Holiday shoppers at the Mall of America.

Tulip chief executive officer Ali Asaria sees sales associates as the critical link for retailers and fashion brands that are looking to deploy a convergence strategy between online and physical stores. Asaria said the integration of bricks and clicks requires empowering “workers in the stores with the right mobile tools,” which will be “the key to this transformation of retail.”

This transformation began last year, the ceo said, adding that he expects it to continue — but it requires investments in the right technologies.

“It’s no secret that the retail industry as a whole faced tough times last year, but we believe that 2017 will be looked at as an inflection point where retailers finally accepted the fact that the old way of doing business no longer applies with today’s evolving shopping preferences,” Asaria said. “Many retailers realized that their footprints were just too large and others focused on trying to better integrate the online experience onto the sales floor. In 2018, successful bricks-and-mortar retailers will continue to modernize their operations and invest in the most important way to improve the in-store experience — the store associate.”

Asaria said he expects to see more retailers “bringing the online world into the physical location and expanding the consumer relationship where the associate is viewed as a fashion consultant, beacon of knowledge and trusted advisor that creates loyal customers and who provides ongoing support and previews of upcoming products.

“Stores will become showrooms, guide shops, distribution and fulfilment centers,” he added.

This new retail business model (with the sales associate on the front lines) is already underway — and in a big way. Companies such as PredictSpring are working with retailers on unified platforms that leverage mobile apps and web sites with sales associates. Last fall, Kohl’s partnered with Amazon to take returns in stores, which is handled by store associates. And last month, Walmart said it was testing a personal shopping service using store clerks.

For its part, Tulip said it offers a mobile solution that bolsters sales and margins and triggers higher conversions. Clients that signed on last year include Michael Kors, Hugo Boss, Tory Burch and Indigo while Saks Fifth Avenue, Kate Spade and Bonobos “expanded their relationship with Tulip and launched more apps from across Tulip’s offerings to elevate their in-store experience and drive sales,” Tulip said in a statement.

“These retailers are empowering their store associates with more knowledge and real-time access to customers’ preferences, endless aisle product selection, line busting for sales checkout anywhere in the store, and ongoing communication and clienteling tools to interact with clients — all accessible on a mobile tablet or smartphone,” Tulip noted.

The company said for this year, it will use a recently acquired round of funding ($40 million) that was led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers “to drive international expansion and product innovation.”

The company said its technology is already deployed in over 25 countries and in seven languages. Tulip added that it “is seeing increasing demand for its offering in Europe, South America and Asia and will continue to expand globally.”

Tulip will be at the National Retail Federation’s Retail’s Big Show 2018 in New York City, this Sunday through Tuesday.

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