André Hordagoda, co-CEO and co-founder of retail technology company Go Instore, says he hasn’t had time to stop and think about his business’s rapid rise to prominence in the past 15 months.
The tech, which connects online shoppers to retail shop staff or product experts via video chat or livestream broadcasts, has recently been adopted by Currys PC World, Marks & Spencer (M&S), jeweller Signet’s global retail portfolio, and multiple others.
“We were handling 500 calls a minute last Black Friday – a year before we didn’t do 500 in total on the day,” says Hordagoda.
For some brands, video has been the only way to conduct face-to-face conversations with customers for most of the last year, as Covid-19 forced shops to shut. It means many retailers have found out what the trailblazers in video commerce already knew: it is a platform that can drive sales and engagement.
It also means the time to shine has truly come for Go Instore, which had operated for almost seven years with a number of forward-thinking retailers but now finds itself recruiting more salespeople to support its growth following such a spike in demand.
“We’ve been so busy activating people – we are everywhere, including Hong Kong, the Philippines and Australia,” says Hordagoda, who adds that the team has grown from a dozen to 80 people in rapid time.
“We were dreaming of the day people would come up to us and say ‘I used this great service the other day…’ [meaning his company’s service] – and now they are doing it,” he says.
Besides the buy now, pay later purveyors such as Klarna, it is hard to think of many niche retail tech companies that have experienced such a rapid run of new customer wins in such a short space of time as Go Instore, in modern times. The firm has also added Pandora, Galeries Lafayette, The Perfume Shop, ScS, among others during the pandemic.
Currys PC World launched what it has labelled ShopLive on the Go Instore technology – and it has made the service a central part of its nationwide marketing. It plans to launch RepairLive too, so shoppers can get help to fix malfunctioning technology via video.
Alex Baldock, group CEO of Currys’ parent company Dixons Carphone, says the live video shopping service “points to a retail future where every customer online can get face-to-face advice from an expert store colleague”.
The adoption and commitment to its roll-out by established names such as Currys and M&S suggests video commerce technology has longevity, even with shops open again. And other retailers have been using it for a lot longer anyway.
Building an omnichannel business
Some retailers arguably added video functionality in the pandemic as a defensive reaction to the enforced shop closures, or as a public relations exercise. However, Ribble Cycles already saw it as a strategic pillar of the business before the Covid crisis.
As a specialist and built-to-order bike retailer, Ribble knows its customers make considered purchases. They want to understand all their options, see the parts, and talk things through before parting with their cash. That can be achieved in the firm’s UK showrooms, but increasingly it is done online via Go InStore video.
Ribble has committed a dedicated team to the service, choosing to keep store staff focused on walk-in customers while building a network of video consultant product experts who are on hand to welcome digital visitors.
“We see it purely as the best way of leveraging the showroom and assets to build an omnichannel business,” says Matt Dawson, chief digital officer at Ribble, who adds that Ribble is receiving more than 100 video calls a day.
“The website has millions of customers, but they didn’t have access to the whole brand experience until we introduced Go Instore,” he says.
“Because it was a pan-business decision, the retail team and everyone in the business knew it was coming and what it was about. It was their project, not a digital innovation project – I think that helps with regard to moving it forward.”
When video calls are answered, customers are welcomed by a Ribble Valley backdrop before they are walked down into the new flagship showroom – taking the journey they would if they visited by foot. Appointment software is soon to be integrated to enable pre-booked consultations, and Dawson wants to offer a multicamera proposition enabling Ribble agents to flick between cameras around the product and sit facing the camera.
Dawson says the retailer tunnelled the Wi-Fi in stores so the video platform has its own dedicated line.
“You have to think about how long you want a customer to wait for a webpage to load and then consider a similar experience for the connection of the call,” he adds.
“We need the service-level agreement to be world class when they connect. We don’t want to compromise on customer experience for either the web or showroom.”
