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GPShopper’s ‘Remote Control To Your Brand’

GPShopper has developed beacon technology to help retailers effectively reach the "distracted consumer."

Finally, the idea of in-store beacons offering marketers “one-to-one” communication with their customers has entered the mainstream. Mobile retail platform provider GPShopper has been working towards this moment for years. But what makes their beacon technology different from the rest? We checked in with Alex Muller, CEO and co-Founder of GPSHopper, and EVP/Co-Founder Maya Mikhailov to get the scoop.

GeoMarketing: What is GPShopper? What services do you provide and to whom?

Alex Muller is the CEO and Co-Founder of GPShopper.
Alex Muller is the CEO and Co-Founder of GPShopper.

Alex Muller: GPShopper is a platform provider for retailers and brands to build upon in terms of deploying an application that meets the needs of their clients or customers. Companies such as The North Face, Express, Best Buy, Bebe, and even Lunds & Byerly’s use our platform to deploy applications for their consumers. Their consumers will download their brand’s application [so that they then] be able to make a purchase of a product which integrates with the brand’s e-commerce system.

They can find where products are available locally, see weekly ads, have access to promotions and coupons. These applications become, as we say, “the remote control to the brand.” In the cases of New York & Company and Express, GPShopper can connect a retailer’s branded app with the retailer’s private label credit card apps.

How did you come to invent such a platform? What inspired you?

AM: We started working in mobile, with more of an agency approach working with retailer clients. We’d say, “Tell us what you need and we’ll build it,” and what we started to realize is that many of these retailers and brands need the same thing. So instead of building something over and over, we built it once, and reused it across our clients

Maya Mikhailov is the EVP and Co-Founder of GPShopper
Maya Mikhailov is the EVP and Co-Founder of GPShopper

Maya Mikhailov: To go deeper into detail, in the late ‘90s, you had a lot of individual development wherein retailers and brands were basically rebuilding the same features set. They needed a [virtual] cart, for example. They needed the ability to browse and the ability to put their offers on-line. It’s just building the same feature sets over and over again. Then, companies such as Demandware and Hybris emerged, entities that saw there was a commonality with feature sets that as the market started trying to [move beyond the experimental phase].

What happened is that the quality demands, the scalability demands, and the operational demands increased. [Retailers] now had to think: How am I going to run this? How does this contribute to the overall ROI of the organization? How does this scale? Is this secure? There are new standards that are very necessary that retailers have to look at which is where mobile retail platforms such as GPShopper come into play.

How do you differentiate yourselves as a platform provider in this niche space?

MM: In a sense, we’re very similar to an e-commerce platform where you’re expected to want to use the features. We have a product browse feature, a promotions or couponing feature, a feature that lets you see events at local stores, a store locator feature. There are all sorts of [aspects] to the platform, including push notifications and beacons. Most every retailer that sells something at a location needs a way for you to browse its products and services [remotely].

How do you perceive the opportunities and challenges in the online to offline marketing space?

MM: The biggest challenge thus far for many players is connecting the dots. [Retailers] nowadays are very sophisticated in understanding consumer behavior on-line. There are many ways to track it and it provides a lot of data. But what happens when that consumer walks away from their desktop and enters the real world? How are their actions different? The millennial consumer is bypassing desktop altogether, and simply looking at their mobile devices on first screening. How can you connect that consumer and that consumer’s behavior to what they’re doing when they’re not connected to a digital device?

So, the challenge in that market is … showing attribution [and] what type of actions in the purchase funnel are actually influencing the [final sale.] If I’ve been searching for a pair of pants, for example, and I’ve been looking at them on store sites and receiving emails about them. All of a sudden, one day, I click on a banner ad. Was the banner ad solely responsible for my purchase decision? Or did the brand happen to catch me in the purchase funnel by displaying the information that day when I was going to make the purchase any way?

There’s a tremendous opportunity here. A report by Deloitte pointed out that this year alone nearly $600 billion of in-store purchases will be influenced by the mobile channel. Mobile plays a key role in the purchase funnel to influence a completely offline purchase.

