This is a guest post by Sandy Stein, an author, Forbes contributor, and the founder and moderator of RETAIL SPEAK on LinkedIn.
A year ago, I had the good fortune of spending a day with Vend’s founder and self-proclaimed weirdo, Vaughan Fergusson. Together we visited some of Minneapolis’s more innovative retailers, including one I wrote about for Forbes.com.
And, when the opportunity arose to interview Vaughan, in recognition of Vend’s ten years in business, I jumped at the chance.
A decade ago, having already established himself as a successful and accomplished tech entrepreneur, Vaughan had a vision. He saw the opportunity to marry the newly introduced computer tablets with emerging cloud computing and in effect, put stores on the cloud. This would both rid retailers of the centuries old, clunky “cash register” and empower them in unimaginable ways, a kind of a Model T to Mustang jump.
Someone told him “you couldn’t put retail in the cloud”, and that was all the motivation he needed to dig in and realize the vision.
The interplay of team and personal journey
One of the first questions I asked Vaughan during our Zoom interview was “What kind of entrepreneur does he considered himself.” Was he a hands-on, detail type, or a conceptual big picture type?
“I guess a bit of both.” He was never afraid to “get dirty” writing code. He actually loves it. But he also knew his own limitations when it came to building and scaling a business. When asked about corralling his earliest employees, he said “folks just came around.”
Vaughan can easily understate the degree to which his passion, excitement and openness translates into a shared vision among the like-minded. He also recognizes what some entrepreneurs do not. He knows when to “just get out of people’s way and let the magic happen” as he so aptly put it.
A two-way conversation with retailers
With the constant, dynamic, and warp-speed changes taking place in retail today, Vend’s global team of over three hundred people understand their roles in their customer’s ever-changing business organisms. One that is in a constant state of renewal and evolution, just as retail itself is always evolving.
Vaughan understands that setting the stage for constant discovery and refinement is the lifeblood of a successful company. “We’re never finished with the product design” he stated.
“Feedback from our customers is GOLD. In fact, we may over-invest in it” he freely admits.
They also know the right kind of questions to ask the retailer. “We can ask about how the product works for them and receive platitudes or obscure suggestions. But when we start asking them about the challenges they are having in their businesses, those ‘moments in the margins’ (Oh Yeah moments) that is where the ‘penny drops’. These are the times when we are often put onto a new and different path of discovery.”
In the same way that the product must be dynamic and ever-evolving, Vaughan knows that the “secret sauce” for the retailer is the fact that the transaction is not the end, but just the beginning. It is all about the unending loop or “circular path-to-purchase” that has become fundamental to a sustainable retail endeavor.
Well prepared for retail’s disruption
What Vend provides its retailers amounts to “supercharging” their store, for the relative cost of a fuel additive.
By replacing the analog, clunky cash register with a small tablet, hooked-up to the cloud, overnight the retailer gets a new transaction tool that also manages accounting, bill paying, ordering, inventory management, sales history, staff management, and so much more. Vaughan knows the degree to which Vend’s empowerment tool has the capacity to enhance, if not transform the entire customer experience.
Vend has everything you need to run the world’s best retail. Take a tour of the product or hop on a live demo to see all the ways that Vend can help you gear up for retail’s disruption.
As we continue to see an industry shakeout taking place, there are several truths that are being burnished into the fabric of retail commerce.
First, store-based retail is not going away, in-fact quite the opposite. The nature of the marketplace for both commerce and socialization are as old as civilization itself. That place of human interaction and social sharing is only becoming more sacred, and important.
Secondly, for multi-store retailers, the very nature of the store is changing, from a place of mere “storing” to one of “exploring.” And the quality of that exploration has never been more crucial.
The synergy between a brand’s online and offline embodiment, understanding their customer’s path to purchase and shopping history have all become fundamental to creating lifetime customer value.
Accordingly, Vend’s retail empowerment tools have become ever more essential to the retailers. Meeting and exceeding the customer’s always increasing expectations have become paramount to survival.
Retailers know that their customer’s visits have become less about choosing an item and more about a larger mission, like updating a wardrobe, planning an event, or fulfilling a passion.
Experts call it “solution based rather than product-based retailing.” A properly equipped retailer can elevate the value offering, while diminishing price sensitivity. Vend can “unlock” the larger story or “context” of the store visit, offering the retailer powerful personalization tools that yield increased sales, margins, and customer loyalty.
The COVID wake-up call
It is undeniable that COVID-19 pushed the “fast-forward” button on many things that were already happening in retail. Vaughan contends that 2020 has been a year of validation for Vend.
“We’ve been talking about omnichannel for a decade. COVID has accelerated all things omnichannel. Things that might have happened in five years happened in nine months, and we had to respond by being there. Now everyone wants us, because blended retail is no longer optional, its required.”
Many retailers who were not yet fully committed to unified commerce (aka omnichannel) suddenly found themselves dealing with real-time challenges they never dreamed of, only weeks prior. Curbside pickup suddenly required that the retailer know exactly where their inventory was, in the moment! Vend enabled “pick and pack” using smartphones as pocket computers to deal with these transactions.
Vend went live with a host of new features and capabilities to help retailers respond and stay competitive amidst COVID-19. Check out these tools and solutions on our Product Updates page.
While stores were suddenly forced to open aisles and thin out inventories to enable safe social distancing, it put retailers in a bind.
Overnight, the concept of “endless aisle” became necessary for both retailers and customers to readily access a plethora of online inventory. Such tools were no longer a “nice to have” but became table stakes for surviving retailers and Vend made it happen. Non-stocked product began being fulfilled and delivered directly to the customer’s home while safely limiting the touchpoints in the store.
“We’ve helped retailers to create a highly individualized experience in blending these environments.”
“Wishlists online can be converted to a more curated experience instore. We are also opening the door to providing a high level of customer satisfaction, which converts to loyalty and lifetime customer value. All the while Vend is enabling the retailer to have single-point access to every aspect of their retail business.”