Drapers uncovers the latest retail tech coming out of the Middle Eastern tech hub of Israel that UK retailers need to know about.
When seeking to capitalise on the latest tech, most retailers immediately turn to Silicon Valley, while a small cluster search closer to home in London’s “Silicon Roundabout” in Shoreditch. But to ignore Israel – the self-styled “start-up nation” – could lead to missed opportunities for innovative ecommerce and data-led thinking.
To tap into this tech hotbed, Drapers initially visited Israel in 2015 to reveal the first round of emerging tech start-ups that UK retailers needed to know about. Now, to highlight the scale of innovation rapidly building in the country, Drapers returned with a delegation of UK retailers – led by consultancy Athito Retail and the British Embassy-based UK Israel Tech hub– to uncover the latest companies seeking to disrupt UK retail and tackle the challenges of an ever-changing multichannel environment.
With a population of just 8.2 million Israel may be small but when it comes to retail technology, it punches well above its weight. Tech contributes 15% of the country’s GDP and the country already boasts 7,000 start-ups, supported by 60 tech incubators and accelerators as well as 250 multinational R&D (research and development) labs. This year alone, 1,400 new start-ups are expected to launch – equivalent to almost four a day – while Israel sits behind only the US and China when it comes to the number of its companies listed on US stock exchange Nasdaq.
Facebook, Amazon, Google and Microsoft have bases in cities such as Tel Aviv and Herzliya to capitalise on the emerging talent and palpable drive for innovation. This is owed in a large part to the 69-year-old country’s mandatory military service for all 18-year-old Israelis, which gives school-leavers the opportunity to work on – and often lead – high-level and tech-related projects, as well as providing experience of managing teams and budgets. These are all vital skills for launching businesses.
James Doyan, managing director of Athito, adds: “Israel has a perfect storm of American investment, trust and influence, second- and third-generation Russian migrants descended from top scientists and musicians, coupled with highly developed military technology and intelligence,” says James Doyan, managing director of Athito. “It’s a strange combination but one that is delivering globally-reaching products and services for retail.”
One of the start-ups Drapers’ met in 2015, Crosswise, which enables retailers to track shoppers across multiple devices, has since been bought by tech giant Oracle Corporation for $50m (£38m). Another, user-generated reviews platform Aspectiva, is now working with Adidas and entertainment-to-tech conglomerate Sony, while Fitfully, which provides an online footwear-fit solution, is also involved with Adidas, and retailer Schuh.
Two years on from our first visit, the start-ups are noticeably more data-driven and focused on how to capture shoppers’ views across the internet, the next stage of personalisation, RFID (radio frequency identification) security and checkout, and the use of audio to connect devices.
More than 20 retail tech start-ups took part in Dragons’ Den-style pitching sessions and presented their innovations to a panel of retailers in the hope that one or more of them will adopt them. Here are the seven key businesses picked by Drapers that you need to know about.
Jim Cruickshank, Marks & Spencer global head of digital product and user experience
Gary Balmer, New Look IT director
Elliot Conway, head of Pentland Ventures
James Doyan, Athito managing director
Smart self-checkout: Quickwy (Quickwy.com)
Making a shopper’s in-store experience as slick as possible is at the top of most fashion retailers’ agendas, and Quickwy believes it has the solution for effortless and smart self-checkout. The start-up has designed a swing tag for garments that has RFID embedded with a sensing loop running through the plastic loop that attaches the tag to the garment. Using their phones, shoppers scan tags on the items they want to purchase and are then able to check out on their phones. Once the tag has been scanned and the item purchased the RFID-tag is automatically electronically disabled, enabling the shopper to leave the store. However, if a shopper does not complete the purchase but tries to leave with the item, or if the tag is tampered with as someone tries to remove it, a silent alarm is triggered on a device operated by store staff.
Anat Shakedd, the chief executive and co-founder of Quickwy, says the tags cost just 4p, and the technology is now being trialled with an Israeli fashion retailer. As shoppers are required to log into an app to make their purchase, Shakedd adds the tech can be used to gather data on shoppers’ behaviour in store and to send them personalised offers.
The retailers said:
JC: “This is very early stage and so there is little data on how effective it is. However, this sort of solution requires no additional hardware and therefore has definite potential for retailers.”
