The App That Zaps Sales Reps, SuperSolver Takes Cues From Apple's Sales Playbook

Posted: Jan 19 2014, 4:51pm CST | by , in News


David Montoya didn’t like being a lawyer and hated being a CPA. In rapid succession, the MBA with a law degree cycled through a white shoe law firm and a Big Four accounting firm before finally realizing that neither profession could set his pulse on fire. In one final career overhaul, he joined a venture firm with tech startups. Next move was to switch sides of the table, learn to code and launch a series of mobile apps from a warehouse in Brooklyn.

How was that move from Park Avenue to Williamsburg anyway? What about all those schools?  “Well, I feel a lot more alive now and not in some kind of fog. As for the training, I can do my own patents and keep the books, no problem,” he laughs. Far from being a one-man band, Montoya attracted a team of tech heavies to design mobile apps all focused around a central theme of geo-sensitivity. The apps activate at pinpoints on the map.

With three GPS apps launched, Montoya has a hot hand.  One app, SuperSolver, targets retailers in trouble and looks like a winner. With a total addressable market of about $15 billion by 2015, according to KHX Investments, e-commerce apps have plenty of runway. SuperSolver is already in large retail chains. The app is enabled once the customer steps through the entrance.

SuperSolver can text or chat with shoppers inside retail stores to guide them to shelves or tell them about products. Once the consumer reaches the aisle, SuperSolver powers down and can spring back to life anytime for a chat.

On the sly, the app monitors customer behaviors, collecting data on reactions to different displays and noting when they check price tags. This nonverbal information — traffic patterns, pauses at displays, body movements – is valuable feedback on purchasing intentions. This information is processed in the aggregate to detect trends.

Once the app detects that a customers is jumpy and ready to talk to a sales rep, it can signal one to magically appear at the customer’s side. SuperSolver crunches the data to suggest deals for the salesperson to present in real time. The app stores thousands of details about the shopper in a MongoDB or MySQL database that store managers can later plumb to adjust the sales strategy.

Retailers Reboot, Look for Apps

Traffic to US stores was hurt during the recession when unemployment spiked and consumers kept a tight hold on their purse strings. Now five years into the recovery, the shoppers are slowly coming back, but spending is still depressed and uneven. Retailers can use mobile apps to automate sales, perhaps permanently, or at least as a stopgap measure until the recovery becomes real and they decide to bring on new sales reps.

Many retailers expect the adoption of apps in stores to look similar to ATMs in banks. At first no one used ATMs, then later people preferred them to bank tellers, and would line up for the machines even if tellers were available in the bank. SuperSolver is responsive, yet low key. “Commissioned salespeople were so pushy during the recession that consumers ran away,” said Montoya.

Still reeling from the economic falloff, brick-and-mortar retailers are trying hard to raise productivity and looking for ways to boost sales one shopper at a time. They want better intelligence on the shopper and to understand their purchase patterns. Retailers plan to make customer databases a top priority and learn how to win sales without deep discounts. Heat maps of the stores will tell them where the traffic is concentrated and where they should focus. Noting when a customers checks the tags but doesn’t buy will give them valuable price-sensitivity data.

Shoppers have become savvy at bargain hunting online before the trek to the store, while in the store, and even after they get home. With all the transparency and easy comparisons, pricing power has shifted to the consumer. Retailers either must match prices or come up with differentiated offers.

The news is filled with stories of earnings disappointments for discount retailers and plans to scale back on stores or reduce labor to deal with slower foot traffic. Recently, Home Depot had to cut back on new store openings and shift marketing to online operations to cope with a perpetually slow economy. Last week, Best Buy reported its online sales rose during the holidays, but not enough to offset an overall decline in revenues. Discounting pummeled operating margins and caused a 30% drop in Best Buy’s stock price after the earnings announcement on Thursday. Best Buy said it plans to expand its web presence this year and invest in online marketing and customer databases.

Many apparel chains announced plans to close underperforming stores and pare thousands of workers in the past week. After an unsuccessful attempt at a turnaround, JC Penney said it planned to close 33 stores and cut 2,000 jobs to refocus on better performing stores. Even retailers with more successful strategies, like Macy’s, are rethinking the role of its physical outlets. According to the WSJ, the store chain has converted more than half of its 840 stores to handle fulfillment of online orders.

SuperSolver Takes Cues From Apple

Studies show retailers can increase sales by interceding at a few key moments when the shopper is in the store. It is critical to greet and direct shoppers when they come in, then offer product info when they look around for help. The best part about SuperSolver is it fires up when it’s needed. Most shoppers want to be left alone while they examine the inventory. Good salespeople give customers time to explore and allow for serendipity and impulse sales. Customers have a tendency to chafe at pushy salespeople who follow them around.

Apple took a clever approach when it opened its retail outlets. Apple stores achieve the highest sales per square foot in the electronics industry, yet the sales reps do not try to sell the products. A greeter directs people to the product display and a specialist gives product features, all without trying to sway the decision one way or the other. The prices are the same online as in the store, foiling comparison shoppers and eliminating the web as a distraction. Shoppers can opt to take the products or ship them home. Apple keeps minimal inventory at the stores, and draws products from the centralized distribution for the web.

Apple boasts one of the strongest brands in the world. It creates market barriers by connecting its products into a proprietary ecosystem, including iTunes, software and an array of devices. Apple took the high road and tried to differentiate its products rather than succumb to discounting. Other electronics giants fell into a downward spiral of price cuts and ended up with cluttered displays piled high with boxes and plugs.

Wrap Up

Retailers want to avoid the trap of deep discounts that started with the recession. Last week, stores started reported a disappointing holiday season after they relied on heavy discounts to combat web sales, which hurt revenues and margins. Stores were hard hit by online sales where customers easily compare prices, using the store as a showroom to screen alternatives before making the purchase elsewhere. Shoppers keep websites open on their phones while cruising the aisles, so why not communicate with them?

SuperSolver is part of the new category of shopper apps may be the retailers’ best tool yet. Customers can use shopper apps to discover what’s in the store. SuperSolver  acts like a butler; it is unobtrusive yet helpful.

Source: Forbes

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