Startups Spotlight: A New approach to gifting, payments, market-ready wearables and more

Technologies On the Rise: A New approach to gifting, payments, market-ready wearables and more


If you think the gifting industry is a needs some re-invention, you’ll want to learn more about what two of this month’s crop of startups are doing to revolutionize the space. Plus, read on to discover a wearable tech platform that caught DNKY’s eye; a new way to experience stores; and a payments platform that claims to be as simple as soundwaves.

Retailers have a new tool to improve shoppers’ in-store experience. Instead of leaving consumers to endlessly wander store aisles, eyeQ of Austin, Texas, leverages interactive touchscreen displays that engage users and offer dynamic, personalized, contextualized information. Content can be tailored to what a particular user prefers, whether it’s product ratings and reviews, customer recommendations, or videos, photos and other rich media about the product itself.

Billed as a “shopper aware digital display system,” eyeQ detects many characteristics about the shopper engaged with the touchscreen, such as gender, age and expression. What’s more, eyeQ can monitor a shopper’s journey throughout the store as well a customer’s return visits to further personalize the retail experience by drawing on past interactions and purchases.

Gift cards continue to grow in popularity among consumers, and Chicago-based Raise aims to capitalize on this market, projected to reach $140 billion this year, with its marketplace to connect gift card buyers with sellers. Raise enables consumers with unused or unwanted gift cards to sell them, at an average discount of 16% (a figure from 2014), to interested buyers. The startup, which offers gift cards from several thousand brands on its marketplace, helps to foster retail brand loyalty and to drive shoppers into store. Whereas finding the right gift card on its e-commerce site required some advance planning, Raise upped the ante with the rollout around holiday 2014 of its mobile app, which enables shoppers to purchase gift cards on the fly and redeem them immediately in store. By putting sellers in a position to drum up some cash and giving buyers the opportunity to get a discount on a desired gift card, Raise is delivering on its mission to help people feel like they’re giving themselves a raise.

Can making a payment be as simple as soundwaves? That’s what Toronto-based Soundpays is hoping. Its mobile payments platform revolves around little more than a mobile device with a speaker/microphone and an Internet connection. Eschewing NFC, upon which Android Pay and Apple Pay are built, Soundpays instead leverages inaudible ultrasonic soundwaves to enable devices to be able to communicate and complete transactions. Soundpays, which has been called “the Shazam of mobile payment,” is platform agnostic and is designed for both Android and Apple mobile devices (though only an Apple app is available at the moment), which makes it easier for consumers who switch from one OS to another.

Soundpays wants to leverage the many soundwaves currently being underutilized, such as TV and radio broadcasts, myriad video platforms and digital billboards. The startup imagines a world in which Soundpays users, with the app downloaded to their devices, could see an interesting product on TV, open the app, and instantly purchase the item.

The company believes its security can also be a differentiator. The app doesn’t store user payment details locally on the device. Instead, the information is sent through a secure website that essentially tracks IP addresses to pair up individuals with credit cards, and this system resets every 30 seconds in order to thwart potential hackers.

The value proposition for physical retailers is that they don’t need any special hardware, just basic off-the-shelf technology, to begin using Soundpays. For e-commerce companies, the payoff could be even better. Soundpays believes its one-click buy button, integrated with participating companies, can help to reduce cart abandonment, which averages 67.91% and can reach as high as 80% for web merchants.

Soundpays seems to be easy to use and a natural evolution in a mobile-centric world in which most people have their phones on or near them constantly. Since no significant integration is needed, the platform works for businesses of all sizes and may be especially attractive to retailers that don’t want to buy yet another expensive piece of hardware to support yet another new mobile payment technology.

It’s high time someone innovated in the gifting industry. Jifiti, based in Columbus, Ohio, claims that with just a single line of code, any website can enable visitors to send a gift to anyone, even if they don’t know the recipient’s address or other relevant details.

The zero-integration approach certainly is attractive, as evidenced by retailers such as Sears and Staples that have already signed on. Jifiti for e-commerce works like this: when an online shopper places an item in her cart, at checkout she has the option to click one button to continue as usual and buy for herself, or choose the “gift it” button to send to someone else. After selecting “gift it,” she’s then prompted to submit the recipient’s contact details (such as email address or phone number) and a gift message. The recipient is notified of the gift and can see the suggested gift product, as well as its cost, in the form of an e-gift card, and can either complete the gift transaction as the gifter intended, or select another product based on the value of the e-gift card.

Jifiti believes this flexibility eliminates the hesitation that prevents many consumers from springing on a gift. The platform allows the recipients to choose the appropriate size and color, taking the guesswork out of the gifting process.

Jifiti also has a product for gift registry creation that it claims can boost sales by 27%.

Moondial, Moonlab + SoftSpot
Serial innovator Dr. Sabine Seymour has been in the wearables game since the 1990s, long before wearable tech became a household phrase. Interested in the intersection of fashion, science and technology, Seymour has partnered with major corporations from Intel and DuPont to Nike and General Electric to develop future-forward projects with her consulting company, Moondial. Recently, she launched Moonlab, which participates in the NewInc incubator, to create SoftSpot, a wearable system of fabric-printed sensors that monitors the wearer’s biometric and environmental data.

Last fall, SoftSpot was one of five startups that competed in the DKNY Challenge at the Decoded Fashion New York Summit. Billed as a “competition for startups pushing the boundaries of retail and product,” the challenge looked for an emerging technology that DKNY could functionally partner with to deliver something unique and progressive to its customer base. A different company, LISNR, ultimately was dubbed the winner, but co-creative directors and founders of fashion label Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne were so intrigued by the idea of SoftSpot and its conceptual bra that can detect such granular detail as when its wearer is ovulating, that they said they hope to work with Seymour’s startup on something in the near future.

In a world where wearables are potentially the next big thing that can prop up a retail industry on life support, SoftSpot’s market-ready wearable platform seems primed for partnerships with apparel companies, from athletic brands to high-end fashion labels.