The Retail Renaissance: How HERO’s Adam Levene is Bridging Physical and Digital Commerce

Resilient Retail - HERO

We all wish we could have a personal shopper. But many people don’t get to experience concierge-level service in real life, let alone when shopping online.

Adam Levene wanted to change that. His goal? To marry physical and digital commerce.

The result was HERO, the world's leading virtual shopping platform.

Not only does HERO bring a taste of the “real life” store to your phone or laptop using features like video shopping and real-time chat.

It also allows in-store retailers to expand their role, providing valuable high-level service from anywhere.

Thanks to HERO, even legacy physical retailers like the Liberty London department store were able to weather the pandemic in style.

The era of digital-first

Ecommerce is becoming the de facto focus for most modern day brands, whether they are traditional brick and mortar businesses or online-only operations. Adam and his team are interested in taking this trend to the next level by enhancing traditional sales methods.

Right now, Adam sees a sea change happening in the world of retail. Spurred on by the pandemic, brands are embracing digital options whether out of desire, necessity, or both. And like opening Pandora’s Box, once you move in that direction there is no going back.

“I think what every brand is doing, every omnichannel brand or every eComm brand, it almost doesn't matter. The first thing they're doing is just maximizing and leveling up ecommerce. Like, everything is centered around ecommerce. And that's been probably the biggest cultural shift for every retail brand.

Whether you're online only and you've got the surge in traffic, whether you're a traditional business that is operated with a brick and mortar first mindset and you've suddenly made this huge cultural shift or leap over the past 12 months to be more of a digital-first and ecommerce first business...And then it's like, great. How do we then go further than that? How do we bring the human touch through tools like HERO? How do we augment our digital strategy or our marketing strategy to center more around digital, as opposed to above the line or print, some of the more traditional methods?

So I think this digital shift is happening. And as you said at the podcast, it's here to stay. And it's now the resilience in action. And I'm excited. For me, it’s the most exciting time I've ever observed in retail or ecommerce, because the pace of innovation is just so rapid and not slowing down.

Adam Levene, Founder, HERO

An online helping hand

While online business is certainly booming these days, Adam see’s most online shopping experiences as lackluster. That’s why it’s so incredible when companies are able to move in-store sales associates to a hybrid model, helping on the retail front safely from home.

When it comes down to it, most people would still interact with a human rather than a bot, particularly when it comes to shopping for things like clothing and shoes. In this sense, technology is a clear win for both retail associates and customers alike.

“My view is very simple: follow where the customer is. And the customer today is increasingly starting their journey online. And it's been criminal for too long that brands don't provide the same level of assistance or service they do in physical retail as they should be doing online.”

“And that makes me really sad, because as customers, actually the biggest frustration often when you shop online is that there's nobody to ask for help. And you don't want to speak to a bot, and you won't necessarily get the right answers from a customer service representative. So you want to speak to that same associate who would be able to help you in person.

And so with the shift to ecommerce, and the surge that most brands and retailers have had through the pandemic in ecommerce, we've seen so many of these smart retailers and we again, a huge part of a point of pride for our team was that many of these retailers were allowed to keep their associates on staff and keep them employed working from home. And that was a huge cultural shift for retailers.

Whereas traditionally maybe head office staff and the team in headquarters would be able to work from home. You would never have been able to allow sales associates to work from home, because they have no way to do what they do best, to do their job, to serve customers. And now they can.”

Connecting the dots between online & offline

When a customer needs help, why keep them waiting? The entire premise of HERO is to put retail associates to work where they are needed most. The creation of a hybrid model breaks down traditional silos and leaves room for an enhanced, innovative customer experience.

Going about sales the right way leads to consumer confidence. And confidence leads to conversions. A simple two minute conversation with a real-life sales associate can give customers the comfort level they need to press “purchase.” Adam believes that even smaller brands have the power to leverage technology like HERO to convert more customers.

“For too long, physical retail has been inefficient and underutilized. You've had these store associates who are standing there waiting for customers to come in whilst at the same time there's all these shoppers who are on the website who need their help. And they just weren't bridging the gap. They weren't putting two and two together to connect the dots between online and offline. Which again is what HERO helps our partners do—connect those dots.

And when a customer needs our help the same way they would in person, allow them to tap the button on the site and connect live via chat or video call, and give them that same experience they would have if they were browsing in person.

And so if we think about the future role of the store associate, and again, I would say the evolution of the role has really accelerated over the past year, it's to bring that same expertise, but actually to double down. But to do it digitally as well as in-store, as well as in person.

“Give them (store associates) the tools to meet those customers online, to converse with them, to guide them right through to add something to that cart, and ultimately drive their sales. And that introduces a whole new earning model and earning opportunities for those store associates, because they're now part of the growth of ecommerce as opposed to siloed from it.”

Smashing through silos

When you allow physical and digital retail roles to meld, the result is a breakdown of traditional employee silos, and customers that truly feel the love. This new reality can give rise to enhanced concierge-like service, added value, and customer retention.

“‘Hey, we spoke last week and I helped you with the purchase, and you've bought three things from me, and oh there’s a new collection I think you're going to absolutely love. Or oh, that item that was out of stock last week, here it is online. And you can buy here or I can save it for you in store, just come by and see me.’

“I think that interaction of where you really value customers - because you can only become a loyal customer if they really feel the value. And so I'm excited for that. I think that human connection is going to go across everything from inspiring businesses to converting those shoppers and ultimately retaining them as customers.”

