Two business partners and entrepreneurs who have been friends for more than 25 years have developed an award-winning product that is beginning to make waves as the missing link that could finally solve the problem of how to unite “clicks” and “bricks”.
Andre Hordagoda and Aman Khurana are technology industry veterans who have spent the bulk of their careers working with major international clients, looking at how personalising the online shopping experience can help move the needle and increase conversion rates for customers shopping online. I caught up with them a few days before they head out to Mobile World Congress, where they have been shortlisted for Best Use of Mobile for Retail, Brands & Commerce.
Their startup GoInStore certainly has the wow! factor – it creates a direct communication channel between online shoppers and in-store product experts by leveraging wearable technology or other mobile devices. In other words, the sales assistant wears a head mounted camera, and talks you through the product as you direct them around the store.
The idea is both bold and simple – a few years ago Hordagoda paid a visit to his sister, who at the time ran a flagship handbag store at the
How to do it? “We thought about how we could introduce a real human being with real product knowledge into the online channel and really engage with them – this was back when there was a huge buzz around
“We had the idea but it took 12 months to develop the product and find the right partners”. In the end Hordagoda and Khurana realised that Google Glass was not the answer, largely because of its limited battery life, expense, and ultimately because Google pulled the product altogether. Instead they partnered with Epson, the world’s largest supplier of printers and imaging products – who had also developed a less hyped but far more effective set of headwear / glasses as part of a diversification drive to combat falling demand for devices that print receipts.
“We were struggling to get the quality we wanted and Epson came to the rescue at just the right time”, says Khurana, although GoInStore has since iterated and is now able to provide the same functionality using tablets or smartphones. “The important part isn’t necessarily the device we use so long as we are giving online shoppers the chance to have an in-store experience and to give them access to a sales person who has expert knowledge of the products they are interested in.”
The obvious question is then why can’t a store simply face-time or Skype with customers? And there’s an obvious answer: GoInStore is a lot more than an augmented reality gimmick. “We’ve added a range of features that make using GoInStore infinitely preferable to posting your own personal Skype address or home phone number on your site”, explains Khurana.
“The software we provide to go with the wearables or devices is just as key a component – if anything it’s more important. First of all, our algorithm knows what a store has in stock and if the product isn’t available then the GoInStore button becomes invisible. There’s nothing more irritating than being shown a product and then informed you can’t buy it because it’s not in stock. The algorithm also studies the customer’s browsing activity and is able to match them with the most appropriate available store assistant – someone who has expertise in that area. And finally it tells the store assistant who is calling and what they are interested in – it’s a virtuous circle.”
It’s another step on the path towards addressing the discrepancy between shopping in store – research shows that 20-30% people who pay a visit to a bricks and mortar store will make a purchase – and online, where the conversion rate has remained “steady” at around 2-3% and the needle, despite marketer’s best efforts, stubbornly refuses to move.
Could GoInStore be the company that finally makes the breakthrough? According to Khurana and Hordagoda the early signs are encouraging. Two of the company’s flagship clients – supercar specialist AMARI Supercars, based in the North of England, and Dawson’s Music – have been enthused by the product and the effect it has had on sales; Mark Taylor, MD at Dawson’s Music says the “end result is much greater synergy between the web and stores,” whilst, Hordagoda says, an AMARI salesman sold a BMW i8 the first time he put the headwear on. “The client was in London, the store is in Preston, and thankfully what the customer saw persuaded them not to wait and make the purchase elsewhere.”
GoInStore have added another five clients to their roster; “the service suits the higher-end market where a customer wants to take their time and really understand everything about the product before they make a buying decision, but cannot physically be in the showroom or store”, Khurana explains. “This is the next best thing – in fact, it can be an even better solution.”
He volunteers another use-case – “for me whenever I travel abroad and stay in a hotel I need to know what the pressure in the shower is like – it’s a personal thing- I’m not able to travel there first just to test the shower but I can tell just by looking what kind of shower I’m dealing with. Everyone has likes and dislikes; using GoInStore you can vet everything before you decide whether its for you or not.”
Outside of the core e-commerce space there are more use cases. Guided tours, for example. Since Harry Potter affluent parents from all over the world have decided to educate their children at British boarding schools. Instead of taking two weeks (possibly their only two weeks, if they are based in the US) of holiday to do a functional tour of a school, the potential is there to settle down on the sofa with the family at home and let the tour guide do the walking and talking. Thanks to the tech you see exactly what they see (having tried the glasses out I can confirm the AR is a little woozy at first but you soon get used to it – you can even click through into the customer profile using an accompanying handheld device.) Khurana says the company are already in talks with “a famous university, one that attracts the majority of its students from overseas.”
Another bonus is that salespeople love the solution as it offers the potential for them to earn commission from the online channel, a channel they would previously view as a competitor or even a threat. In a world where research shows that just 8% of salespeople make 80% of sales, it’s vital for any store to attract the best salespeople they can, and salespeople just love new tech – anything that gives them a competitive advantage. “We find that most store assistants who try the solution can’t wait to tell their friends about it – there’s no better recommendation that word of mouth so the store becomes flooded with applications from top salespeople wanting to work there,” Hordagoda explains.
Will headset wearing sales people guiding online customers around stores become a common sight? Hordagoda and Khurana are thinking even beyond this – “we think the endgame could be stores that are open 24 hours a day – but not open to the public – you simply browse the website, click the GoInStore button and instantly connect to an agent in a a warehouse somewhere who is an expert in whatever you’re interested in. It’s a new kind of digital relationship that we are at the forefront of. The truth is nobody knows how far it can go or what shape it will take yet.”
You have to admire the bravery of any entrepreneur prepared to venture into the unknown. “We’re literally putting everything on the line,” says Hordagoda. “We’ve both got young families and, sure, there is risk in everything but the business is solid, growing, and we’re excited.”
The company has a six-month funding runway thanks to early revenues and money that the two have put into the business but as the customer base expands and the company grows (the team has already grown to seven – housed in the Interchange Triangle – a collaborative workspace situated in the heart of Camden and backed by an Israeli entrepreneur who hopes to transform the area into a new innovation hub whilst retaining the area’s world famous indie vibe) “soon we are going to need a large sum of investment to realise the potential that we know is in this business”, Khurana says.
They have been doing the rounds, visiting investors in Guernsey and Jersey. “So far we’ve done it on our terms, we didn’t build the traditional MVP, but we bootstrapped and, crucially, we’re revenue generating which not so many tech startups can say”, Hordagoda says. “In San Francisco they say you can approach an investor with an idea jotted down on a napkin and get serious investment if they like it but in London and in New York, when we were there recently (at the National Retail Federation), it is a much more incremental process.
“The funny thing about the meetings that we have had so far is that when we explain what we are doing to investors they immediately start to formulate their own ideas about where the company could go, where we can take it – and we see that as incredibly positive. We’re happy to invest the time to make sure we get exactly the right people on board. We hope to be in a position to announce something soon.”
Incredibly positive describes the founders behind GoInStore to a tee – after a quarter of a century working together, their appetite to push each other, and push the envelope is as healthy as it ever was, they say. “Aman has the most incredible work ethic I have ever come across in all my years of working in business”, says Andre; “Andre’s tenacity, ability and personality can open any door at any company in the world”, says Aman. It has all the ingredients of a great story – bromance, futuristic tech and a sense of adventure. Sometimes seeing the world through somebody’s else’s eyes can lead to the perfect close.