What are your thoughts on the value of beacons?

MM: Beacons solve several problems for physical locations. One of the problems they solve is in making physical retail more attractive and more personalized. A big challenge retailers face is in changing up the look of their physical locations. Changing displays, moving things around, etc., are not easy undertakings. It takes a lot of physical effort and most stores do it only on a quarterly or seasonal basis. But changing how consumers use their digital experiences from a [physical] perspective is a lot easier.

How can you merge these two experiences?

MM: You can use a beacon to customize an in-store experience for an individual walking by giving them messaging that is contextually relevant to their purchase history, to their loyalty status, to where they are in the store, etc. All of a sudden, a store becomes interactive.

Another problem beacons solve is what I call, “the distracted consumer.” Walk into any store, walk into any nightclub or bar and what you see is a bunch of millennials looking down at their phones. They’re tweeting, blogging, Instagramming, and having several other experiences. But they’re not looking up. The same thing happens when a shopper walks into a physical retail location. They’re looking down. They’re checking their shopping list at a grocery store to see what they need to buy. They’re checking if there are any coupons or circulars available. At a fashion retailer they might be texting or Instagramming with a friend about what the latest trends are and if they look cute in something.

The power of beacons is it can still leverage the distracted consumer by leveraging their mobile phone screen in store, and giving them that information and those prompts while their walking though your store. So even if their not looking up at your store displays they’re still looking down at their screen and you’re still having an interactive discussion with them.

Tell us about GPShopper’s own beacon offering.

MM: We developed our beacons in a very lab-oriented way. Our first beacons were built in-house with parts we got at Radio Shack. Our team was very interested in BLE,which is Bluetooth Low Energy. BLE was very much supported by [Google] Android at that time. We discovered that there was this incredible power to these triggering tools, and that these tools can be set up in a very consumer friendly, very positive marketing way.

iBeacon-Marketing_Jeans-v2-pop-upYou have to make it as easy as possible for the retailers, and as we like to say, our beacons is as easy as installing a poster in a store. The ultimate intelligence shouldn’t be on the beacon; it should be on the cloud-based advertising solution of the product-based solution behind it. The beacon itself should just become the message instigator.

We developed a patent-pending system with the goal of helping manage campaigns of the beacons across a large level, so we’re talking about operational solutions for retailers that have six hundred or a thousand stores that need 10-, 50-, 100,000 beacons from a solution. How do you manage that? We’ve set up ways where we’ve managed campaigns regionally, globally, even down to the store level but do that all from a centralized location. There’s nothing that needs to be done at the store level.

Where does the consciousness of the consumer come into play with beacon technology? Are they concerned about privacy?

MM: Consumer privacy is something that we feel very passionately about. The consumer must be able to opt-in and opt-out of location-based services. This is so the consumer has a positive marketing experience, and wants to be a part of it. When we designed a beacon solution we really designed it as sort of broadcast-only beacon. All the intelligence is in the cloud so it’s still secure for retailers if the beacon goes missing. There’s no server installed in the store that somebody can hack into.

How do you envision the near future of beacons?

MM: I think for the rest of 2014, we’ll be seeing a lot of beacon experimentation. We’re running some [test programs] with our retail partners. I think that in 2015 is that the KPIs [key performance indicators] of these pilot programs are really going to prove themselves [in terms of the ROI]. That’s very important.

As we near the holiday season, we’re going to see a much larger deployment of beacon-type solutions in stores. One of the other things that GPShopper is really excited about as we move into 2015 is the idea of  end-to-end integration of the consumer purchase funnel. What I mean is that we’ll have applications for when the consumer is both in and out of the store. We already offer mobile payment solutions, so that the consumer can leave those plastic store credit cards at home.

After that, we can see how it all plays out in the wearable device world. A lot of wearables currently focus health or fitness applications, but as the technology matures, there will be a lot possibilities for retail use. We’re experimenting in our lab with wearables right now and there will be some interesting test cases that will emerge.