“And so I'm probably not giving you a straight enough answer, Kristen, but I think a lot of the things we've talked about, but leading with ecommerce, and leading with digital, and seeing the role of the store and the store associate as a way to accelerate ecommerce as opposed to it keeping them in silos or seeing them as cannibalizing each other. I think that area of that siloed nature of retail is gone and it will never return.”

Bringing the five senses to online shopping

Online shopping is efficient, but it’s not always exciting. And it’s certainly not interactive. Adam believes that by adding a human touch and a sensory element to online shopping can set you apart from big players like Amazon.

Key differentiators can be things like virtual beauty consultations, viewing products in natural lighting and authentic settings, and being able to ask the type of questions that only a retail associate holding the product in their hand can answer.

“For me, it's often the two biggest frustrations when we shop online is one, I can't touch and see and feel the products as I would do in person. So if I can now watch shoppable videos that bring those products to life, that show me the fit, or show me the size, or demonstrate the best sellers of the new collections.

“And in the second frustration, obviously I just want to ask someone for help. I just want to know, is this going to be in my size? How does this size come up? Or what's the fabric on that sofa like? Or in beauty, how does that shade match my skin tone? Really simple questions that need like often a two or three minute response or conversation with an expert, and you'll get your answer quick, and you add straight to your account.”

“And that's always going to be needed. Nothing can replace that. Even a bot can’t replace that desire to help that shopper and give them the information they need. And so you have to invest as a brand. And importantly, when you do that it gives you your human edge.

And your human edge is your competitive edge. It’s what sets you apart from Amazon. I always talk about Amazon is great for buying, but terrible for shopping. And every other brand in the world, they need to make their shopping brilliant. Invest there.”

Picture-perfect is overrated

Today’s customers don’t want a flawlessly photoshopped experience. They want to see how things look out in the wild. By showing products in authentic situations, such as shoppable stories, products gain a contextual appeal that can lead to more confident sales.

These authentic scenarios can help showcase products accurately. They can also be consumed on multiple channels where customers live and play, like Instagram. The bottom line is that people want to easily imagine how something would work in their life or look on their body.

“If it's one thing that every consumer is looking for today, it’s something authentic. They don't necessarily just want the glossy experience. And ecommerce is trying to be very glossy. It’s trying to, you know brands invest a lot of money in beautiful imagery and photography and videos, and that definitely serves a purpose. But you have to be able to augment that with something that feels more authentic, and more familiar to what we as consumers and as people are seeing on social media and on Instagram and TikTok.

“And in particular visual social media, because that's how we're used to consuming things we see. We don't necessarily want the gloss now. We want things that feel really authentic. And so for me, I love going on and seeing these shoppable stories...They are so deeply authentic.”

“You've got the best recommendations from your associates showing you what's new in the top collections, and the best sellers. And this is just the start of this. There’s so much more that we're going to be adding. This is going to be so much more contextual.”

The third wave of retail

Adam says that HERO truly bridges the gap between online and offline, resulting in a true omnichannel sales strategy. At the end of the day, customers don't care about the channel. They just want to buy the item in the most convenient way possible.

That’s why Adam is confidently predicting a “third wave” of retail. The first wave was physical. The second wave was digital in the form of ecommerce. The third wave will be interactive ecommerce that brings together the best of both. Considering the impressive fact that shoppers are 21x more likely to make a purchase when using Hero, it seems that Adam may be onto something.

“I think we're just at the start of what I think and consider conceptually as the ‘third wave’ of retail. And the first was the traditional physical retail experience of the 20th century that we all knew. And that was whether going into Macy's or going into a store somewhere, that’s what we knew. Of our age, Kristen, that's what we grew up on, right? Walking into stores and shopping in that way.

And in the last 20 years have really been what I consider the birth of transactional ecommerce. It’s Amazon-dominated in the US in particular, and now the last few years, merchants are rising up and coming together to really be able to take on Amazon in particular. But it's been very transactional. It's all about selection, it's all about price, it's all about speed of delivery.

“I think the third area we're now at the very start of is what I consider - and perhaps it's not the best way to turn it, but it's interactive commerce. And that could be social commerce, it could be virtual consultations. It could be live streaming and mirroring what's happening and chime in there. But we're just at the start of it.”

“But for me, what that is, is bringing the best of phase one and phase two together into something that brings the two together to create something even better than it ever was on either channel.”

Resilience is believing the future will be better than the past

For Adam, resilience is equivalent to being able to roll with the times, adapting and experimenting with factors like changing technology and risky new experiments.

“I think for me, it’s always about experimentation. Life doesn't stop. And the old adage of change is the only constant. And therefore resilience to me is always around believing that the future will be better than the past.

In fact I heard someone a few years ago say, ‘you’re only old as an individual if you believe the past is better than the future. And actually to remain young at heart is to believe that the future will be better than the past.’ And therefore I'm an optimist naturally, you can probably tell. But I take that away as being something very powerful, and the way that I look at all things.

And therefore the only change that will come is going to be a more technology-driven one, whether we think that's a good thing or a bad thing. But it's about embracing that, and it’s about being more creative with the tools that are available to us and the technologies that are available to us.

“And there for me, that's what resilience is. Believing in a better future and being part of helping to create that. And whether that's for your own business, whether that's with the company you work for, just taking those risks and not being risk-averse because you truly believe the future will be better than the past way of doing things. For me, that's resilience.”

If you find yourself overwhelmed by the changing retail landscape, take a deep breath. Thanks to technology, that world of retail will always be changing fast.

The trick is to position yourself to be able to ride those waves of change, instead of diving under them. Only by facing the third wave of retail head-on can businesses truly thrive.

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