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As retailers and brands look to strengthen customer engagement and boost conversions, Tulip Retail is working with companies to improve clienteling and assisted selling capabilities via its mobile platform.

The company, which counts Kate Spade, Coach, Saks Fifth Avenue, Michael Kors and Frye, among others, as its clients, sees physical stores as critical to retail’s success. Here, Bill Zujewski, executive vice president of marketing at Tulip Retail, shares his insights about the challenges and opportunities facing the retail industry and what companies can do to increase sales by improving the in-store experience.

WWD: When discussing the in-store experience, and why it matters, do you see the sales associate as the front line of defense — and offense — to succeed?

Bill Zujewski: Yes, we do. Our software is solely focused on providing mobile tools, mobile apps, for the sales and store associates and the store managers in the store, that’s all we do. We think that their workers and their physical presence are actually their biggest competitive advantage against Amazon and the online play.

In the last decade retailers have made more IT investment on the e-commerce side, which they should, instead of on stores. But the pendulum has almost swung too far in that they’ve ignored the store. A lot of retailers still have archaic technology in the store. Everyone talks about personalization and the personalized experience, but what is more personalized than a human interaction in the store, right? So we are trying to make that a more intelligent, more intimate interaction and a more valuable one for the consumer.

WWD: From the consumer’s perspective, what are some of the friction points? Is it when they go into a store and know more about the product than the sales associate? What are some of the frustrations?

B.Z.: It starts with the lack of knowledge. In some cases the consumer has done more research than the associate. So it starts there. The second issue, especially during holiday season, are the lines — having to wait in line or having to get to the associate. The lack of efficiency in the store is definitely frustrating.

Third is when the store is out of stock. Nothing is more frustrating than driving somewhere, after you’ve found something that you want, and you can’t because it’s out of stock. They can’t fill the order. Those are probably some of the top reasons I think consumers are frustrated with the store experience.

WWD: Shopping online is transactional. But in the store, retailers have an opportunity to up-sell and also create a loyal customer, correct?

B.Z.: Yes. And there’s still the human nature aspect of it. Why do people spend a lot of money on luxury goods and fashion? They want to feel good about themselves. A transaction online doesn’t necessarily do that. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone into a Bonobos or Frank and Oak in Canada, or the women’s stores obviously, such Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach and Chanel. These are some of our customers, and the experience is amazing. You feel on top of the world. The associate makes you feel like that, and that’s part of the reason they come back — because they feel good about the experience.

WWD: How easy is it to implement the technology? Is it easy to train associates to use it? Is it intuitive?

B.Z.: Literally, there is no training. It’s Apple. We only run on iOS and these associates, within five minutes, are navigating the catalogue. It’s like being online. You wouldn’t download something from the app store and take any training on that. The same thing here, we make it so easy. You’re putting things in the cart. You’re checking if something is in stock. It’s really simple. With implementation, it is getting shorter and shorter. Now we have about 15 of these [deployed] in the apparel and luxury markets. On the front end, retailers love the user interface.

WWD: What about making the investment? What are the returns? 

B.Z.: Bonobos had a 12 percent increase in the average order size with people walking in the store, which is significant. Michael Kors has seen a 1 to 2 percent uplift in the stores where they are piloting Tulip. Again, 1 to 2 percent doesn’t sound like a lot but if you’re a billion-dollar or $500 million company, that’s real dollars. That’s $10 million.

For More Business News From WWD, See:

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