LONDON — As social distancing becomes the new norm, businesses are channeling their efforts into chat-based commerce with Hero, the messaging app, becoming a retailer’s new champion tool.
The messaging service is built into retailers’ web sites to allow store associates to connect with customers. Brands across jewelry, beauty and footwear such as Nike, Annoushka, Credo Beauty and Harvey Nichols are using Hero to bring the offline experience online.
“This is a really powerful way for associates in-store to connect with growing traffic, especially when there’s a considered purchase and the customer has questions about a specific product and needs to have the confidence to buy,” said founder Adam Levene.
According to Levene, queries are often related to size and fit, and that’s where Hero hopes to fill the gap, helping customers make a final decision. Stores have also reported a reduction in return rates after working with the app.
While Hero has already established long-term partnerships with these brands, the app is proving more useful than ever in allowing retailers to keep their businesses afloat and for staff to work from home, Levene would argue.
“This is one of the few retail scenarios where retail associates are able to work from home, something they’ve never been able to do before, and to keep selling,” Levene added.
Hero is tied directly to retailers’ e-commerce sites, which means that sales associates can easily browse through the store’s stock availabilities and before COVID-19, could guide customers’ to the right stores for select items should they choose to try before they buy or make in-store purchases.
A few weeks ago, Hero launched video calling, and Levene said it has proved massively successful.
“Over the past few weeks where stores were remaining open, but customers were shopping from home, video calling became a very powerful tool and now we’re seeing brands advise their teams on how they can continue video calling. In a time when we’re craving more human interaction, it’s actually quite powerful,” Levene added.
Hero is working on enabling more interactions: Last summer, the company secured $10 million in Series A funding, which it has used to invest in existing features such as video calling and securing new partnerships. The next focus for Hero will be WhatsApp.
“It’s a key area of focus around our R&D team right now as we think about new channels and ways for customers to connect, we have a big piece of strategy in allowing the customers in stores to remain in contact, whichever channel the customer wants to be on, not just the brand’s web site,” Levene said.
Especially in times of self-isolation, different chat features, particularly video, have become people’s way of connecting. The clean beauty retailer, Credo Beauty will be rolling out more video-based chat to its customers.
Dawn Dobras, chief executive officer of Credo Beauty, said that “because of who we are and our health-based message, we’re finding that in a time of a worldwide pandemic, people are very receptive and interested in taking care of themselves, so video allows us to do that in a very personal way and with more technical parts of the business like shade matching.”
Prior to COVID-19, Credo Beauty saw a 15 times increase in conversations with online customers using the Hero app. In the weeks following COVID-19, online sales during the weekend period of March 14 and 15, were 20 percent higher with a 34 percent increase in Hero conversations than the average weekend.
Because clean skin care and beauty are so unique to the individual, Dobras said that having the ability to chat and answer personal queries has meant a huge “unlock” for businesses to provide customized, in-store experience to their online customers.
“Fast-forward into the world of Corona, it’s an amazing way for me to engage our sales associates to create a human connection that’s not a bot or a preset results page,” Dobras added.
Jewelry brand Annoushka echoes that sentiment. Hero has also given that brand the ability to emulate the in-store experience. Before the nationwide shutdown, the team prepped videos and other photo assets to send to their customers.
“We know that online is more and more important, and what Hero offers is more about traction and allowing us to extend our experience in a virtual way. All that time we spent training our sales staff can be transferred globally and not restricted to the shop floor,” said Alicia Holden, head of public relations and partnerships.
Within a year of launching the app on its site, Annoushka’s global sales through Hero amounted to 100,000 pounds, with a 180 percent conversion increase through the app. In December 2019, Hero generated 11 percent of overall online revenue for the month.
The jewelry brand has also quickly adopted Hero’s video feature. “It’s really early days, but we are super excited to have that feature integrated, it’s just making the experience much more personal. While our store staff doesn’t have products at home they can still send assets and have that element of talking to a human.
“What we’re hoping to see is a conversion of people who have relationships with existing store staff and want to connect with them through that channel to have a face-to-face chat. It’s hard to comment on its impact as it’s such early days but we only see it as a massive bonus,” Holden added.