2019 saw the much anticipated IPO of Uber, the fastest growing private company of all time. Its expansion and impact has been seismic over the past decade, particularly for the new breed of on-demand companies and entrepreneurs it helped inspire.
Ultimately though, it wasn’t just the simplicity of tapping a button to get a ride that made Uber the behemoth it is today — it was their ability to build a highly-efficient digital transport layer over the city.
The Digital Layer for the Physical World
Before Uber, cars and drivers were heavily underutilized. The lack of efficiency meant that it was a frustrating consumer experience to hail a taxi, along with it being considered too expensive for most to use regularly. With the creation of Uber’s digital network of flexible workers, a ride could be hailed effortlessly and a driver no longer needed to drive around searching for jobs. Add algorithms into the mix — plus frictionless payment and a trust based review system — and it’s easy to understand why it’s valuation grew so fast.
Restaurants were next to be disrupted. Broadly inefficient because their kitchens and staff would only be busy for part of the week, they’d spend weekends trying to make up lost revenue from slow Mondays and Tuesdays. Suddenly, with a low-cost Android device in the kitchen — plus Deliveroo’s (or Postmates) infrastructure of 30,000 riders and a slick consumer interface — staff could prepare dozens more orders a night for hungry diners at home, reaching peak efficiency. No wonder Uber soon got in on the action, incubating a $20bn business with Uber Eats.
The ‘Uberization of Retail’
With transportation and restaurants made more efficient through the power of digital technology, where does that leave one of the biggest assets in the world around us — the physical retail store?
Today, retail stores account for billions of sq. ft of physical space, right in the heart of our communities — employing tens of millions of retail associates. In fact, the role of the retail associate remains the most popular job in the US, employing more people than any other sector.
As ecommerce has grown, many of these stores and associates are increasingly underutilized for much of the week, making brick-and-mortar retail ripe for digitalization.
This is where HERO® comes in.
Over the past three years, our team has been building HERO® to make global retail smarter.
During quieter trading hours in-store, retail associates use the HERO® app and instead of waiting for customers to come in-store, they instantly connect with the millions of online shoppers looking for guidance and inspiration while browsing the retailer’s website.
Associates in thousands of stores across 16 countries, including the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan and Korea, are helping usher in the future of retail — selling beyond the four walls of the stores they work in, to customers they may have never met if it wasn’t for HERO®.
Through chat and livestreaming, retail associates can give ecommerce shoppers the comfort to buy online or visit the store — growing omnichannel sales while boosting their own earnings — all from the smartphone in their pocket.
We started our journey in London with one of the most admired department stores in the world, Harvey Nichols, empowering hundreds of their associates to sell and earn digitally, in the same way they do with customers in store. We soon rapidly expanded; forging partnerships with the largest retail groups in the world including Nike, LVMH, Richemont, Levi’s and Gap Inc, along with upstarts like Credo Beauty, the fastest growing clean beauty retailer in the US.
Retail associates are directly boosting their earnings like never before. Previously cut-off from the growth of ecommerce, they’re back at the heart of the new retail experience — advising and selling — and financially benefitting from the uplift in customer spend. In November 2018, the top cohort of retail associates made up to four times their monthly salary via HERO®.
Remarkably, many of these stores are now flexing their working hours around growing web traffic; opening stores earlier and closing later to service incoming traffic via HERO® — true efficiency designed for 21st century retail.
Today, we’re thrilled to announce our $10m Series A funding to accelerate this reinvention of retail.
Led by S28 Capital in San Francisco, with participation from Vectr Ventures in Hong Kong and DIP Capital in London, the round closed earlier this year to also include investment from prominent strategic investors across retail and technology. As part of the investment, Kent Ho, Founder and General Partner at S28 Capital, joins our board of directors.
They will join existing investors including Yasunobu Kyogoku, former Chief Investment Officer of Fast Retailing and Founding Partner of Innovation Global Capital; Iain McDonald, Non Executive Director of boohoo.com plc and The Hut Group; and the family office of Sir Dickson Poon, Chairman of luxury department store Harvey Nichols and Dickson Concepts.
What Comes Next? Transforming Analogue Spaces to Smart Stores
Brick-and-mortar is the new battleground, as proven by the expansion in to physical stores by Amazon and a slew of DTC brands including Warby Parker, Glossier and Casper.
However, to find sustained growth, modern stores must be digitally-enabled; to sell online, to motivate staff with new compensation models, to locate and deliver stock faster, to build a 360 view of the customer, to enable effortless payment and seamless returns, to nurture client relationships through clienteling and to ensure that every single conversation — whether in-store or in person — turns into a sale.
This round of investment will fuel the creation of new innovation that accelerates this digital transformation, while marking our dedication to building a global company that enables our retail partners to thrive in the long-term — maximizing what has always been the physical store’s most unique advantage; the ability to build human connections, now in new ways.
From customers looking to buy gifts for loved ones, getting expert beauty tips online, renovating a new home, buying their first prom suit or making shopping more DDA friendly— everyday our platform empowers deeply personal interactions across the globe.
Reflecting back on our three year journey and all that we have achieved to-date, it’s probably what we’re most proud of — bringing the humanity back to commerce. All while making global retail more efficient, effective and personal than it’s ever been.