Bridging online with offline: 5 startups putting the easy in e-commerce

Digital transformation has disrupted the world of business. Offline businesses are tapping into the potential of digital to boost their revenue. For example, when an item goes out of stock in a retail store, the customers immediately go to the online store of the brand. On the other hand, e-commerce merchants are leveraging the power of brick and mortar outlets to solve a lot of pain points. For example, getting the right fit is a challenge with online apparel stores. This is why most people prefer buying clothes in physical stores with fitting rooms. Some e-retailers overcome this challenge by setting up fitting lounges where customers can try offline and buy online and other retailers offer great return/exchange options. This way, they avoid losing customers to their offline competitors. Omnichannel is becoming mainstream, especially in the retail industry. Here is a list of five startups that are boosting businesses by sewing together the benefits of online and offline:

1. Mercaux

Mercaux is a SaaS platform that empowers physical retail stores with online capabilities. The London-based company was founded in 2013. Besides being an early-stage startup, the company was able to bag $4.5 million in its Series A funding round led by Nauta Capital. The company has customers in various industries, but the fashion sector seems to be its juiciest market. Their customer base includes some giant brands such as Under Armour, United Colours of Benetton, and French Connection.

Flickr / Joe The Goat Farmer

Mercaux focuses on boosting the in-store experience for customers and is totally reshaping the offline shopping experience. For example, in an apparel store, the software can offer personalized style suggestions to every customer based on their browsing patterns and shopping history. Besides delighting customers, these suggestions indirectly help retailers to cross-sell their products. The software also plugs into the point of sale (POS) systems, enabling instant checkouts. Mercaux’s platform can also be deployed into hardware touchpoints like self-service kiosks where shoppers can check themselves out. Customers don’t have to wait in queues anymore.

The platform is customizable and storekeepers can pick and mix the services that they like. Mercaux also uses data like in-store shopping behavior, frequently visited sections, and best-selling products to help storekeepers with inventory management. Mercaux is being used 100,000 times per day in more than 250 stores across the world. According to the customers, Mercaux has lifted retail sales by 7 percent to 14 percent.

2. Uppercase

Though online e-commerce stores come packed with a ton of capabilities, customers still tend to face certain issues. As discussed earlier, finding the perfect fit can be a problem with online apparel stores. This is not just limited to the apparel stores. Most of the e-tailers expand their business offline by setting up retail outlets and showrooms. Uppercase is helping online brands set up their physical outlets. The idea was born when co-founder (and CEO) Yashar Netaji noticed some online brands experimenting with pop-up shops. The New York-based startup was founded in 2016 and was formerly known as thisopensapce. Uppercase’s solution integrates real estate, analytics, build-outs, staffing and all the things required for setting up an offline retail outlet. Recently, the company raised $3.5 million in a funding round led by Lerer Hippeau (who is famous for early-stage investment in direct-to-consumer brands). Some of Uppercase’s significant customers include Joybird and Venus et Fleur.

3. Lightform

Lightform’s device scans the geometry of spaces and places 3D animations and images onto the surfaces. The device creates paintings and sculptures that come into life. The company has spent two years developing this tiny piece of amazing technology. The device can plug into any projector and make the projections look realistic. Anyone familiar with Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator will be able to handle it. The Lightform Creator desktop software allows users to edit their way the projectors interact with the surfaces. Using this software, users will be able to add and remove AR effects and display media.

There has been a lot of hype in the AR space about the futuristic products. But in reality, most of the ideas fail mainly because of insufficient funds. So, the company’s CEO Brett Jones expressed that they first raised enough funds to make a complete device that will actually deliver what they promised. The startup recently raised $5 million in a funding round led by Lux Capital. This funding is enough to make the first 2,000 units. They prefer receiving the funding necessary to finalize a product before they start selling it and not the other way around. So far, the company has completed the production of 200 devices.

Lightform’s tech is best suited for the aesthetic-first businesses. Architecture and interior designing sector seem to be the early market. The device is priced at $699 and the company also has a starter kit priced at $1,499. The kit comes with a projector, a tripod, and much more.

Flickr / Brother UK

4. Zugara

While Lightform can decorate the apparel stores with augmented reality (AR), Zugara takes the tech to trial rooms. New designs hit the stores every single day and it is really hard to choose the right outfit unless you try them on. Customers generally don’t have enough patience to try on all the clothing that catch their eyes. Eventually, they wind up with buyer’s remorse. But, imagine having an AR mirror that allows you to virtually try on as many clothes as you want in seconds. That is exactly what Zugara’s solution does.

Zugara’s also has a webcam app that lets you try on clothes from your home. It is like a trial room for the online store. Your webcam would behave like the AR mirrors. The coolest of all the features is navigation. You don’t have to reach out to your keyboard and touchpad to switch to a new outfit. You can navigate through the various options just by moving your arms above your head.

But one thing that the app cannot do is “helping you find the right fit.” The software just places the outfit image on top of your body without considering your proportions. However, it is a great way to shortlist the clothes that actually suit you and physically try the shortlisted ones to see if they fit you. It would also be easy to figure out which combination of clothes will make a good outfit. The app also has a social element that allows users to get help from friends in choosing outfits.

5. Beaconstac

Imagine walking across a street on a sunny day and you suddenly get a notification about an ice cream shop that offers a 50 percent discount. When you take your eyes off the notification, you actually see the ice cream shop. Won’t you be tempted to walk into the shop? This is called proximity marketing. The notifications are sent using Bluetooth whenever the users are in proximity to the store. The devices used to send these Bluetooth notifications are called beacons. Beaconstac is a company that supplies the beacon hardware and makes the software required to manage the beacons. The startup is helping brands leverage Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon technology to deliver precise and rich content to their end users.

Some customers find salespeople annoying. So you can use beacons to educate the customers about the different sections of your store. Beacon technology is also used for indoor navigation which cannot be achieved by GPS. Beacon-based payment methods are also being leveraged in stores across the world. These methods are secure, fast and can reduce the friction in the checkout process. Beacons are being deployed near signage and billboards so that the notification would be like a digital call to action (CTA) for the real world.

Beaconstac’s tech is less pricey and can, therefore, be a boon for small to medium businesses. The basic plan starts at $49 and their platform can also help brands retarget their customers via Google and Facebook. The company has more than 2,000 customers in 40 countries.

Brick-and-mortar stores are e-commerce windows

With the advancements that the tech world has created today, almost anyone can launch an online e-commerce brand. But one has to go beyond digital to stand out from the crowd. Physical stores are e-commerce windows. They are customer relationship hubs. More than two-thirds of American customers prefer shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. Shopping today is considered more of a leisure activity than just buying things. In the last decade, physical stores were expanding their business in the digital world and witnessed incredible results. Similarly, the next generation of online businesses will expand into the physical world and omnichannel will become the de facto business strategy.

Featured image: Pixabay

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