Author: Julia Lin, Translator: Kevin Wang, Editor: Yunchieh Tsou
This is an all-too-common scenario: You walk into a store, spend hours trying on clothes and shoes, yet leave empty handed. As you walk out the door, you feel the cold stare of the staff on your back, and you decide never to walk in again even if you see something you like.
Says SkyREC co-founder Catie Xie: “If customers stay in a store for a long time but don’t buy anything, staff service is one crucial aspect to improve on, but this also shows that the products on the shelf just aren’t attractive enough.” As Xie notes, many factors come into play when customers decide whether to make a purchase: how near or far away an employee stands, how and what the employee says about the product… All these aspects are challenges any retailer faces in this shopper-driven age. Growth only comes for brands that know what customers want.
Xie says, “In a brick-and-mortar store, customers spend nearly 80% of their time browsing and experiencing different products before they check out at the counter, and consumer behavior serves as a key index into their needs.”
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SkyREC was founded in September 2013 by KS Mooi, JW Liao, and Catie Xie, to assist retailers with a physical presence in accurately determining consumer habits. After two years of research and development, the company officially launched its services in late 2015.
The three co-founders share a clear division of labor: SkyREC’s core technology is in the charge of Mooi, a graduate of the Department of Civil Engineering at National Taiwan Unviersity, and Liao, who holds a master’s degree in computer science and information engineering from National Pingtung University. Xie, with her impeccable verbal skills, oversees business and expansion abroad by taking part in trade shows and visiting clients.
Says Xie, “In this consumer-driven age, physical retailers need to grasp a deeper knowledge of their customers’ potential habits and behavior.”
SkyREC boosts clients’ customer flow and revenue by 20-25%
SkyREC has received considerable attention with its business intelligence analytical system for retailers. By using proprietary algorithms to conduct image and wifi analysis, the company can produce an accurate picture of what’s hot and what’s not on a store’s shelves, customers’ movements inside a store, and which places they tend to stay longer. The data is then presented in an easy-to-understand visual format, allowing stores to accurately grasp customer habits. Daily reports enable quick adjustments in the placement of products, which helps boost store revenue.
Visual reports present all aspects of customer behavior that retailers care about: the flow of passersby outside the store, the flow of customers inside the store, hotspots within the store, customer movements, popular and not-so-popular products, and checkout service efficiency. Offered daily, these reports allow each store to fine tune how they stock their shelves on the fly.
SkyREC has sold 600 service packages in 2016, with more than 500 clients in the Asia-Pacific region, of which nearly a third are stores in Taiwan. Their clients include A.S.O. Shoes, Life8, and VF Corporation, the owner of clothing and footwear brands including Timberland and Kipling.
According to Xie, “Most of our clients are in the fashion and clothing industry, with wholesale retailers and hypermarkets forming another substantial segment. After adopting SkyREC’s solutions for three to six months, our clients have seen customer flow and revenue rise by an average of 20-25%.”
“Many of our clients are amazed at how precisely our products suit their needs, and even think that we began in retail ourselves.” Xie stresses that they hired people “knowledgeable in the retail business” from the very beginning to focus entirely on business analysis for retailers, and it was their feedback that allowed the company to offer services that closely matched the needs of their clients.
Currently SkyREC centers exclusively on analysis for physical stores through collection of big data and market information; plans are for a further “professional system” within the next three years to help predict consumer behavior through artificial intelligence.
Think of SkyREC as a Siri for retailers. If you ask, “Hey SkyREC, how do I grow my revenue?” The automated voice might say something like, “According to my analysis, the temperature will drop by 10 degrees next week, and because red sweaters are the products most touched by your customers, I suggest having more red sweaters in stock for the upcoming year-end sale. I anticipate 800,000 customer visits in the first three days of the year-end sale, with 75% of these visits from loyalty card holders.”
International competitions as stepping stones to global stage
Having aimed its crosshairs on the global market from the very beginning, SkyREC has been an active participant in trade shows and competitions abroad as a means of gaining worldwide exposure. Global recognition has included winning the Slush Asia startup competition in Japan, special awards from Asia Beat and CES Asia, and first prize at GMIC G-Startup, as well as invitations to visit companies in Silicon Valley.
“We enter competitions not just to win awards; every competition is an opportunity for more exposure. This is especially the case when reaching the finalist stage, which helps bring more recognition to our brand.” Xie cherishes every opportunity in participating in large competitions, since these mean potential exposure for SkyREC, and with it future partners or target clients.
For example, winning the Japanese competition gave SkyREC the keys to the Japanese market, but as Xie notes, “The award was merely the first step in gaining Japanese partnerships. You also need time to cultivate a relationship with Japanese companies and gain their trust before you can begin any further collaboration.”
Companies wishing to enter the Japanese market must place a strong emphasis on the quality of their products, their reputation, and their after-sales service. They must also anticipate dedicating at least six months to one year to their efforts before seeing any results, since the Japanese value trustworthiness in their business partnerships, which requires foreign companies to devote dedicated effort in their ventures. SkyREC’s Japanese contacts include a large, distinctive chain bookstore and a noted railway company, with official partnership set for early 2017.
Xie stresses that the quickest way into any foreign market is local capital and connections. SkyREC is currently in its A-round of funding; but as Xie explains, “Funding in itself is not our main goal. More important is seeking out strategic investment that can assist us in expanding into China, Japan, and Southeast Asia.” Xie says that the company is currently in talks with both domestic and foreign investors, and expects to secure A-round funding within the next six months.
As for the future, SkyREC hopes to become the leading business analysis system provider in the Asia-Pacific region. Furthermore, with more than a decade of experience in startups, Xie personally hopes to one day become an investor or advisor for new and upcoming startups.