Despite a general slowdown in the global economy, there is still a rolling wave of new startups entering the market and they are getting enough funding to put their innovative ideas into actual practice. One area that could see a major transformation this year is in how we shop for and purchase the things we want.
An indicator of where this may be headed can be found in two separate pitch and demo sessions held in Silicon Valley this week. One event on Tuesday in Mountain View, California featured a set of technology companies that are part of 500 Startups, a global venture capital seed fund and accelerator. Before a packed room at the Computer History Museum, the fund offered investors a glimpse into what some of these young companies are trying to bring to the booming technology marketplace.
One company, Nobal Technologies, showcased their iMirror, a smart fitting room glass that offers a fully interactive touch screen which identifies your clothes and offers additional shopping choices. The Canadian-based company has already booked nearly half a million dollars in revenue in just four months.
Another interesting company from 500 Startups is Barn & Willow whose interactive platform is designed to let shoppers visually see what window coverings will look like in their home. Founder Trisha Roy’s vision is to make custom-made window treatments effortless and accessible.
But the really intriguing part of their technology is designed to overcome the most daunting problem of buying window treatments: getting the size right. Barn & Willow has developed patented technology that allows a user to point their tablet computer at a window, answer a few questions, and get precise measurements for what they want to order. According to Roy, they’ve tested this technology on 1600 windows with a 100 percent success rate.
Another of Tuesday’s presenters was LafaLafa, a Hong Kong-based startup that is seeking to capitalize on the ever-expanding mobile shopping craze by offering an online coupon and cashback selling portal. The name is a play on “laughing away” as people should feel happy when they are saving tons of money, according to founder Yosha Gupta.
In less than six months after launch last year, LafaLafa was booking over 1,000 transactions per month. They were also chosen for Facebook’s Global FbStart Program that is designed to help promising mobile startups succeed.
While these companies from the 500 Startups batch provide new twists in the future of shopping technology, there is another being funded by a Canadian accelerator that could completely reshape the retail buying experience. At a startup presentation yesterday in San Mateo, California hosted by the Canadian Technology Accelerator, an executive with Digital Retail Apps talked about how they have been quietly beta-testing a way for shoppers to take advantage of full, self-checkout using smartphones.
This means that a shopper could soon enter a participating store, select and scan the items they wish to buy, pay for them using a payment app, and then walk out of the store without having to stand in a checkout line.
This concept is not completely new, but it has not yet been widely implemented either. Apple has had a self-checkout option for their customers in its own stores for several years, and this generated not-so-positive headlines in 2014 when a former basketball star was found guilty of stealing $15,000 from one outlet.
According to Susan MacKay, a vice president with the Toronto-based Digital Retail Apps, they will be implementing their smartphone self-checkout technology with two undisclosed major retailers in North America this year. The biggest issue, as the Apple experience shows, is how to ensure that customers have indeed paid for what they’re holding as they exit the store. Digital Retail Apps has created patented technology that gives store personnel the ability to visually confirm payment via shared receipt between mobile devices as users depart. If this process works at the two major retailers over the next few months, the odds are good that it will spread quickly because convenience sells.
The adoption and acceptance of new technology is never an easy process, and nearly all of the startups who presented over the last two days could certainly testify to that. “So many people told us it was too early,” said MacKay. “You have to have conviction that you are right.” And being right in this case could mean we are about to enter a very different world of shopping where speed and convenience through technology trump everything else.