When it comes to shopping, young people have expectations that retailers are struggling to understand, let alone fulfill. Technology is a big part of that, and mobile, in particular, is where it’s at. We spoke to the Millennial founders of two Kiwi start-ups which are set to make an impact on the retail industry during 2017. First up: SeekStock.
What is it? SeekStock is a web-based app aimed at delivering product insights from retail staff on the shop floor to head office. Staff use it to provide feedback on fit, style, quality, price and stock levels, and can also identify gaps in ranges via product suggestions. This information is then aggregated and presented to head office in a dashboard-style overview.
Why is it relevant to retailers? It’s specialist software tailor-made by a Kiwi retailer, for retailers. The product is designed to be POS-agnostic, and to not require heavy integration. Its “sweet spot” is retail chains with 10-60 stores in New Zealand, but the founder has her eye on a global expansion.
Andrea van der Meel, 27, created SeekStock after using her 11 years of retail experience to identify pain points in the industry.
Her initial idea was to digitise retail stores’ ‘customer book’ which houses incoming stock transfers and customer requests. This book is “still very much manual” in most retail businesses, and van der Meel saw an opportunity to streamline the process while increasing customers’ involvement.
As she developed the project, however, advice from mentors and staff at the Lightning Lab business acceleration programme encouraged her to ask more questions about the programme she was creating, and she discovered “a bigger pain point” existed around product feedback.
Commonly, van der Meel says, information about a problem in physical stores goes up the chain of command from the shop floor to head office. This can result in the problem being fixed, but the lack of feedback afterwards means the staff members who reported the issue miss out on the satisfaction of knowing their action was useful. This creates an emotional disconnect which can be harmful to retail businesses, especially larger chains.
Van der Meel says this disconnect is something she’s personally felt in her retail career. Minimal engagement with staff from head office can make it difficult for the staff member to maintain their own engagement with the company.
“It’s so easy to feel like just another number,” she says.
Van der Meel wishes larger retailers knew the full impact of staff disengagement: high turnover; theft; increased training costs; and attendance issues.
SeekStock addresses this by creating a platform which formalises product feedback in an easy-to-use, social media-style platform. Staff can use the app to send standardised notifications to head office identifying any issues about a product in detail. They can also log product suggestions, and even upload example images of requested products which aren’t currently stocked.
This feedback is then sorted by category and collated into a dashboard overview available staff who are regional managers or above. This overview is further personalised to the requirements of different streams – management; production and HR.
Management’s dashboard is tailored for time-poor executives who need a quick snapshot of what’s going on. Production is a deep-dive into product feedback aimed at buyers, and HR’s dashboard records information about the staff members and teams giving feedback. It ranks stores and staff judging by feedback placed.
Van der Meel says SeekStock’s HR function will help head office staff determine whether managers are inhibiting communication: “It levels the playing field”.
The platform increases staff engagement by highlighting their contribution to the business.
“There’s not a companywide conversation happening and I think that needs to be the case.”
She points out that retail staff are well-placed to deliver useful feedback as they often have an insight into the customer’s mind that isn’t available to executives. Besides their direct interface with customers, many staff members are shoppers themselves who apply to work for retail companies that they personally admire.
“I think more often than not, the staff that work for you in a store are their company’s target market.”
Van der Meel has worked on SeekStock for more than a year now, while also maintaining a part-time retail job at the New Zealand branch of Danish footwear company Ecco until mid-2016.
“I didn’t picture myself doing a tech start-up, I just saw the opportunity for digitisation,” she says.
She remains certain that there’s lots of room for digitisation-related entrepreneurship in retail businesses, particularly around physical outlets. Bricks and mortar stores contain a wealth of data, which is seamlessly captured in online stores but not offline. The lack of a digital component also commonly means that the online and bricks and mortar arms of retail stores are poorly linked together.
“There’s been an online shift, but there hasn’t been an instore shift,” says van der Meel.
SeekStock is now live and ready to work with retail companies. It soft-launched in mid-2016 to beta tester I Love Ugly, a company which van der Meel has worked in production and retail operations in the past.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 748 February / March 2017