TORONTO, Canada — Since the outbreak of Covid-19, McKinsey & Co. has reported that over 60 percent of global consumers have changed their shopping behaviour, looking for convenience and value in the midst of a pandemic. However, the footfall within brick-and-mortar stores is gradually seeing an uptick in store visits — but adapting to a post-Covid in-store strategy and evolving retail experiences will be essential for businesses to adapt to the new landscape.
Looking to empower retail staff with customer data collected by corporate offices, Tulip digitises a brand’s “black book” in a mobile app to help associates build personal and curated relationships with their customers. Launched in 2013, the retail solutions firm is now present in North America, Europe and, since last year, Asia. The firm counts Apple, Salesforce and Google as partners and recently acquired retail data and forecasting firm Blueday, offering further insight into changing consumer behaviour.
Through Tulip, retail staff can coordinate and schedule customer follow-ups, as well as personalise their touchpoints including purchases with their clientele via email, SMS and video chat. The firm’s cloud storage of product catalogues, pricing, inventory and customer data grants associates a holistic view and the ability for Tulip to tailor its services to individual brand needs. Alongside its clienteling services, Tulip’s product Checkout Nova also moves the purchasing transaction onto an iPad or iPhone, freeing up the point of sale, while their Assisted Selling function centralises product data onto a tablet, accessed via a barcode scan.
Now, BoF sits down with Founder and CEO Ali Asaria to hear more about Tulip’s evolved technological solutions on the back of the global pandemic, assisting retailers’ interactions with consumers back in-store, and their learnings from changing consumer expectations and shopping behaviour, shaping the next-generation of retail experiences.
What role does Tulip play in a brand’s retail experience?
At Tulip, we believe the boutique is the most intimate way that the average person interacts with brands. However, when we started in this industry, the best global brands had great technology on their corporate side, but their stores were powered by technology designed for a different age of retail. At one of the biggest retailers we work with, 90 percent of their customer interactions happen inside their physical stores, but barely any of those interactions were captured. So, you end up having all of this knowledge with no data behind it.
We thought, if we can remove all of the friction points from in-store experiences, tap into the opportunities trapped in fragmented pieces of data and simultaneously unlock the true potential of store associates who are in front of customers every day, improved performance would come.
Then, if you have a view of the customer inside the store, and connect that profile with what's happening online, you can offer a more personalised experience for customers with a holistic understanding of what they're doing across all channels. We're able to provide retailers with a set of digital tools that subsequently enable next-generation experiences for your customers.
How does Tulip democratise clienteling?
Tulip is able to record all of the sales that occur, but also all of the product lookups and interactions that a customer might have, so you can see not only what the consumer is buying, but what they also tried on that didn't convert into a sale. This can be fed back to the merchandisers in real time so they can make quicker decisions.
Tulip offers retailers clienteling to 90 percent of their customers, instead of the 1 percent in the high purchasing bracket. Some of our best brands have customers who now choose to go through a store associate to do online orders via a WhatsApp or text message, saying, "Here's three items I was looking at. Could you send them to my home?" In the old world, there was no way an associate could execute an online transaction from the store. And that’s an important aspect for the store associate too — they can now get credit for that online sale.
Why is it important that Tulip transmits data both to and from head offices?
It is now more important than ever that store associates understand the products they are selling because consumers want to know about them — and they might have read more online about the products than the store associate. So, one of our core pieces of technology is Assisted Selling, which centralises the product data onto a tablet. When the store associate scans a barcode or pulls up a product, they can see all of the information to help answer questions.
Then, outside of clienteling, we offer our next-generation checkout solution, Checkout Nova, which moves the point of sale onto an iPad or iPhone in the store. When the point of sale is no longer fixed in place, a transaction can happen anywhere inside or outside the boutique without being burdened by a clunky terminal.
How does Tulip enable retailers to test strategies?
One of the most important things for us, in addition to having the right solutions, is being nimble. A lot of our partners are saying, “Nobody can perfectly forecast what the future of retail is going to look like, or what the customer is going to demand.” But to us, what is more important than having all the right answers, is having a platform that is agile to allow for experimentation in potential new solutions — all of which we can back up with data.
