Today, retailers operating physical stores are faced with a decision: innovate or close. In this Q&A with RetailTechNews, Adam Levene, CEO & founder, Hero, explains how his company is helping retailers innovate, adapting the DNA of the brick-and-mortar retail store as they do so.
RetailTechNews: How does Hero help connect the online and in-store shopping experiences?
Adam Levene: Hero connects the millions of shoppers on a retailer’s website with an associate in-store, particularly during quieter times in-store. Hero is partnering with global retailers, including Harvey Nichols, to bring the physical store into the digital age by connecting their highly knowledgeable in-store sales associates with a customer online when they need help, guidance, and advice the most.
All the customer needs to do is tap the Hero button available on the website, and they’ll instantly be connected to an in-store advisor. In doing this, the customer can shop through chat and livestreaming – getting the full brick-and-mortar retail experience, from the comfort of their own sofa.
How does the technology work?
Hero’s technology sits as an added layer on top of a retailer’s website. When a customer begins a chat, our algorithm will instantly connect them to the best associate available to assist, often in the nearest store. From there, the associate can chat, share photos, style recommendations, and even livestream from the Hero app, answering the customer’s query about specific items they’ve seen online, as well as offering other items they wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.
Our platform and technology are scaling fast as we grow into new markets and languages. As part of the future-proofing we provide to our retail partners, we leverage capabilities from partners that help us scale at speed. For example, Twilio has helped us scale the ability for associates and customers to stay in touch by providing real-time SMS capabilities for the thousands of associates using our platform. This is critical in ensuring Hero accelerates rapidly in this fast-moving new commerce landscape.
What are the benefits to retailers adopting Hero’s technology?
Today, outstanding customer experience is the number one priority in retail. Communication is at the heart of that.
The modern shopper is demanding a seamless experience across multiple channels; and one of the ways we’re seeing businesses get ahead is precisely by serving this need. Customers want to engage with businesses the way they would their friends or families – they want to build rapport and they want to pick up a conversation where they left off. Often, we find that when a customer does return (perhaps later in the evening after browsing a smartphone commuting to work) they do so via a different channel (like the home PC).
In this era, it’s vital for retailers to invest in the tools that help them communicate better with their customers. Understanding the customer is not only about providing a personalised service, it is about being able to maintain that offering across multiple channels.
By creating this sort of seamless customer experience, Hero enables retailers to not just upsell in the moment, but also gives the sales associate and customer the opportunity to stay in touch, while Twilio’s technology ensures that the mobile numbers are anonymised. This enables a retailer to alert the customer when an item is back in stock, or suggest other items as and when they arrive in-store.
Hero’s video communication capabilities offer another level of rich interaction, meaning the customer is far more inclined to make the purchase. Using Hero, retailers are able to increase conversion rates by 10x, with customers spending up to 50% more, thanks to the associate being able to up-sell an online shopper.
What are the benefits to consumers of a more seamless integration between online and in-store commerce?
While retailers fear the competition from the e-commerce giants, brick-and-mortar stores have one thing that the giants can’t compete with: human expertise.
Over the past year in particular, retail has shifted to appreciate that their stores and sales associates are their new competitive edge. Whilst Amazon has built a phenomenal data and logistics business, the one thing they can’t do is offer a human, physical customer experience that connects with a shopper at an emotional level. That’s why Amazon is now investing so heavily in opening or acquiring brick-and-mortar businesses like Whole Foods. Retailers have this powerful weapon in their existing arsenal; but now more than ever they must give their stores and their people the technology to thrive in this new world of omnichannel retail.
What does the future hold for Hero and the merging of online and in-store shopping experiences?
The opportunity for retail brands over the next decade is to find their true point of differentiation next to online pure plays. Loyalty to a particular brand will be amplified, with an almost membership-like status. At Hero, we believe that 1:1 personal service is the heart of this. The new 5-star experience is being able to connect effortlessly with your very own stylist in-store from wherever you are in the world – be inspired with looks tailored to you, be the first to know about the latest collections, and finish either buying online or in-store. During that visit to the store, associates will instantly recognise you and assist you according to your previous purchases and preferences. This is an exciting vision for omnichannel retail that is only just getting started.