-based National Retail Federation estimates US $761-billion in retail sales were returned in 2021.

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Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan, Koru, Cadillac Fairview