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Return Relay

A Shopify customer account app designed in a 24-hr cross-disciplinary hackathon.

Return Relay provides shoppers that are returning items with data-driven recommendations to remedy their reasons for returning, improving both merchant productivity and customer satisfaction.


UX Designer




24 hrs





Problem Space

Too much merchant time spent on customer support

Shopify is a Canadian e-commerce platform that has become one of the online shopping companies in the world, with more than 4.6M stores in 175 countries, and 67% US market share.

Shopify continues to rapidly grow its suite of features, and recently introduced extensible capabilities (apps) for merchant customer account pages.

We were tasked to develop a customer account app providing self-serve capabilities for end-use customers that would help merchants to either:

  1. Cut down on support requests (order changes)

  2. Collect more personal information to personalize experiences

  3. Sell more products

Design Process

Achieving successful results in 24 hours

To ensure an efficient and effective collaborative process within our team of three UX designers, two software engineers, and a data scientist we established a quick cadence alternating between independent and group work. Our rapid time-blocked sessions consisted of:

  • Independent research of the problem space

  • Group discussion of key findings

  • Collaborative brainstorming session

  • Selection of a conceptual direction

  • Task mapping and delegation

  • Independent execution

Timed group check-ins were spaced throughout the 24 hours at key go/no-go gates to:

  • Ensure technical feasibility

  • Mitigate any blockers

  • Confirm timeliness of deliverables from each sub-team

“How might we create a customer account app that helps merchants minimize losses from returns to improve profit and customer satisfaction?”

Early in our research we found some key statistics that focused our direction within the large problem space:


of online returns were fashion items

$400 B

merchandise is returned every year in the USA


of all online purchases are sent back

Apparel is also by far the single largest product category for Shopify merchants representing roughly 1 in 4 stores. Addressing returns in the fashion category appeared to be the opportunity with the greatest potential impact.


Digging deeper into more comprehensive retail datasets confirmed this direction with additional statistics:

Conceptual Directions

How can we address our users' problems?

Virtual Try-On

Virtual try-ons for clothing have been shown to reduce returns by up to 2/3, making them highly effective.



Several Shopify apps for this already exist, and effective intervention will typically happen in the storefront, upstream of user interaction with the customer account page.

Virtual Assistants

AI / LLM back-ends have the potential to make chatbot virtual assistants much more powerful, giving customers instant 24-hour support, potentially addressing their reasons for returning items.


All chatbots lack the authority to properly escalate customer concerns, so can't do much to actually save merchants time.

“For You” Insights

Use store analytics to offer a page that gives customers information based on the specific customer support issues that people who previously bought these products to help pre-empt returns. Also offer product recommendations based on their shopping patterns and data from other customers with similar habits.



The scope of such a feature is large and non-specific making building it challenging. Users also may not routinely visit their account pages to access it in the first place.

Enhanced Returns ✓

Provide customers with self-serve return functionality with recommended options for exchanges (or cross-sales) based on store analytics data. Allow merchants to set automatic approval thresholds in this produce to reduce customer support overhead required.

Enhancing the process of user returns with data-driven exchange recommendations seemed to be a right-sized solution to the scope of the project. It would deliver real value to both the customer and the merchant, and fit well with the project goal of delivering a small standalone customer account app with targeted functionality.

Product Mockup

Designing for consistency and ease of use

With time of the essence, a frenzy of rough UI sketching took place around midnight to finalize a direction and execute on it the following morning. The design goal was to ensure that the UI always facilitated a direct path to achieve the original user goal (e.g. return a product) but also ensured visibility of the recommendations.

To ensure visual consistency with the rest of Shopify's products, elements and styles from the existing design system were used wherever possible, which also facilitated building the design on such a short timeline.

Using a real Shopify storefront for the hi-fidelity mockup helped firmly ground the product's aesthetic execution.


Evaluating our hackathon product

Return Relay drives benefits for merchants by:

  • Reducing the profitability hit from returns by funneling users towards exchanges

  • Lowering customer service overhead by helping to automate the returns process

  • Driving increased sales during returns via cross-selling

  • Leveraging Shopify's existing deep customer analytics capabilities

Judges from Shopify lauded Return Relay for:

  • Providing merchants with a quantifiable basis for app value-add through directly measurable exchange metrics, which is often challenging with apps that intervene at different stages in the shopping process.

  • The potential to reduce service overhead by integrating automation in the returns process with other apps like Shopify Flow (for functionality like auto-approval thresholds on customer returns or exchanges).

  • Having a refined, fully-fleshed out and developer coded mock-up in just 24 hours.

Return Relay drives benefits for customers by:

  • Salvaging an unsatisfactory purchase experience by exchanging for products the customers are likely to enjoy, based on retailer data

  • Improving customer service by reducing turnaround time required for returns with self-serve functionality

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