This post is part of our new Future of Retail series which interviews the leading founders and executives who are on the front lines of the industry to get a better understanding of what problems the industry is facing, what trends are taking place, and what the future looks like.
The following is an interview we recently had with Hongwei Liu, CEO and founder of Mappedin.
1. What’s the history of Mappedin? Where and how did you begin?
HL: Mappedin was incorporated in March 2011 in the Waterloo region of Ontario, having started the previous year as a side project for the founders. They were initially frustrated with not being able to find their way around campus, and wanted to build something to help people easily navigate the indoors.
Mappedin’s mission is to power real-time information for indoor spaces by building the best indoor spatial data tools, empowering businesses to bring a digital-first approach to the physical customer experience.
2. What specific problem does Mappedin solve? How do you solve it?
HL: The shopper journey has changed as online activities influence offline transactions. Today, the large majority of brick and mortar shoppers start their purchase journey online, but most of those transactions are still completed in a physical store. Smartphones have also transformed the way consumers learn, discover and buy as they have become the new ‘always on’ personal assistant. Consumers have come to expect convenience, speed, relevance, immediacy and value. They want what they want, when they want it, where they want it.
The changed shopper journey has placed significant pressure on Retail REITs/ Mall owners and retailers to invest in digital transformations. They are being challenged to deliver a physical world experience that is like the online world – informed, customized and frictionless.
Mappedin’s platform enables its customers to maintain their property maps in real-time and offer an always accurate wayfinding experience for those properties.
3. What’s the future of retail?
HL: Being in the Retail REIT (mall) space, I think it’s likely that the number of malls will shrink across the US, as everyone is predicting. This shouldn’t be looked at as a negative as the Tier 1 properties will likely benefit from the consolidation and thrive. Continually, we’ll also see new stores replace old ones, but overall, we'll see brick-and-mortar focus on consumer experiences over physical transactions.
4. What are the top 3 technology trends you’re seeing in retail?
Trend #1: The beacon/location fad has become the VR/AR fad
Trend #2: Healthier operators are developing internal expertise in IT and Digital, vs. relying on consultants and trends. They are knowledgeable and making very informed decisions on how to improve their consumer experiences.
Trend #3: Everyone has data, the push will now be to better understand shoppers and make sense of “big data”.
5. Why is the retail industry ripe for disruption?
HL: 90% of all retail is still happening offline, where relatively little tech investment has been made over the past few decades. That's rapidly changing now with online giants buying into brick-and-mortar, creating lots of opportunities for good execution to shine.
About Hongwei Liu
Mappedin founder and CEO Hongwei Liu was born in China (Nanjing, Jiangsu Province) and moved to Cincinnati briefly as a kid before finally settling in Ottawa. Electrical Engineering ran deep in the family, so Hongwei chose that as his major at the University of Waterloo. During his first coop term at BlackBerry (working in the RF Lab), he applied to join the Velocity residence and started his immersion into startups. Hongwei was hooked right away by the merit-based environment: to succeed by being better, building a team, etc. He is passionate about all technology, but especially how web technology and brick and mortar collide to improve experiences.
Under Hongwei’s leadership, Mappedin helps its customers manage their dynamic indoor spaces, enabling consumers to find what they’re looking for with ease and convenience. Mappedin currently provides wayfinding and spatial data management to the largest REITs in the US, nine of the ten largest malls in Canada, and a growing customer base internationally.