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 Mark Cummins, Co-Founder and CEO of Pointy.
1. What’s the history of Pointy? Where and how did you begin?
MC: Dublin based tech startup Pointy was founded by Mark Cummins and Charles Bibby in 2014. Our device makes it effortless for a retailer to get their entire inventory online and attract customers to their brick-and-mortar location.
Why We Started Pointy
Imagine you’re trying to buy something specific, but you don’t know where it’s sold. If you type the product name into Google, you’ll probably find a dozen e-commerce websites selling it. But there’s no way to find it in your local stores!
This is what lead us to start Pointy. It seemed crazy that you could search the entire internet, but still didn’t know if what you wanted was in the shop around the corner.
For many local retailers, keeping up with technology can feel like too much. They have full time jobs to do already, they don't have the time or expertise to create digital stores as well. But consumers increasingly expect to find everything on their smartphones. If someone takes out their phone to search for a product they want to buy, they're likely to see a result from Amazon, even if a local shop 50 feet away has the product in stock. It's a frustrating for retailers and consumers alike. Pointy is solving that problem in a way that's effortless for retailers – Mark Cummins, Co-Founder & CEO of Pointy.
2. What specific problem does Pointy solve? How do you solve it?
MC: The aim of Pointy is to make it effortless for a retailer to get their entire inventory online and attract customers to their brick-and-mortar location.
When a shopper is searching online for something the shop sells, Pointy helps the shopper find the local store, where they can buy in person. It’s an alternative to e-commerce that’s simple and effective for local retailers.
How Do We Solve It?
The Pointy box is a small piece of IoT technology that connects between a shop’s barcode scanner and point-of-sale terminal. Retailers simply plug in a Pointy device, and the complete contents of their shop is displayed online automatically. The entire process involves less than five minutes work.
The Pointy box is connected to the internet via the mobile network, so the retailer just needs to scan a product and it will automatically appear online on their shop’s Pointy page.
3. What’s the future of retail?
Prediction #1: Online-to-offline shopping will be the norm. Consumer attention has shifted online to a much greater extent than retail spending. In fact online influenced sales are 5x larger than e-commerce. Millennials are using their smartphones to search for products and then going to the physical store to buy them.
With huge e-commerce giants like Amazon opening brick & mortar locations, it’s already quite evident that only having one sales channel isn’t enough. Retailers who have a strong presence both online and offline will succeed in the future of retail.
Prediction #2: Convenience will win. In 2016 the volume of ‘near me’ searches surpassed searches for weather on Google. Customers have become more impatient than ever and they expect immediate answers to all of their search queries. In an age of instant gratification, retailers who can provide customers with the products they’re searching for instantly will be the dominant retail players.
This is positive news for brick & mortars but only if they are displaying their products online and optimizing their website to rank highly in ‘near me’ searches.
Prediction #3: In-Store experience will be key. Despite recent headlines about the retail apocalypse, a recent survey by Accenture found that many members of the digital generation actually prefer visiting stores to shopping online. They want to be able to touch, smell and try out products before purchasing.
However, they also want a seamless in-store experience in which retail professionals make recommendations tailored to their specific needs. Stores who use their consumer data to create highly personalised in-store experiences will appeal to millennial shoppers.
4. What are the top 3 technology trends you’re seeing in retail?
Trend #1: Seamless Omni-Channel Experience. Retailers have become accustomed to talking about online and in-store commerce as two separate things. However, for consumers, it's simply “commerce,” and the retailers that are thriving are the ones embracing a brand, many channels strategy.
Trend #2: Beacons. Beacons have passed the peak of the hype cycle and may seem almost forgotten, but real productive applications are starting to appear. For retail marketers, beacons can give a brand an edge in a world where omnichannel shopping is becoming the norm and consumers expect to get what they want, when they want it.
They are enabling retailers to create highly personalized experiences for customers and make their shopping experience even more seamless.
Trend #3: Mobile Payment Options. Although it’s not necessarily a new technology, there has been significant progress made in this area recently. Mobile payment options such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, and mobile wallets enable shoppers to purchase products in-store using their smartphones. This contributes to the seamless in-store experience that millennial shoppers crave.
5. Why is the retail industry ripe for disruption?
MC: Consumer search behaviour has changed dramatically in recent years. Take for example a typical millennial trying to buy a brand or product of interest: their natural first instinct is to take out their phone and search for it – that’s where Amazon capitalises.
What they experience next is deeply broken – dozens of e-commerce results, but almost no information about where the product they desire is available locally. If a store 50 feet away has the product in stock, they might never know.
Brick & mortar stores will be able to attract customers doing these local searches but only if they are provided with the right tools and technologies. Creating a unified search experience across the inventory data of one million local stores in the US, particularly for smaller mom & pop stores, has eluded even Google and Facebook. But this is finally beginning to change, powered by next-gen cloud POS companies like Clover and Square, and universal integration companies such as Pointy. What Yelp did for local services, highlighting what’s available in your area, is now coming to local inventory and brand availability.
About Mark Cummins
Mark is the co-founder of Pointy, a startup that helps local retailers get their products online.
Retailers just plug in a Pointy device, and the complete contents of their shop is displayed online automatically.
Previously Mark co-founded Plink, a visual search engine company acquired by Google in 2010. Mark spent several years at Google post-acquisition, working on the Visual Search team. Mark studied engineering and computer science at Oxford, where he graduated top of his year. He went on to gain a PhD in Robotics also at Oxford.