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The common narrative since e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay exploded is that physical retail will die a slow, painful death.
But it doesn’t have to. Entrepreneur Dax DaSilva, founder and CEO of point-of-sale system LightSpeed, wants to use technology to revive the retail experience by, ironically, bringing the best of the web into the store.
The rapidly growing Montreal-based company has more than 15,000 store locations using its technology and is adding between 500 and 1,000 new businesses a month. Many of those customers are independent boutiques — small businesses that are looking for ways to stay competitive.
The company sells cloud-based software available on any device, as well as a “pro” product tailored to Apple hardware, and the subscription price starts at $US79 a month. LightSpeed recently got $US30 million in funding from early Facebook investor Accel Partners.
The system brings all of the data and information a business has — from inventory, e-commerce sales and customer data, and detailed product information — and makes it available to employees on iPads on the sales floor and in the back office.
That helps managers automate some of the ordering and inventory tasks that take up so much time, so they can focus on the look, feel, and product mix of the store. It also helps sales staff immediately know what’s in stock, so they don’t have to make repeated trips to the back.
“If you’re not upgrading to a system that manages all of the customer touch points and your back office and ordering, then you’re not going to have the right product for the right person at the right time,” DaSilva told Business Insider. “That’s the key to retail, right?”
Technology is no longer a threat to brick-and-mortar stores, and it can be an essential competitive advantage.
If a woman comes into a store looking for a purse, for example, a salesperson can refer to the LightSpeed software on her iPad. It will call up the most popular bags in stock, how they compare to what other retailers are offering, useful details about each specific product, and related items that the shopper might be interested in.
A new employee can have the sort of knowledge that only very experienced sales staff used to have inside of a week, DaSilva says. “That’s the kind of experience that you’ve got to deliver, because if a customer can have better information by surfing the web on their own, then there is not a compelling reason to come in.”
LightSpeed launched in 2005, as Apple was rising, with the realisation that the options available for point-of-sale systems were big, ugly, and expensive custom machines that required an outsourced IT team. That was unappealing to small and design-focused businesses. People wanted to use Macs, so the company obliged them. LightSpeed grew and evolved as Apple did, eventually moving to mobile point of sale using the iPad.
The difference between older systems and new, data-centric ones like LightSpeed is significant. When a relatively inexperienced and inexpensive salesforce can provide excellent service, it opens up a great deal of opportunity for smaller businesses to grow sales and improve their businesses.
It can even take the phenomenon of “showrooming,” where people go to a store to look at a product and then buy it online at a discount, and turn it on its head. DaSilva is seeing more people shop online first and then buy in store.
“This year there’s been a lot of talk about ‘webrooming,'” DaSilva said. “People read about products in 2-D on their iPads at home, and then they go into a store to see and feel the products. A retail setting — it is entertainment and a bit of a hunt. It’s about finding that perfect item and being excited about it and bringing it home. “
LightSpeed takes the information and personalisation of e-commerce and combines it with the fundamentally appealing experience of going shopping.
Some e-commerce players, like Warby Parker and Frank & Oak, have realised this interplay and opened physical locations to get the best of both worlds.
Small retailers see the potential. “There are whole streets in SoHo and Williamsburg that use LightSpeed,” DaSilva said. “It’s a little bit of a virus — a good virus.”
Brick-and-mortar stores aren’t dying. They’re just getting better at what they do.
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