EC: “This was one of a number of queue-cutting technologies we saw during the trip. The innovation here was the smart RFID-tag and focus on fashion rather than groceries, which the others led with. It’s very early, so we’ll watch this one with interest as it develops.”
Digital thread-dyeing: Twine (twine-s.com)
Seeking to revolutionise the thread-dyeing industry, Twine plans to digitise the whole process, providing a more bespoke and environmentally friendly approach. A specially developed 3D printer, which is the size of a standard office printer, is used to continuously dye a moving piece of nylon (polyester will be added soon) thread to a specific colour, shade or colour gradient. The machine can dye 1,800 metres of thread per hour, and a second-generation machine will increase this to 5,400 metres. The waterless process removes many of the environmental impacts associated with traditional dye houses, reduces waste, and produces a thread that is ready to use.
Alon Moshe, CEO and co-founder of Twine, says the printer will be commercially available at the end of 2018, and retailers can also use its True Color Capture app to send images of the colour they want straight to the printer, or select from a virtual catalogue.
The retailers said:
JD: “It is outrageous the volume of chemicals used and dumped in the dyeing of threads and fabrics and it must change. Twine attempts to disrupt the market and this could really be a breakthough. It’s a very exciting proposition that could cure one of the unspoken adverse outputs of the industry. This is definitely worth looking into.”
EC: “This company is trying to exploit a macro-trend that we’re seeing more and more – rapid prototyping, 3D printing and sampling and manufacture on-shoring. Ultimately, it will come down to execution and how fast they are able to acquire large enterprise customers.”
Personalised pricing and offers: Personali (Personali.com)
Using artificial intelligence (AI), the Personali software learns about a shopper’s online behaviour and purchase patterns so it can personalise their experience in real time, targeting them with different prices and offers. All shoppers are initially shown the same product price, but when they progress to the product page a ”personal offer” button appears beside the original price that, once clicked, reveals the discount or service offer in a pop-up window.
Co-founder Noam Javits explains that Personali helps to improve conversion rates and margins for retailers as there is no need to give away a blanket discount on certain items or categories, when some shoppers will be incentivised to buy with a much smaller discount or a different type of offer, such as free delivery.
The retailers said:
GB: “A simple and effective use of AI and user-behaviour to drive sales and profitability.”
JD: “What I like is that it enables pricing to be dynamic, which maximises profit. If an item on sale is selling through quickly, then through machine learning, the software adjusts the price it can be sold for by reducing the discount to increase margin to maximise the selling cost. And it works the reverse way too.”
JC: “The potential economics are compelling. However, this needs to be weighed up against the potential impact on customer experience and lifetime value.”
Audio-connecting devices: Dov-e (Dov-e.com)
To revolutionise the way shoppers connect their smartphones to other devices to receive product information or make payments, Dov-e has turned to audio. Its patented technology uses ultrasound waves embedded within normal audio to turn any speaker into a direct marketing tool. This enables retailers to transmit interactive information or offers directly to shoppers’ phones via digital screens, in-store speakers, vending machines and also TV and radio adverts, helping to visualise radio adverts and gain extra value from expensive TV adverts.
The technology can be embedded within retailers’ apps and target shoppers within 10 metres of a speaker. It can also be embedded into mobile wallets to be used for contactless mobile payments in-store. Dov-e already has a tie-up with Coca-Cola in Israel, where the audio from a TV advert sent a voucher to shoppers’ phones offering them a cold drink. If they clicked to say “yes”, taxi service app Gett delivered them a drink within minutes.
The retailers said:
GB: “Great technology – but I’m left wondering whether customers would find the technology too intrusive.”
JD: “This is a new way to deliver this proximity marketing solution using an ‘always on’ radio interface through speakers. It’s very clever, innovative, and the possibilities are endless and definitely something to consider.”
Harnessing customer views: Revuze (Revuze.it)
As retailers seek to put shoppers at the heart of everything they do, Revuze has found a way to do just that – by ‘listening’ to customers’ views online and enabling retailers to delve into that data so they can hone their products, resolve any issues raised or better formulate marketing campaigns to appeal to their shoppers. The technology – which uses machine learning and works across all languages – sifts through streams of reviews, blogs, forums and social media posts, as well as internal retailer data, such as from call centres. It then compiles a dashboard for retailers on their chosen products – which can be theirs or a competitors’ – topic areas, or trends. The system then creates a list of issues surrounding each topic, which retailers can drill down into, as well as a sentiment score. Ido Ramati, chief executive and co-founder, says the tech “gets rid of the narrow view of the shopper”.
