A lot of the innovation we’ve seen in the world of commerce has been focused on the front end of the business: how to use digital tools to improve shoppers’ experiences both online and offline — ultimately get them to buy more. Today, however, comes news of some funding for a startup that has built an app to help the retailers themselves. Yoobic, whose SaaS platform lets retail staff communicate with head offices to plan and execute merchandising and marketing campaigns using technology like computer vision to get the job done — to make the in-store experience as agile as the online one, in the words of CEO and co-founder
has raised $25 million in funding, money that it will use to expand beyond its home markets of London and Europe to the US.
The funding is being led by Insight Venture Partners, the prolific investor that has been especially active of late. Felix Capital, which led the startup’s Series A, is also in this round.
The money comes on the heels of strong growth for Yoobic: revenues are up by 143 percent between 2016 and 2017, and the product is now being used by 100 retailers and their wider range of 20,000 stores in 44 countries. Some 100,000 tasks get completed each month using the app each month, a 250 percent rise versus 2017. Customers include a number of luxury brands, Lacoste, the Casino Group, Aldi UK (part of Aldi Sud, which also has operations in the US; Aldi Nord, a separate business, owns Trader Joe’s), and car companies like Peugeot and Citroen.
Yoobic is using the power of technology to address a particular pain point in the world of retail. When a company — either a brand or the retailer selling goods — has merchandise dispersed across multiple locations, it becomes a challenge to sell items in a consistent way.
A sale, or a particular campaign, or simply just a house style for how to lay out products are all scenarios that are hard to do consistently and efficiently when you have a disparate staff of salespeople — the average level of churn of retail salespeople is 50 percent annually and it’s rising — needing to take communications from a central office and people who may be nowhere in your physical vicinity.
Yoobic’s solution is a platform that works on a mobile app — or a computer, although the vast majority of salespeople use mobile devices as they do not sit at desks — that provides running conversations around different campaigns, with instructions of how to present items.
Crucially, it’s very simple to use: you need something simple not just because of employee churn, but because campaigns, sales and other changes in retail layout potentially might be taking place throughout the day, said Fabrice Haïat, CEO and co-founder of Yoobic. “We don’t have time to train.”
The remote salespeople can use their device’s camera to shoot their own layouts to check them against the provided instructions, and the app’s algorithms checks these automatically and suggests changes where they might be needed. When everything meets specifications, notifications get sent to managers at the head office to let them know that the layout has been completed.
Down the line, the same systems can potentially be used for inventory checks, updates on in-store footfall, and other physical details that are harder to monitor when you’re not at the store. “We’re just scratching the surface,” Haïat said.
Haïat added that in the past, a company would have had to rely on managers’ assessments, or in-store checks to monitor whether things are running as they should be, but that can be inconsistent, or costly if you do it well. Similarly, messaging has always been slow and clumsy. “The communications between a store and head office have been based around emails,” he said. “The object is to kill the email and replace it with an intelligent task management solution.”
The rise of Yoobic — which actually made its debut on TechCrunch’s Disrupt stage — mirrors that of how the retail industry has tried to tap into the advances of technology to make their operations more efficient, and more profitable, not just to improve the experience but to make sure that brick-and-mortar can keep pace with whatever advantages online sales, and online sales behemoths like Amazon, might have.
It may be some time before physical commerce becomes devoid of all human involvement — an endgame that companies like Amazon are already testing — but in the meantime, we’re seeing innovations like better experiences in trying to figure out what might look good on you, how to find what you want in a store, more efficient check-out flows, and stronger links between purchasing and how users are browsing online. All of those are now being digitised and that’s creating a vast array of data points that map out a customer’s digital profile.
While Yoobic doesn’t directly tie in with the customer experience, the work that it enables definitely makes use of those data points, and contributes to fulfilling bigger marketing strategies. “For example, say you get data from the point-of-sale system that indicates that sales of Coke are dropping, but you also know you’re about to have a heatwave,” Haïat explained. “A retailer can use Yoobic to lay out a promotional display for Coke to meet that potential demand and boost sales of the drink in the process.”
Yoobic also offers an API that can integrate the service into other systems — there are already integrations with Workplace and Slack, Haïat said, which mean Yoobic itself isn’t used for basic messaging and chat services, just the business of retailing, marketing and selling.
“The YOOBIC team has created a best-in-class product offering and we are looking forward to working on the company’s future and expansion in the US,” said Jeff Lieberman, MD of Insight Venture Partners, in a statement. “We believe solutions like this will become a must-have for retailers, and that YOOBIC has the opportunity and the potential to become the leader of its category.”
Interestingly, the founders of Yoobic — Fabrice, Avi, and Gilles Haïat, all brothers — are serial entrepreneurs whose previous startup, Vizelia, was sold to Schneider Electric. It had an interesting parallel to what they have built with Yoobic: it was a energy monitoring solution for buildings. “Initially we were monitoring energy, and now we are monitoring retail,” Fabrice said. “Conceptually, there is a connection.”