Hointer Brings the Best of Online Shopping In-Store
There are inherent advantages to shopping online — convenience, access to information (e.g., product reviews), personalized product recommendations; likewise, shopping in a brick-and-mortar store has its advantages as well — the ability to touch, feel and try on a product; personal attention from store associates; instant gratification from walking out with your purchase. Now imagine combining the best of each. Retail nirvana, right? Well, Hointer, an apparel retail startup, is trying to accomplish just that.
In a keynote presentation yesterday at the National Retail Federation's Big Show in New York City, Nadia Shouraboura, founder and CEO of Hointer, talked about how the brand is using technology to revamp the traditional brick-and-mortar shopping experience. Shouraboura is keenly aware of the latest and greatest advancements in e-commerce, having spent nearly nine years as vice president of technology at Amazon.com. She founded Hointer in August 2012.
"I realized brick-and-mortar lacked the features Amazon offered, particularly for apparel retailers," Shouraboura said, citing customer knowledge, inventory transparency and multiple sizing options as missing components. With experience writing code from her time at Amazon, Shouraboura set out to write a program that would enable her brick-and-mortar store to operate with the efficiency and convenience of an online retailer — and the scaled back cost structure as well. Here's what she came up with:
- E-tags on merchandise: When scanned in Hointer's store with the brand's omni-cart mobile app, the user gets the same product information — media clips with product highlights, personalized recommendations, style ideas, customer reviews — they would if they were shopping online.
- Omni-cart app: After users scan a product's e-tag via the omni-cart app, they can have it sent directly to their pre-selected fitting room in just one click. There's no need to carry around all the items you want to try on, as they'll be waiting for you in the fitting room. Retailers are also using the omni-cart app to relay marketing messages to users. For example, Dockers integrated its Facebook page within omni-cart to highlight Prince William wearing a pair of its pants. The omni-cart app is an effective tool for Hointer's store associates as well. Associates carry tablets around the store with the app open, enabling them to know who is shopping in the store, what they've purchased in the past, their style preferences, etc. They're also able to suggest items to be tried on by sending them to the fitting room, often resulting in cross-sells of matching tops, bottoms and accessories. Increasing the number of items a shopper tries on increases the likelihood that they will purchase those items.
- Whoosh fitting rooms: These feature a wall-mounted tablet that enables the shopper to ask for a different size, color or new item altogether without having to leave the fitting room. The tablet also displays relevant media and product information. If the shopper decides they don't like an item, they simply toss it down a chute for discarded merchandise. And if they want the opinion of the store associate, they simply press a "mayday" button and she responds immediately.
- In-store microwarehouse: Amazon's strategy to open fulfillment centers across the country to get closer to its customers has won it praise, but Shouraboura contends that a network of brick-and-mortar stores that act as a supply chain is actually a more cost-efficient model. Hointer's store is divided into two parts, a showroom and a microwarehouse. With shoppers using the omni-cart app to scan merchandise, Hointer only needs to display one of each item in its showroom, cutting down on the space it needs for its showroom by four times, Shouraboura said. The space savings allows for a microwarehouse in the store, where merchandise is packed in like sardines, Shouraboura added. With each store acting as a supply chain, associates can have an order fulfilled at another store if a shopper wants a size or color that's missing.
Shouraboura wrapped up her presentation with some advice for the retailers in the audience: Experiment with new technology. Some will work, some won't. Test it out in one store first, analyze the results, then make the decision to roll out the technology to more stores or do away with it.
To get the full experience on how Hointer's in-store technology works, check out the video on its homepage.