The retailers said:
GB: “An interesting tool to aggregate user-generated content and sentiment to drive insight for the buying teams.”
JD: “Revuze offers myriad possibilities but is guilty of being rather technical and not focused enough on bringing the product possibilities to life. It purports to deliver one-click brand intelligence data, which could be an invaluable tool to learn how consumers are viewing your brand down to product level, thus delivering key insight that can influence decision making. It is definitely worth a look.”
Fully personalised websites: Weebo (wee.bo)
By asking shoppers questions about the products they are looking for and combining this with behavioural analytics of how they are browsing the website, Weebo personalises the offer to increase conversion rates. This personalisation includes filtering search results and product page layouts to suit their preferences, re-ordering product descriptions to highlight important information for that shopper, and it also extends to changing the whole user interface including colours used, size and location of buttons and font sizes.
“We are an A/B tester but for one user. We find the best variation for them to convert,” says chief executive and co-founder Alon Binman.
The retailers said:
JD: “This is very clever stuff, but as an early-stage start-up they need more time to focus and to partner with a willing retailer who is prepared to work with them on development.”
Smart marketing: Albert (Albert.ai)
With the goal of “liberating the marketer from the complexities of digital execution”, Albert is a platform that uses AI to drive fully autonomous digital marketing campaigns. Taking on all functions of the online marketing process that can be automated, such as media buying, optimisation, segmentation and creating variations on content, the technology can work across multiple online channels. It aims to free up marketers’ time to work on the creative element of campaigns, make ad spend more efficient and do without the need for multiple providers across different channels, as it is able to switch advertising budgets between different platforms in real time to place spend where it is predicted to generate the best results.
The retailers said:
JC: “This start-up is aiming to eliminate the manual and time-consuming tasks that currently limit the effectiveness and results of modern digital advertising and marketing. Brands such as Harley-Davidson, Evisu, Cosabella and Made.com credit Albert with significantly increased sales, an accelerated path to revenue, the ability to make more informed investment decisions, and reduced operational costs. This is a competitive space, but Albert seems to be getting good traction.”
Top tips for working with start-ups
Orly Glick is vice-president of value-added services at Israel-based technology investment fund Vintage Investment Partners, which has $1.5bn (£1.3bn) invested across 10 funds
1 Make sure you have a clear and specific budget set aside for the start-up projects.
2 Pick a start-up champion on your team so you have a specific team member who is focused on the success of the start-up pilots. Building those relationships and frequent communication to circulate back to the needs of your company are key.
3 Go for quick wins to get the project going and get the rest of your business on board with working with start-ups.
4 Don’t underestimate the effect of cultural differences. Learn about the national culture of the start-up so you understand these nuances.
Amazon’s six rules for innovation
Harel Ifhar is general manager of Amazon Web Services Israel
1 Focus on your customer
Think about what impact you want for the customer and work back from there to find out how to do it. The first thing we do is write a press release for the product or service that doesn’t exist yet so we can discuss it internally. This enables us to think about whether the product really helps solve a problem for the customer – it makes us debate, discuss and challenge our assumptions.
2 Move fast and be nimble
No one can afford to be slow in this environment, the days of taking your time are over. You need to make sure you team is nimble – we create a “two pizza team”. This is a team that can be fed with two pizzas and is assigned to each project. If you keep your teams smaller, you can move faster and with less bureaucracy.
3 Experiment frequently
You need to test a lot, but to do this you must make sure the cost of your tests is one you can afford, because cost works against innovation.
4 Measure, improve and iterate
We don’t do anything that we can’t measure, because without this you don’t know whether you are improving something or not.
5 Embrace failure
If in your company culture you deliver a message that it’s OK to fail as long as you learn from your mistakes, it will encourage people to innovate more, and make sure you learn from it, if you do fail. Success makes people feel good, but failure makes people better.
6 Focus on your business.
You need to know from day one what your vision is and not lose sight of that. Don’t get side-tracked by ventures that aren’t part of your vision.