The Future Of Retail: “Retailers will have to adjust to using subscription models” With Sanaz Hajizadeh of Happy Returns
When it comes to utilities and non-fashion items, retailers will have to adjust to using subscription models. Today, with the world at the tip of our fingers, people are looking for ease and convenience. Imagine toothpaste could show up at a customer’s door, right as they squeezed out the last drop from the tube. The idea of planning extensive lists in advance and making extra trips to the store would be eliminated, freeing up the minds and schedules of consumers to focus on more important things.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sanaz Hajizadeh, the Senior Product Manager at Happy Returns. With over a decade of experience in companies ranging from Aerospace to Media and Publishing, she most recently served as Product Manager at SpaceX. Before that, she worked as the Product Owner and Senior Business Analyst at Univision Communications Inc.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Like anyone just out of school, I was looking for a job. But not just any job, I looked to establish my career in a field that would provide me the satisfaction of solving meaningful problems on a daily basis and the ability to work creatively in collaboration with smart people that would have a positive impact on society now and in the future. Those goals shaped my career in technology and took me to many different jobs and companies, from building a brand-new software to support digital advertising at Viacom to optimizing engineering processes at SpaceX. These days I quench my thirst for solving new problems and improving existing solutions in the eCommerce world. At Happy Returns, this means reshaping how the industry thinks about retail returns: as an opportunity for shoppers, retailers’ businesses, and the planet!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of the most interesting moments of my career was when I actually felt how my abstract decisions for software could shape the future…and I mean felt, not just knew. Let me explain…I was at a SpaceX test launch pad in McGregor, TX watching the quality engineers test the Falcon 9 Booster using our updated software. One minute we were outside in sunny weather, the next minute the sounds of 9 Merlin engines roaring, a rocket trying to free itself from the captivity of cables and the gallons of water being used for cooling the platform immediately vaporizing and converting to mud rain tore through the air. I have never experienced such awe…all being controlled from the software that I was part of designing.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
To be honest, I still make mistakes, but I always find a way to laugh about them and learn a lesson. When working at MTV, I had to launch a really big, high visibility product that everyone was waiting for. On the day of the launch, I wanted to do one last round of checks before the release and I saw some random data in the system. I panicked, called a team emergency meeting and set up a war room, all while trying to hide this from my boss, worrying about the project and my job at the same time. Fifteen minutes in, as all the engineers were trying to figure out the issue, one pointed out that I wasn’t looking at the right environment and that we were in our test environment instead of production. It was very stressful at the time, but now it makes me smile. I have since practiced not to panic at the small sign of a problem, but to take a deep breath and look for signs pointing towards a real problem. If there is a problem…I determine how big it is before calling everyone in to help. I make sure I have alternate plans to be able to easily provide the next steps instead of hiding the problem.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Yes, 100%!! At Happy Returns, we are transforming the retail / eCommerce returns industry and making the process easier for customers and more sustainable and headache free for retailers. We are using machine learning to improve the customer’s experience and accelerate the product turn around back to inventory. Using this technology, we are able to offer higher exchange rates to our retailers than the rest of the market.
Retailers such as REVOLVE, Rothy’s, Draper James and Everlane are seeing revenue and profit protection via exchange rates as high as 33% and improved customer loyalty. Happy Returns also helps retailers reduce return shipping costs by 20% by consolidating shipments while using enviro-friendly reusable packaging to ship returned goods in bulk to sorting hubs.
Happy Returns is also addressing waste reduction by offering online and omnichannel retailers and offering their customers easier and more eco-friendly ways to manage returns. We recently launched a first-of-its-kind cardboard-free returns program. The program is designed to stem the tide of cardboard waste by offering cardboard-free returns to its retail customers.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I am not a big fan of the work-life balance concept. I know it’s controversial but hear me out: In this day and age, everyone is always connected, so your work is part of your life and separating them in the name of balance is doomed to fail. But you can be smart, find a job that provides growth opportunities, one that you can enjoy and that helps you learn, just like friends and family do. That type of job can make your personal life more enjoyable and give you more confidence, so work doesn’t feel like a drag on your personal life. At the same time, it’s important to know your limits and when to disconnect and recharge, like the days you say no to seeing friends because you want to read a book in bed!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Among the many people who helped me along the way, Alessandro Brun is someone I think of often. As one of my graduate professors, Alessandro prepared me for the corporate world and its challenges. Thanks to his guidance and support, I was able to publish my first book, “Does The Gaining Worth The Compromise?,” penned during my time at Lamborghini (where I was a supply chain engineer), which focuses on the impact of mergers and acquisitions in the luxury branding space.
