The Digital Handshake: Introduce Yourself!

Pulkit Singhal from our team writes on meeting and connecting with people over social media.

Pulkit is an avid technology blogger and active in several open source communities. He likes to write on software technologies and on startups. You can read more of his works here.

The original blog can be found here.

 

The Digital Handshake: Introduce Yourself!

Surely, everyone’s experienced the momentary confusion that comes with an unsolicited Facebook friend request or a LinkedIn invite. In a world driven by “social” technologies, a digital handshake has become the norm but the frequent lack of an introduction makes you wonder just what is going through someone’s mind when they try to connect.

LinkedIn especially is a professional social network where it is crucial that the person that you’re connecting with, isn’t left scratching their head and wondering who you are.

But how can you make a good intro when you don’t know someone in person? Well, make your intentions known! If you can’t figure out the mutually beneficial angle yet, then don’t be shy and let the other person know why you find this connection to be of value to yourself. People will accept honest invites with intros.

Sending

  • Here are some of my quirky favs, with more than the “join me now” imperative:
    I’m a big user and fan of ***. I’m the one who’s been prototyping an app based on your site and I would love to connect with you on a professional level.
  • I run a small (2 people) startup and I frequently visit the *** forums. I would like to connect with you as I may need references, from time to time, for expert consultants who know this material inside & out.
  • These days I’m knee-deep in *** and the new *** APIs that you just released for beta testing. I would love to connect with you on a professional level as well.

Receiving

Another challenging aspect of a digital handshake is not being rude. Nudging the person who sent the empty invite to provide more context is often a great way to make a Yes/No decision.

  • Thanks for reaching out! This is a bit embarrassing but can you please help jog my memory and help me remember if we’ve met in person before? Also if we haven’t then please let me know how I can add value to your professional network.

ShoppinPal’s Team & Culture

The ShoppinPal folks are a mission-driven bunch that’s out to forever change the lives of brick & mortar retailers. The bulk of our presence is in Pune (India), with couple of key employees working out of Houston (The USA) and Auckland (NZ). In the last few months we have excelled in team building and in solidifying our work culture, so allow me to share a few things that define and guide us.

shoppinpal team

1) A tremendous sense of ownership permeates everything we do. For a startup, it’s not enough to have a super smart team unless each member acts as a protagonist of his ideas and take initiatives, no less than the owner . We are very fortunate that every employee acts and makes decisions like a founder/owner, which has enabled us to assign meaty responsibilities to even our interns. Every single day I see stellar examples of people taking load off of each other and doing whatever it takes to bring fruition to the mission…and I’m incredibly grateful for that. 2016-01-27 13.22.57

2) Every teammate has a perpetual desire to learn, , solve seemingly impossible problems, and then share that knowledge. This not only makes each member a part of the input but also strengthens the interpersonal relationship of the employees. We’ve been very fortunate that several customers and partners have embarked on shared problem solving with us which has resulted in a wealth of open source software that will hopefully benefit thousands of retailers and developers in the years to come.

3) Commitment towards social causes. As they say and we firmly believe, core is more important than the periphery, we work both as a team and individually in various ways to do our bit for the society. Once a quarter, we organise outings for kids from local shelters, engaging them in some recreational activities and providing some moments of joy. . Here are a couple of pictures from recent ones that included tours of a world class horticultural center and an Army war memorial museum. We also have a “vacation allowance” which doubles if your vacation involves some volunteering towards a social cause.

IMG_4147

IMG_4659

We have a Team+Tech foundation now that will enable us to shake up the industry. Stay tuned!

Socialize your store!!

It’s Sunday evening, the busiest day for your retail store. The day when you expect to get the most sales of the week, meet new customers and greet back the old ones. The evening starts like any other Sunday evening but this time, you have put up a 20% sale as a strategy to increase your profits and liquidate excess inventory due to fewer sales in the previous month. You have the best possible place in the best city mall, and as part of the advertising plan, the 20% sale flyers and your mini product catalog are placed strategically across the mall premises and pretty hard to escape! But as the evening proceeds, something happens that you didn’t quite expect. The store right across yours selling the same goods and products has seen a substantial increase in its sales that Sunday and you are left with a bunch of product notifications and posts from the social media page of the other retailer on your phone.

Wondering why your tried-and-tested marketing didn’t pay off?

