As retail sales continue to shift online, there is increasing pressure for brick-and-mortar retailers to leverage their physical presence to better compete against e-commerce disruption. This reality arguably makes the role of the store associate one of the most important assets for retailers. Today’s informed and savvy shoppers expect associates to provide them with instant, useful information and excellent customer service.
As a result, we are seeing retailers experiment with associate-enabling technologies, beacons, kiosks and digital displays to enhance customers’ access to product inventory and assistance. However, integrating technology to empower store associates remains a challenge, as many retailers are bound by legacy in-store communication and information systems that are often outdated and inefficient.
Typically, store associates do not have mobile access to their information systems, so they must walk to a computer or visit the stock room to check inventory and product information, which can disrupt the flow of customer service on a sales floor. Some retailers provide associates with walkie-talkie devices or headsets, but these can be distracting and inefficient, and they cannot support mobile apps. Retailers must recognize that developing digital applications to match connected consumers’ in-store needs is paramount.
Theatro brings the advantages of Internet of Things (IoT) wearables and new workforce-optimized apps together in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering to provide companies in retail, hospitality and manufacturing with a new breed of mobile solutions for hourly employees. Theatro allows each wearer to instantly contact a specific person or group simply by tapping the device, and then saying “hello” and the intended target’s name. The wearable device is about the size of a key fob for a car and works in conjunction with a discreet earpiece, allowing employees to interact with customers while keeping their hands free.
The Theatro voice platform also connects to the store’s enterprise systems, enabling associates to gain access to key information such as product recommendations, morning huddle plans, mission-critical alerts and contextual training, all with a simple voice request. This eliminates the need for employees to leave a customer in-aisle to gather information at a terminal, allowing them to spend more time face-to-face with the customer. Theatro also allows managers to communicate important messages, notes of recognition and training information to individuals in real time or offline through a verbal e-mail inbox for each associate.
The solution also includes Theatro’s Manager’s Application and Content Delivery Manager, which enables broad dissemination of internal communications sent as verbal email. The Manager’s Application runs on both iPhone and Android devices, allowing store, regional and corporate managers to communicate instantly with any employee in any store.
The company offers a suite of productivity applications for retailers. Theatro’s Indoor Location App, for example, enables team members and management to find employees by name, expertise and location to ensure all store zones are sufficiently covered in real time. The manager can know who is at the register and who is in the stock room, and can speak directly into an employee’s earbud. The system can also facilitate omnichannel orders, such as buy-online, pick-up-in-store orders, and, in conjunction with a retailer’s order management system, can choose the optimal store and employee to fulfill the order.
Dallas-based Theatro launched its first commercial product in 2015, and now has deployments with 13 retailers. More than 40,000 associates use the company’s wearables each day. Theatro’s SaaS model provides the voice-controlled software, hardware and platform as a service for a subscription fee, based on the number of employees the retailer has. Theatro provides the IoT devices and covers any costs associated with the wearables. The software integrates with the retailer’s existing infrastructure, inventory management platforms and other enterprise technologies through an extensible set of APIs. The company has raised a total of $15.2 million.
While the e-commerce space is somewhat saturated with communication solutions, Theatro is positioned to address the in-store communication challenges that affect the majority of retailers—as almost 90% of retail sales are still generated from stores.
Theatro’s technology helps retailers increase in-store sales and customer loyalty. According to a leading home goods retailer, Theatro drove a 7% lift in loyalty registration for the company, which experienced an incremental sales gain of $87 million annually. The retailer noted faster response times, which led to less abandonment. By bringing voice-assisted selling capabilities directly to the ear of retail store associates, Theatro enables associates to upsell and cross-sell. Neiman Marcus said that the solution “significantly streamlined store communication and improved our customer service.” The solution helps companies:
The Theatro “heads-up and hands-free” platform is unique in that it is voice-activated. The hardware, a Wi-Fi-based wearable, allows for direct communication versus through a smartphone, and allows store associates to interact hands free when speaking with customers. In addition, Theatro provides new associate forensics data, such as their influence on others, their responsiveness and locational context.
Theatro is currently working with The Container Store, Neiman Marcus, Cabela’s, Fry’s Electronics and seven of the 15 largest retail chains in the US, and is looking to expand its footprint in the US.