There’s no doubt about it, mentors are important people that advocate for you and help push your career forward. I have been very lucky over the years to have had amazing support, and now I’m confident I can be a support system for others.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I constantly try to be someone that would make those I looked up to proud. As a female immigrant who moved to the United States with no family and little financial support, I dealt with many obstacles, including language and cultural barriers. I have established myself as a thought leader, and now that I have access to resources, I am trying to make this path easier for others. Through attending women’s leadership conferences and meet-ups, joining various mentorship programs and partnering with career influencers and coaches such as strive.co, careerpunk.com, I hope to help others achieve their goals.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?
Retail is a very broad concept, ranging from shopping for groceries at your local store to have products delivered to your doorstep through same-day delivery services. Retail is also a global phenomenon with different trends in various cultures. Here are some of my ideas, based on my experience in the markets I’m familiar with:
- When it comes to utilities and non-fashion items, retailers will have to adjust to using subscription models. Today, with the world at the tip of our fingers, people are looking for ease and convenience. Imagine toothpaste could show up at a customer’s door, right as they squeezed out the last drop from the tube. The idea of planning extensive lists in advance and making extra trips to the store would be eliminated, freeing up the minds and schedules of consumers to focus on more important things.
- Retailers will have to adjust to growth in fast fashion in developing countries. However, retailers also must anticipate backlash in more affluent countries as people become more aware of the environmental footprint things like fast fashion have: increased water usage and reduced sustainability and recyclability of materials.
- A major generational trend we see now is that people value experiences over things, so stores must adapt by becoming more immersive. By immersive I don’t mean just Instagram-able pop-ups, stores in the future will hold less inventory and will serve more as a concept and experience for the customer. This trend is also a nod to the fact that millennials are gaining more and more purchase power, and data shows they’re burned out and don’t want things as much as they want balance and convenience.
- When it comes to retail, people shop on a spectrum, some focus on consumer trends, while others only buy exactly what they need, most people, however, are in the middle. The sharing economy will expand into retail to scale the trends in a more sustainable way. The future will bring more rental options not only for weddings and evening gowns but even for everyday outfits. Wouldn’t it be cool if suddenly your neighbor’s closet was yours to choose from for that happy hour you don’t have anything to wear too? There will be more sustainable, high quality but affordable products to satisfy the minimalist and utilitarian crowd.
- This might need more than 5 years, but with all the personal data about shoppers collected on the internet, smart companies will not only recommend what to buy (which they already do) but will discourage you from buying something that they know you will return. If a company knows your shoe size is 7, and they know the particular shoe you are purchasing runs small, they will alert you with a message reading “Buy 7.5, for the best fit!” At Happy Returns, we are building towards something like this.
- As a retailer, you have to deal with many challenges, from product design to inventory management and logistics, all while competing with giants like Amazon and Walmart. For this reason, we will see economic growth across the platform in the next few years. Each retailer alone won’t have the resources to compete with giants, but they can find success by combining resources. This is exactly what Happy Returns offers to retailers. As an individual retailer, you don’t have the economy of scale that Amazon has to offer free in-person returns nationwide, but as a member of our club, you get that power and so much more.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We have the entire world right at our fingertips, we have access to the latest medical knowledge, updates from across the globe, and we can even have food delivered right to our doorsteps in minutes. Generations before did not have access to this power, and to be completely frank, we are all kind of drunk on it. We have failed to consider the long-term ramifications of this technology on the environment and society.
I get it, we value time as the most important asset we have, and we constantly try to use it efficiently. In order to reduce our carbon footprint, however, we must visualize the future, and understand we might have to take some different, not-so-easy steps to consciously make an effort towards sustainability. These can be things as simple as waiting two days for a new product instead of same-day delivery or shopping local to reduce environmental shipping costs. This is why I love working at Happy Returns, we make a conscious effort to reduce waste, by using reusable boxes and encouraging in-person drop-offs instead of shipping.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
The Future Of Retail: “Retailers will have to adjust to using subscription models” With Sanaz… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.