Startups Spotlight: Brands on the Rise

FEBRUARY 22, 2016 | BY ANNE MARIE STEPHEN

January is a tech bonanza for retail, with interesting, innovative and sometimes downright out-there new technologies and brands on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York City.  It’s nearly impossible to keep track of every startup out there, but here’s a selection of the most promising ventures that should be on your radar.

Reemo
Developed for senior citizens, Reemo leverages wearables and gesture-based technology to help older folks manage real-world environments. To turn on or off a lamp, for example, users simply point their wearable at the lighting fixture or tap the device. Using similar gestures, they can control their locks and thermostats.

The technology translates seamlessly to retail applications. Imagine enabling shoppers to point their wearables at a beautiful new dress or nearby signage to discover additional product information, including personalized details such as available sizes, and receive offers that could encourage the consumer to purchase. As wearables grow in popularity, retailers will be hard pressed to reach shoppers on these devices, making the most of this valuable new real estate.

Flapit
How to bring social media in the real world? That’s what Flapit is all about. It’s a deceptively simple countertop device that shows how many likes or followers your brand has on any of 11 major social platforms — in real time. From Facebook and Instagram to Europe’s Vkontakte and China’s Dianping, your customers can see how popular you are on the networks they use.

The device itself is customizable to your brand logo and colors, and even can be configured to promote a particular product or department in your store, if you want to take a break from touting your social stats. Suitable for businesses large and small, Flapit is eye-catching and engaging. When a customer in-store decides to like or follow your brand, she can watch the counter update immediately. How’s that for merging physical and digital?

NewStore
Given the increasing penetration of smartphones and tablets in shopping and retail, it’s high time that someone built a commerce platform that take a mobile-first approach, and that someone is none other than Demandware co-founder Stephan Schambach. His new venture, NewStore, launched in September 2015 and integrates with Demandware and other e-commerce platforms to give shoppers the simplicity they crave in an online shopping experience.

NewStore is built with high-end luxury shops in mind, stores that live and die by high-touch, client-driven relationships. The platform aims to increase customer engagement, drive up conversion rates, integrate online and offline and bring fulfillment into the modern era. NewStore empowers store associates to reach out to customers with product recommendations and, through a partnership with Deliv, provide a full lifecycle experience by shuttling a purchase directly to the shopper, wherever in your city she may be. That’s one powerful way to put the “instant” in instant gratification.

Pepper
Our robot overlords have arrived. If you attended NRF you probably saw Pepper, a robotic assistant, in action or on display. Created by RobotLab, retail service robot Pepper is designed to handle everything from basic, oft-repeated customer service queries to more complex questions around product information. Incorporating software that has been used in online applications, Pepper offers data-driven product recommendations that can be personalized right down the shopper, using both data and visual recognition to generate suggestions. Pepper’s voice is friendly and welcoming and her all-white design is clean and minimal, interesting yet unobtrusive in a retail environment.

As the competition between brick-and-mortar and e-commerce continues, physical stores are looking for unique ways to attract customers and provide a compelling experience. While robotic technology remains in its infancy, Pepper accomplishes that goal while also delivering elevated service. After all, who wouldn’t want to fist bump a robot?

Sword & Plough
This new brand draws its inspiration from the Bible’s Book of Isaiah: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” It’s no secret that the Millennial generation is a bit more weary of unending war and military intervention than perhaps the rest of us. With that in mind, sisters and co-founders Emily Núñez Cavness and Betsy Núñez, born into a military family, wanted to create a company with the ethos of social good at its heart that would support veterans and raise awareness for servicemen in the U.S.

Sword & Plough recycles and repurposes thousands of pounds of military fabrics into fashionable bags, accessories, and apparel. The company partners with other enterprises and non-profits that employ veterans and manufactures in America, giving 10% of profits to organizations that support veterans.

Anne Marie Stephen is the CEO and founder of Kwolia, a retail technology advisory. She can be reached at annemarie@kwolia.com. Follow her at @AnneMarie_ams and @KWOLIA.

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