While millions of tech-savvy consumers spend countless hours staring at their mobile devices or desktop computers to find the latest online sale for electronics or groceries, there are millions more who like to touch and feel goods at their neighborhood outlet, and often need to use them right away.
Mark Cummins, the CEO of a startup retail technology firm called Pointy, has been immersed in the online world for most of his career, but recalls a very simple event that sparked the idea that there was an entire community of retailers and customers being left out of the equation.
“I was at a party drinking some craft beer,” he recalls, saying that he liked the brand so much that he searched around to try and find the retailer that sold it, but was never able to find that brand again. “I’m sure it was on sale probably within a mile of my house somewhere."
At the time, he was working at Google in the search area, yet he was puzzled that finding a local product could be such a difficult task.
“It just struck me that I can search the entire internet in half a second, but if I want to find what’s at a local store, it's still like it’s 1950.”
That led Cummins and Charles Bibby, the current CTO at Pointy and former principal scientist at Servowatch, to launch Pointy in 2014.
In a world dominated by Amazon and other eCommerce retailers, there are thousands of small, local retailers that offer goods and services to everyday consumers, and they may not participate in the Amazon merchant program or may not sell online for regulatory reasons.
“The majority of local retailers have some web presence,” Cummins noted. “They’re listing their local presence, they’re listing their contact details, but they’re not typically listing the inventory of their stores.”
With Pointy, a small box that looks a bit like a wireless access point connects a retailer’s barcode scanner to their cash register or point of sale system. Pointy automatically registers the correct product name and image and uploads it to the retailer’s online Pointy page. The Pointy technology optimizes that inventory so that products appear higher up in search results when customers are trying to find them online.
“The high-level thing is that we help local retailers get their inventory displayed online so it can be found by people who are searching on search engines,” Cummins told PYMNTS.
Pointy is directly integrated with next-generation point of sale systems like Square, Lightspeed and Clover, all of which allow quick downloads of the Pointy app. In addition, Pointy is partnering with Google on its new technology called See What’s in Store, which lets shoppers search for a specific product online and see whether a local store has that product in inventory, as well as browse other available items. The new Google technology is available with Pointy in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia.
“Those kinds of stores, the purely local retailers, they’re kind of missing out,” said Cummins. “We enable them to get their inventory discoverable online, and if people do the search and see that it’s available one block down the street, they might get some additional foot traffic.”
Pointy charges a one-time $499 fee to retailers, and also has an optional service called Pointy ProductAds that will run high-performing ads on Google. The retailer has complete control over the geographic range of the ads and the daily budget for the campaign.
On Pointy’s website, the company has a state-by-state breakdown that lists every participating retailer by city that is using the Pointy system and links to each store’s page. The Pointy pages include store hours, particular inventory items sold at that store, directions to the store and contact information.
The company has caught the attention of seasoned venture capital firms, as Pointy just landed a $12 million round of Series B funding led by Polaris Partners with Vulcan Capital participating, for a total of $19 million. The firm previously raised $6 million in Series A funding led by Frontline Ventures, along with Vulcan, Draper Associates and other investors. Pointy has grown to about 30 employees since it launched, and operates in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland and Australia.
Cummins said it took quite a long time to get the technology right during the early development phase. The firm spent about nine to 12 months to get a working prototype to take directly to retailers. After that, the company spent about six months working with a small subset of retailers, between 10 and 20.
“We have to support every piece of point-of-sale equipment that exists in the wild,” he noted.
The top verticals supported by the Pointy technology include everything from local pharmacies, liquor stores, pet food, health food stores and hardware. The company also supports a wide range of niche-type retailers, including equestrian supply stores, bicycle shops and party supply stores. The one type of retailer the company does not support is apparel.
Many local retailers are aware of the challenges of competing in an increasingly mobile environment, but the challenge for them is how to go about finding a space in that environment.
“It’s surprising – a lot of retailers kind of know that people are addicted to their smartphones,” Cummins said. “They’re increasingly using their phones for every daily need, every daily interaction.”
He added that local retailers have the sense that they are losing out, as “Amazon is sort of creeping in more and more and more,” and that they need to be visible online. The problem for many of these retailers in the past was that they didn’t know how to get into the market or they felt the barrier to entry was too high.
“Even pretty old-fashioned businesses, when they see how easy it is to adopt the device, they’re pretty keen to do it,” Cummins said.
He noted that Pointy is in about on-half of 1 percent of U.S. retailers at the moment, which he estimates to be about 5,000 different locations. Cummins expects to double that number by the end of 2018. Without giving away details, he added that the firm is working on several new features and services that will be announced before the end of the year.