New app connects in-store associates with online shoppers

Julie Knudson

How does one follow a foray into mobile commerce? Adam Levene turned his focus to physical stores. After helping retailers figure out their mobile strategy, Levene and his business partner, Alistair Crane, decided another facet of retail needed their attention. “We built all these mobile commerce things, but retailers still had all these physical stores,” says Levene, co-founder of the online chat app Hero. “Their associates were disconnected from the growth of digital communications.”

Seeing that sales staff were already passionate about the brand in-store, Hero was developed to make them a more effective asset online as well. Levene recognized that shoppers need the same advice, service and expertise, whether they’re browsing the website or in a physical store. Hero fills that gap. Consumers who have a question about a product can “tap the button and within 10 seconds, they’re connected to an associate, usually in the store nearest them,” Levene explains. Hero provides a channel to deliver the same in-store experience to ecommerce buyers.

Most retailers are familiar with chat platforms. They have good reach, but their use is often focused around post-purchase questions, such as customers who want to know why their item hasn’t arrived yet. Hero instead focuses on helping shoppers before their purchase is complete. “When a consumer is browsing on a catalog page, that’s where Hero rises,” Levene says. “It invites the customer to shop with an expert in-store, through chat as well as with pictures and live video streaming.” The sales associate is able to help give the shopper an immersive experience, answering questions and providing recommendations.

One early worry was how the physical store would survive the ecommerce revolution. Today, Levene believes retailers are again seeing tremendous value in their bricks-and-mortar portfolio. “The narrative changed to realize that the combination of online and offline is very powerful and unique to incumbent retail brands,” he says. Levene also sees the opportunity for in-store associates, who may be idle while waiting for customers to come in, to spend their time more efficiently. “By allowing the associate to use the iPhone that’s already in their pocket, they can open the Hero app and be connected to millions of shoppers.” It’s a way to leverage existing staff and allow the brand to maximize the value of its retail store network even as ecommerce sales continue to grow.

Hero creates more than just another way for sellers to engage with buyers. Levene says retailers also see an increase in online conversions when customers are able to work with store staff to answer their questions. “They’ll spend more, on average up to 60 percent more per transaction,” he says. That’s partly because sales associates can help shoppers find the right item. The conversation continues as they provide any additional information — sizing and color matching, for example — the customer wants about that product. “They’re also guiding them to additional products to complete the look for apparel or for their other buying needs,” Levene adds.

A third component is Hero’s ability to boost the level of service the brand can deliver. The best customer experience is often found through interactions with sales staff that are well-versed in the retailer’s catalog and enthusiastic about the products. “Now they go to the website, and they’re assisted by knowledgeable associates,” Levene says. “The associates are giving that great experience to the customer and building brand loyalty.” It’s a powerful combination that can help extend a business’s carefully crafted customer experience to the online buying process.

With omnichannel strategies gaining priority among retailers, the concept of building a single view of customers is something brands are still mastering. Ecommerce transactions are increasingly driven by a customer’s online profile, but Levene says retailers struggle to identify those same shoppers once they come into the store. “From a technology perspective, we’re working on interesting things to start to solve that challenge,” he says about Hero and where the app may evolve in the future. For now, Levene says the ability to create authentic moments between online consumers and associates is a key advantage of Hero. “They have these great shopping moments, and it really drives the revenue,” he says. “It’s about how to fuse the experience online and offline.”

Julie Knudson is a freelance business writer who focuses on retail, hospitality and technology.