Empowering retail stores to serve online customers – interview with HERO founder Adam Levene

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While e-commerce revenues continue to grow steadily across the world, there are also a number of startups out there which set out to help physical retail stores to participate from the digitization. One of them is the London-based startup HERO, which launched in summer 2015 and already employs about 25 people. HERO works with global retailers to add the ecommerce layer to their existing business. With HERO, retail stores are enabled to proactively assist millions of online shoppers.

We sat down with HERO founder and CEO Adam Levene to learn more. Enjoy the interview!

What is HERO? Please give us a short description of your business model and tell us what makes HERO unique.

Retail has changed dramatically over the past few years with the move to ecommerce – with much of the growth being led by Amazon. However, traditional retailer’s have 21bn sq ft of retail space that is essentially analogue and could be ‘digitally connected’ to help accelerate online sales.

Hero brings this vision to life by empowering the millions of retail associates in these stores – often standing idle – with the technology to sell, serve and earn from online customers who need product guidance when browsing that retailer’s website. This 1:1 human connection is the one thing Amazon can’t do and it’s proving to be the competitive edge.

Hero typically operates a SaaS business model, but as a commerce company we are very focussed on delivering ROI. Our team obsesses over attributing Hero to incremental sales so that we are always actively proving the value of omni-channel retail.

How did you come up with the idea of HERO?

My last business, Grapple, was the largest app-commerce company in Europe, launching digital platforms for Adidas, Just Eat, Santander, Fiat and VISA among others. I saw first hand the explosion of mobile commerce, but felt there had to be a more personal way to interact with businesses on mobile. Given that messaging is the number one thing we do from our phones, the idea that a shopper could chat with an expert who can send photos, videos and recommendations live from the store was far more compelling than a purely transactional mobile browsing experience.

My family has been in retail for generations so I’ve always been passionate about the value of human 1:1 shopping experience. Now with Hero, retail has the injection of technology it needs to thrive in 21st century retail.

What problems does your technology solve for retailers? And for customers?

Consumers love the convenience of online shopping, but buying a new sofa, jewellery or even a new wardrobe online is full of challenges – and that’s why so many shoppers often abandon their baskets or return items. We totally transform the shopping experience from being transactional to being highly-personal so that customers can connect with an expert live and buy the right item the first time. Using Hero on your favourite retailer website almost feels like having your own on-demand personal shopper at your fingertips.

For a retailer, this is unlocking their competitive edge in the fight against Amazon, redefining the role of the store from being a analogue brick-and-mortar space to becoming a catalyst for e-commerce growth. Our data shows that when a online shopper is assisted by a store associate via Hero, they checkout at a 10x greater rate and will spend up to 60% more.

How do you measure success in your business?  And what kind of numbers and KPIs do you look at daily?

We measure success by the number of retailers and associates across the globe who are using Hero. But most importantly, we are obsessed with monitoring the impact Hero has on a retailer’s business – from increasing sales to reducing returns. This keeps our team honest and always evolving our product offering to drive value for our partners.

I also view successful companies through the lens of their team, culture and focus. With Hero, we knew from day one that we were building a global business – so we’ve been very considerate in hiring the very best people who want to make an impact in a fast-moving company. We invest significantly in on-boarding, refining our processes and communicating the vision to our team to keep everyone focussed.

What are your growth plans for the near future?

Hero is growing fast. The continued dominance of Amazon means more retailers are actively investing in innovative ways to connect their shopping channels. We are already live across the US, UK, France and Germany with Asia a big priority for us.

How do you expect the e-commerce and physical retail space to change over the coming years?

Retail is in a state of flux. Every few decades, most major industries go through a complete period of change and this is true of retail today. The shift to e-commerce has been fast, but that growth has really compounded over the past two years. That leaves billions of sq ft of retail space needing to change rapidly or risk closure. Stores can no longer be just places to ‘buy’ but instead they have to become spaces where customers can experience the brand, tap into expertise, and they of course have to be omnichannel so that they are helping drive digital sales.

Do you expect the Brexit to have a rather positive or rather negative effect on the further development of the UK’s startup scene?

Unfortunately Brexit has already had a negative impact on many startups but the UK’s geographical position and it’s English language will ensure it continues to be force over cities like Paris. The UK government will be pressed even harder to ensure schemes like EIS, which have really propelled the startup scene over the past few years, and to make sure that the UK can continue to incentivize  entrepreneurs to either stay or move to the UK. British entrepreneurs will also be forced to think even more global from day one – and focus not just on European growth, but on US and critically, Asia.

That being said, technology has enabled the world to become more connected and open, breaking down barriers between communications and trade. Brexit or not, ambitious entrepreneurs are never going to be stopped.

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