As anyone who has ever dared to monitor their screen time will know, the average UK adult now spends an average of 3 hours and 23 minutes on their phone every day, equating to roughly 50 days every year.
As the number of minutes spent staring at the black mirror increases, the hundreds of millions spent by businesses to try and cash in on this phenomenon rises in tandem.
For retailers this has almost exclusively involved finding ways to shrink their websites to fit on smaller screens. Yet, this tactic has completely overlooked the most significant opportunity smartphone culture presents.
“What is the one thing we do on our phones more than anything? It’s WhatsApp, it’s WeChat, it’s FaceTime, the ways in which we communicate,” Hero’s founder Adam Levene told Charged.
Data shows that around two thirds of screen time is spent on social media, meaning that even the most popular retail apps are competing in an intensely crowded space for a portion of just a third of our time.
Hero, which describes itself as a ‘virtual shopping’ company, believes it has found a way to tap into this huge latent potential, and it couldn’t be simpler.
“We quickly discovered a lot of the untapped potential of the millions of retail associates who work on the shop floor, they all have an iPhone in hand,” Levene continued.
“And so we said let’s connect all of these online shoppers that need help, advice and inspiration as they shop, not with a customer service agent, not with a bot, but with a real life human in the store nearest to them.”
Levene, who launched the company in 2015 before bringing it to market two years later, had his lightbulb moment while waiting at an airport in South America.
After trying to see if an item was in stock in his local bookstore Levene was put on hold, a nightmare many of us continue to face regularly on retail customer service lines to this day.
“It just didn’t feel like a particularly 21st century experience,” he said.
“I thought if I could just fire off a text message to someone in the store and say – ‘hey do you have this book? Could you put it aside or let me check out online?’
“That is the 21st century friendly way of buying something, I’ve been trying to bring that to retail.”
Retail it seems was more than ready for this 21st century friendly way of buying things, as were consumers.
This year alone Hero has increased its customer base more than five-fold, tripled its number of staff and signed a partnership with Shopify, which runs the ecommerce platforms for nearly 1 million retailers.
Its rapid expansion has been so easy because most of the framework needed to implement Hero’s technology is already largely in place at most retailers, whether they know it or not.
As Levene pointed out “utilising store associates to sell online is a very simple idea, but one that involves internal behavioural change inside a retailer.”
Store associates, mid-day on a weekday, are already filling up the downtime in store by staring at their phone screens. Why not connect them with online shoppers and enable them to make some sales while they’re doing it?
All stores need to do is download some Java script to integrate Hero into their platform, while staff just need to download an app which will seem instantly familiar to anyone who regularly uses WhatsApp, according to the company.
Key to this transition, is ensuring staff are properly attributed for their sales, providing a genuine financial incentive for them to link with customers. As if that wasn’t enough to win over store associates, Hero has also enabled 85 per cent of its partners to keep some if not all of its staff during lockdown.
“Something we really conquered in the early days was attribution,” Levene explained.
“We wanted to help the store associates to get the credit for the sales they were making online, they’ve never been in that position before. And so the moment they have a call or answer a query with an online shopper and that leads to a sale, they get the credit for it.
“If they’re on commission like at Harvey Nichols, then suddenly they can now earn commission online. If they’re a non-commission retailer and they have a store target, online sales can count towards their in-store targets, it’s a real win-win for associates”.
The “death of the high street” has been touted since the 1970s, but physical stores have survived because shoppers still want that human connection.
One thing that has become desperately apparent throughout 2020 is that the technology exists to grant us a more human connection without having to be physically face to face.
With both retailers and the public embracing video communication technology like never before and ecommerce becoming an increasingly vital part of retail, the stars seemed to have aligned for Levene’s concept to make its impact on the industry.
As he concluded: “Whether you have stores or not, that human connection is going to be everything going forward and is the differentiator for every retail brand that’s name isn’t Amazon.”