Consumer reservations about going back to stores, or trying clothes on, remains a major barrier to driving foot traffic at brick and mortar. But what if shoppers can visualize the store experience and get all the information they need from a sales associate before ever having to step foot in a store?
This is the scenario that virtual shopping and clienteling platform Hero wants to deliver for consumers who for now prefer to shop from a social distance. Consumers browsing their favorite participating brand website can tap the “Hero” button at the bottom right of the screen either on a computer or on a mobile phone to connect with a store associate at their local store, either via chat or video streaming. These in-store experts can offer their recommendation on product details such as size and fit.
Hero says that in the past six months alone, more than 1 million shoppers have used the platform to connect virtually with an associate in their nearest store, making them 21 times more likely to buy online versus shopping unassisted.
“From a technology point of view, it’s more about making the app incredibly familiar to retail associates so it doesn’t feel new,” Hero founder Adam Levene told Sourcing Journal. “The experience is designed to be like using FaceTime or [Facebook] Messenger or WhatsApp so for them it’s really intuitive. From the product perspective, how do you elevate the product experience? The associates can show you the product up close, they can show you details, fabrics and materials.”
Hero recently partnered with Shopify, giving the platform provider access to a new batch of potential retail clients, or “fast-growth brands,” as Levene put it. Launch partners include apparel retailers Neighborhood Goods and Ministry of Supply, joining Hero’ partners already on Shopify including Untuckit and Credo Beauty, which have some form of brick-and-mortar presence. In the case of Credo Beauty, sales driven by via Hero have accounted for more than 15 percent of the brand’s total revenue.
Levene noted that these brands have opportunities to shine online even amid Amazon’s e-commerce dominance since they have a plethora of store expertise, especially in a time when shoppers value trust along their journey.
“Now is that time to double down on the service, and a very personal service that Amazon never provides,” Levene said. “If you’re an apparel retailer or a sneaker retailer, the people you employ know your product, they’re passionate about the brand in particular. At retailers we work with, we find that there are absolute experts. That is what gets customers to buy and build that loyalty, having that relationship with an associate that can give you that product knowledge.”
The platform enables associates to answer specific product questions, provide advice and check product availability within the store, which can go a long way to giving online shoppers the confidence to buy. After the first interaction, associates can then send texts (after the shoppers opts in) including personalized recommendations and links to buy other products online. For example, if there’s a new sneaker drop, an associate is able to text a customer who might be interested in buying.
Associates have some control over how “available” they are to the Hero app. When there is some downtime in the store, they can go “available” and serve an online shopper’s query in real time. The associate wins here in that their time can effectively be utilized better both before and after when a shopper legitimately needs help, instead of just wandering around a store waiting for a shopper to ask a question.
Levene noted that 40 percent of associates use Hero every day.
Launched in 2015, Hero established its business well before COVID-19 spread worldwide, but now that the pandemic continues to disrupt retail, it has pivoted to adapt to the world around it, aiding retailers that have struggled with a major problem that pervaded the industry since March: furloughs and layoffs.
More than 80 percent of Hero’s retail partners have been able to keep at least part, if not all, of their store teams employed and selling through the app, with many of them working from home and helping shoppers through the e-commerce experience.
“We’re going to see this fluidity of some stores having to close when that state requires them to do so,” Levene said. “Allowing that continuity with a store team to continue working from home is going to be really important to the brands we work with. If you read all the news around the expansive second wave of COVID expected toward the end of the year, this can really help keep that continuity where you don’t have to keep furloughing store teams, but you can have them utilizing Hero and connecting with online shoppers even if the stores are closed themselves.”
What’s fortunate for store employees at Hero’s retail partners is they often still have the same compensation plans that they have in stores, because even if they run on commission, Hero will attribute the sales made online directly to the associate and their respective store.
No coding is required to add Hero to a Shopify or Shopify Plus store. At setup, brands can select their store locations and invite team members to begin using the Hero app for iOS and Android via a unique invite code. Once installed, they’re able to access performance metrics in real time.