GDR’s Charlie Lloyd explores the apps that are connecting online shoppers with products in nearby stores
It isn’t easy for the biggest brands to keep up with the likes of Amazon, Walmart and ASOS in ecommerce. For the smaller brands and boutique retailers who are yet to put in place any sort of ecommerce infrastructure at all, the task is nigh on impossible.
Attempting to combat this and drive digital traffic to physical stores, a wave of third party apps are emerging that address the problem by aggregating the inventories of brands and independent retailers. By connecting smartphone users to physical stores, they promise a more seamless online-to-offline path to purchase for consumers, and in some cases even leverage their own delivery network to make these stores shoppable online in the same way that Deliveroo provides distribution for restaurants.
One such app is WhereWolf, which connects users to the in-store inventories of mid-market and premium fashion brands such as Diesel, Lacoste and Allsaints. Users can set the distance they wish the app to cover and search and select items before being directed to the store.
We visited WhereWolf’s pop-up store, which opened earlier this month in Covent Garden. It was clear from the visit that the app is only just getting off the ground; the pop-up was essentially a vehicle to publicise the type of clothes that are available on the app and we noticed some glitches on the app on the day, which may be why the store associates didn’t offer to run us through it. Despite this experience, it’ll be interesting to see how WhereWolf develops in the coming months.
One app that works to a similar principle but is more established is Trouva, which aggregates the inventories of independent homewares retailers and fashion boutiques across the UK and Berlin. The app lets shoppers know how many of each item are in stock and offers free click and collect, in addition to a paid delivery services.
Trouva currently works with 450 boutiques and has achieved 3,332% revenue growth over the past two years. It was recognised in Tech5’s annual list of the five fastest-growing technology companies in the UK. The brand’s CEO Mandeep Singh said: “The best independents have to think one step ahead of the big chains. They don’t have some of the advantages that the chains have, in terms of economies of scale. But how they’re winning is they’re better at picking product, using technology and offering a more compelling offline retail experience.”
Near St operates in much the same way, with a focus on retailers of household items, from beauty products and books to electronics and DIY supplies. Near St offers the same purchasing options as Trouva, but goes even further by allowing shoppers who have paid for delivery to select a timeslot that suits them. Both Trouva and Near St’s platforms can be navigated by searching for a specific type of item, or by browsing individual store’s inventories. In doing so, these apps are able to cater for both distress purchasers and casual browsers equally effectively.
Discoverable and shoppable
The fact that we’re beginning to see these third party platforms proliferate is unsurprising – making smaller retailers’ inventories discoverable and shoppable online in one place is convenient for shoppers and makes a lot of sense for retailers who don’t have the financial clout to build their own ecommerce platforms from the ground up.
If consumers do begin to head to these apps in their droves, it’s inevitable that the number of similar apps available will continue to grow before the market consolidates with the best winning out. The real problem from the independent retailer’s point of view, however, is that the more popular apps like Trouva and Near St become, the harder it will become to keep the bigger retailers away from them.