Further supporting Go Instore’s credentials as an omnichannel enabler, Hordagoda says some M&S stores have placed a QR code by their tills so consumers can connect to product experts virtually if no one is on hand to help in person.
“We’re just allowing people to connect to the best product match expert wherever they are – whether they’re at home, in-store or in the bathtub,” he says.
Intertwined with video connections between stores and online shoppers is livestreaming.
According to Coresight Research, in China, livestreaming is estimated to have driven about $125bn in sales in 2020, up from $63bn in 2019, prompted partly by digital titans Alibaba and JD.com giving brands a platform to sell directly to consumers using live video feeds.
The nascent US e-commerce livestreaming market is expected to surpass $25bn in sales by 2023, says Coresight, as it becomes more popular in western retail.
In the UK, online fast fashion player I Saw It First, founded in 2017 but already an established sector rival to the likes of Asos, Boohoo and Missguided, views livestreaming as a differentiator for its business.
This month, I Saw It First launched events with livestreaming platform OOOOO, apparently so named because it is the noise people make when buying something they love. Starting with three broadcasts a week, the retailer expects livestreaming to reach “always on” status, supported by influencers, in-house staff and anyone who thinks they can earn a commission from selling I Saw It First items online.
According to chief technology officer (CTO) Andrew Stevenson-Thorpe, this is no QVC-style home shopping. He says it is varied, engages the younger shopper demographic and – because of its shareability on social media – can drive referrals and advocacy.
“In the past, you’d get influencers to do the content, but the revolution in video means anyone with a bit of energy who wants to do it can do it,” says Stevenson-Thorpe, adding that volunteers from head office were used in the test broadcast.
“The thing you must get right is to have enough product available ready to broadcast,” he says. “In an hour’s broadcast, we’re showing up to 30-40 products, so a key building block is getting your merchandisers behind it and putting a schedule and catalogue together.”
The CTO adds: “Video streaming platforms are an unbelievably good performance marketing channel – the data from broadcasts is fascinating.
“We find people are engaging with products and offering feedback, and this channel could be very important for the product development lifecycle. The commerce engine is moving further down the supply chain, which becomes very interesting.”
Go Instore also offers livestreaming, which M&S is using to showcase its beauty ranges.
Hordagoda likens livestreaming to walking past a store window, while the one-to-one video consultations are the equivalent of when a customer decides to enter the store. His company is looking to continue developing its technology to make that customer journey – from window shopping to personal consultation – more viable for online shoppers.
Market with momentum
Other tech firms are helping shape the video commerce market besides Go Instore. For example, Ted Baker plans to use Swedish company Bambuser’s platform to run livestreaming events that showcase product ranges and brand news.
Jennifer Stephens, chief customer officer at Ted Baker, told e-tail trade association IMRG’s Fashion Connect 2021 conference that it is part of a process of tech experimentation.
“We’re live with Hero [another platform that connects online shoppers to store staff], virtual appointments and live commerce,” she said. “We are experimenting, looking at how we can leverage some of these new digital channels that might be the growth channels of the future.”
Last week, Bambuser announced the acquisition of global marketing technology company Relatable for about $24m as part of its efforts to build on its proprietary technology for live video shopping and influencer marketing campaigns.
The innovation continues at GoInstore too, with Hordagoda saying there is the potential to build in augmented reality and virtual try-on functionality to the platform – although the immediate focus is on helping retailers leverage the data accompanying the service.
“What if, in real time, we can advise salespeople to smile more to help their cause?” says Hordagoda, adding that video commerce data provides an opportunity to sell more, optimise customer experience, and help encourage and motivate staff.
“Omnichannel tech 10 years ago was basically people putting an iPad in a store and saying ‘come in store and shop online’,” he adds.
“We thought the challenge was the other way around. Taking low store traffic and giving access to more products online didn’t make sense – surely taking the high web traffic and applying something that has a high conversation rate is the best way of doing it.”
With more and more retailers flocking to this technology, the industry tends to agree.