To us, what is more important than having all the right answers, is having a platform that is agile to allow for experimentation — all of which we can back up with data.
Brands want to be able to experiment or try pilot projects, and Tulip can facilitate that. Every retailer has a different view around the experiences they want to offer their customers, depending on what makes sense for their brand, so we work with retailers to understand their business before adjusting the tools and experiences possible.
For example, for one of our partners, a customer can opt to identify themselves by scanning a QR code and filling out a form at the point of purchase. Now, all of those transactions are connected to their email address and the retailer has a 360 view of what's happening inside the store and online. Depending on geography, the type of brand and the customers they work with, we allow brands to decide what's the best way for their associates to communicate.
How did the pandemic impact Tulip’s offering and activities?
When Covid hit its peak in April, we decided to pause our product roadmap. Instead, we reached out to our biggest partners and said, "How can we help you and work together to reinvent how retail happens in this new world?"
In physical retail’s darkest hour, we saw innovation that would normally have taken years, occur in a matter of months. For example, one of Tulip’s biggest customers didn't have any e-commerce when Covid hit. Within a matter of weeks, we were able to shift all of their transactions to mobile devices through store associates, sent via emails and text messages and enabled by our cloud storage of their entire product catalogue, pricing and inventory.
We’ve introduced a number of new solutions to make transactions and store experiences more flexible in a post-Covid world. We now have technology that allows remote selling through text messaging and email, and technology that allows you to video chat with a store associate from the comforts and safety of your own home.
How does Tulip draw insights from its consumer behaviour?
We not only have all of the customer data within Tulip’s cloud for a retailer, but we also have all of their products, pricing, inventory, store locations and promotional data inside our cloud. Then, we recently acquired a company called Blueday, which specialises in retail analytics, forecasting and store performance management. So, given all of this data, we're in a unique position where we can see clearly how customer behaviour is changing now and over the last couple of months, and provide retailers with recommendations to improve their in-store and online performance.
In physical retail’s darkest hour, we saw innovation that would normally have taken years, occur in a matter of months.
The main trend we're seeing now is a big resurgence in customers wanting to go back to stores and to return to those experiences in a safe way — but there's more intent in those visits than ever before, with consumers looking to try on specific products. Tulip has reacted by investing more in areas like pre-booking appointments at a store location and curbside pickup, allowing consumers to tell associates what items they'd like to have reserved for them when they arrive.
How does Tulip support global businesses?
There are three layers to internationalisation and communication in Tulip’s world. First there’s a cultural layer, so store associates in Paris, for example, communicate with their customers in a very different way to store associates in the United States. We had to do a lot of work to understand the best method and intimate way of communicating based on geography and what's expected in those regions.
Then, there's a technology element. So, how do we connect into the channels that are important to each geography? For example, it's not easy to send a text message with an image in the UK, whereas that's a normal thing to do in the US. So, we've had to ensure our software and technology was flexible enough to work with each channel, in the right way.
Finally, we have the compliance aspect. Each geography has a different set of permissions and rules around having a direct conversation with the customer. Investing in all three of those aspects is part of the reason we've done so well — we've supported all of the requirements necessary to support international communication with customers in a deep and intimate way.
What is your long-term strategy at Tulip?
Part of Tulip’s role, since we launched seven years ago, was about proving that we could satisfy the needs of our partners and larger retailers from a technology standpoint. We're now considered leaders in this technological space and in the larger sense of reinventing the way stores work from a technology perspective. So, our job has shifted from proving we can be a great partner to now unlocking all of the potential opportunities and experiences retailers need in their stores.
Our vision in the long term for Tulip revolves around how we want to position ourselves with our partners. We've always believed there is a need for a new platform for the future of fashion, so we want to provide a one-stop place for retailers to go to, to have the best in-brand solutions to power their connected stores.
This is a sponsored feature paid for by Tulip as part of a BoF partnership.