As eCommerce continues to chip away at sales made in brick-and-mortar retailers, some shop owners have turned to innovative technology to optimize the in-store consumer experience. In a few short years, the number of companion apps, loyalty programs and beacon-enabled marketing campaigns have skyrocketed, but have they really improved the in-store experience to where it needs to be?
If you ask Nadia Shouraboura, founder and CEO of Hointer, she would say “no,” but not without adding that B&M stores can certainly make the process of shopping in a physical storefront as seamless as ordering online. In Hointer’s Seattle-based clothing store, Shouraboura has pioneered the use of automated robotics to accelerate the fitting room availability of items like jeans and swimwear. Shoppers simply scan the tags of items they’re interested in with Hointer’s app, and items in their sizes are immediately sent to a fitting room. While this might seem like an improvement of little consequence, Shouraboura told MPD CEO Karen Webster that reducing some of the friction customers face when shopping for these difficult-to-size products can translate to serious success.
"They try on a lot more [with Hointer],” Shouraboura said. “In a traditional store, to try on 30 items, you’re going to be there for hours. But people very quickly try on 30 items. The moment they realize items come very fast, and it’s very fast for them to request more, they just start requesting."
Part of Hointer’s accomplishments can be chalked up to robotics solving a mutual problem for both customers and retailers. It takes an employee time to clear out a dressing room so a shopper can try on more clothes, but it takes that customer just as much time and energy to go pick out more sizes from the store’s shelves. By facilitating a faster way of getting shoppers the items they want, Shouraboura explained that retailers – like Macy’s, one of Hointer’s biggest clients – can offer an experience that can’t be matched online.
While optimizing the in-store consumer experience is a primary goal of Hointer, it’s not the only way that streamlining the fitting room process benefits retailers. Shouraboura noted how Hointer’s system automatically catalogs which items customers try on as well as those that end up being purchased. This allows sales reps to see in real-time which items are proving popular with shoppers but for one reason or another aren’t translating into sales.
Shouraboura related one example where Macy’s reps were stumped as to why one particular dress was being tried on so much but purchased so rarely. In a traditional store setup, the reps might have had to wait months before sales data showed the item to be a poor seller. With Hointer’s system, though, they were able to flag the dress immediately based on real-time data and discover that when worn, there was an unflattering bulge in the material.
Implementing Hointer’s fitting room automation might sound like a million-dollar investment, but the core of Hointer’s innovative technology is software rather than hardware. In fact, Shouraboura explained that retailers can refit their stores to be Hointer-capable with less than $100 worth of infrastructure for each fitting room.
Shouraboura isn’t certain where Hointer might expand next, but the automation seems to hit its sweet spot with items that customers can’t help but try on before they buy.
"For swimwear, it works by far the best,” Shouraboura said. “For activewear, it was useful but not over-the-top useful. So that’s exactly where we’re going to stay: within items that require 100-percent try on. Next is denim – obviously you have to try it on, very hard to buy – and shoes."
As eCommerce retailers continue to coax shoppers with same-day delivery and seamless mobile payment options, it might take innovative technology like Hointer to smooth over the bumps in the in-store shopping experience and keep B&M retailers in business for years to come.