Editor’s Note: Since this article was first published, the company has gone through a rebrand and is now called Freeing Returns. The article was updated on March 13, 2023 to reflect the update. You can learn more about Freeing Returns here.
When the idea that would become Freeing Returns launched several years back, e-commerce fraud was already wreaking havoc on retailers of all sizes. But as COVID made e-commerce a more central part of the retail process, the overall number of returns has skyrocketed to upwards of $761 billion worth of merchandise in 2021 alone.
That has created new opportunities for online criminals.
As founder Barbara Jones Brown puts it, “retailers have been innovating, but so have the fraudsters.” Beyond the chargeback schemes of the past, swindlers have taken advantage of e-commerce’s new reliance on third-party and last-mile delivery services with new “friendly” fraud and “item not received” claims.
The Freeing Return’s platform has transformed to become a “profit optimization tool” for retailers looking to better understand their sales data while accurately tracking shrink and loss during the return process. “So many people are creating online stores and transacting business…you can just see the excitement in the space,” she told Hypepotamus. “We want to make sure that profits are staying in their pockets and they’re not losing it due to the fraudsters who also see this space growing and are really excited about what kind of havoc they can wreak.”
And the returns management platform has caught the attention of some celebrities. Tennis superstar-turned-VC Serena Williams’ fund Serena Ventures and Aperture Venture Capital led the $3 million seed round in the RetailTech startup. In a statement, Williams said that the “investment is in line with our vision of a world where dreams are not stifled by a lack of access to resources.”
This March Serena Ventures raised a $111 million fund to invest in early-stage startups and diverse founders.
The seed round will help the team improve its product to keep up with the ever-changing fraud landscape. “We’re building new ways to catch new tactics [of fraud],” Jones Brown added. “But as soon as we catch one, another one pops up. We have to be able to learn and adjust.”
Previous investors include Morgan Stanley, Zane Venture Fund, Pax Angels, 1863 Ventures, Bronze Valley, and Atlanta area angels, Laron Walker and Rabieh Razzouk. 90% of those backing the startup are Black-led funds, according to a press statement.
Alongside the investment, Freeing Returns has been busy building a new partnership with Shopify and bringing on new team members.
Freeing Returns is one of several Atlanta-based startups to raise funding in the RetailTech space. Saltbox, OTHRSource, and The Desire Company are a few that have raised money over the last twelve months to shape how retailers connect with customers.