The answer lies right there on your phone. The answer to the riddle above is the efforts by the other retailer to go that extra mile by leveraging technology and marketing its catalog where today’s consumers look — digital media. Marketing is a crucial part of business regardless of the size of your retail operation. Everybody needs to advertise and market its product out there to the right target audience in order to get into the game and stay ahead. For decades, the Indian retail ecosystem has relied on conventional marketing techniques, while global markets have taken to digital marketing which has hands down proven to be more effective compared to other traditional offline marketing techniques. The presence of the internet and a smartphone in the hands of almost every individual is the reason why digital media has seen such an explosion. India is home to 402 million Internet users of which 92 million people use social media (facebook, twitter etc.). There’s enough evidence that social media plays a significant role in a shopper’s online and offline purchase decisions. For most consumers, one of the biggest influencing factors for where and what they shop are their friends, and this is why social media plays such a critical role. This is where they get the luxury to see whether they can get the same products for an optimal price and a better service be it an online shopping store or a retail store next door. The latest fashion/technology trends are driven by digital media. People go to the internet to discover trending apparel styles, the laptop with the best features, or to see where they can get the best deal on a product. If you are running retail stores, effective digital marketing is an absolute must in order to create and retain a loyal customer base well as to keep the pulse on changing market trends and competition.

For starters, no need to get fancy…just get the basics right!
Most retailers are under the impression that to be successful in digital marketing is a herculean feat, with the constant need to generate meaningful content and have a dedicated team to be able to get meaningful results. This is not true! A good case in point is from one of our US customers (18-store chain). Within a month of our team setting up profiles for each store on Google, they got 4726 views and 911 clicks on the store page, which then resulted in many new customers visiting the store and making inquiries via phone. The images below show a results summary — these are easily obtained via Google Analytics (a free tool which can be integrated easily into any setup).

 

 

 

Help us help you
We are innovating in the marketing automation space with the help from our customers. For example, if you have a bunch of products that are sitting on the shelves for over 3 months and you’d prefer to get rid of them at a small discount before the season ends, all you would need to do is configure that rule in our system. Since our seller application knows your inventory and sales patterns, we will automatically put out discounted purchase links for those products. The links can be for one or more e-marketplaces (e.g. Snapdeal, Amazon) where you can choose to list your products beforehand via our marketplace integrations. The key benefit is that there’s zero effort involved on your part and you can be sure about driving new sales as well as protecting margins on potentially stale products.
We’d love to hear your use cases and partner up in building the tooling that’s right for your business. Please share your comments here or write to us at [email protected]

The Indian brick & mortar retailer’s dilemma…to digitize or not?

2 years ago, I would have gone to a mall (in India) to purchase a pair of shoes which I now can buy at a cheaper price sitting at my home with a guarantee of same day delivery. Moreover, with many players entering the e-commerce market we now have a plethora of choices for shopping online, as if the entire retail world has been served up on a platter to the consumer with a great selection of products and unbelievable prices. Electronics, Apparel, Books, Media you name it. Almost everything which was exclusively available at physical stores can be now bought via few clicks on your phone.
Implications for brick and mortar retailers
For most brick & mortar retailers, this dramatic shift in the retail ecosystem has adversely impacted revenues and growth. Showrooming has become quite popular and been a real pain — the shopper uses the information provided by the staff at the store but eventually makes the purchase online, sometimes even while he/she is in the premises of the store!

Realistic Retail Shop

Retailers’ recognize the need to collaborate with marketplaces, however only a fraction has jumped on that bandwagon due to technological and operational complexities. Besides the big3 (FlipKart, SnapDeal, Amazon) there are several other prominent national players (e.g. PayTM, ShopClues) and many niche/local ones as well. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the use of a popular ERP/POS (Tally, for example), which only tracks their store sales and is completely disconnected from the catalog they need to create on a marketplace. More than maintaining a separate catalog, the killer requirement is the need for constantly syncing stock counts 2-way between the store and marketplace so that the retailer doesn’t run out of stock…which eventually results in the retailer getting suspended from the marketplace!
Further complicating the situation is that many retailers own multiple stores which then brings in new requirements around data sync across different store locations and virtual selling channels. Many POSes (Vend, for example) have stellar support for syncing inventory and sales data across multiple store locations. However, they don’t help when it comes to syncing data across e-marketplaces. Creating a brand new catalog for each and every marketplace along with manually monitoring inventory + sales has become quite a drag for retailers, and in most cases the business owners end up hiring additional staff to manage various digital channels. No wonder most retailers shy away from digitizing their operations and listing on marketplaces.

Online to offline (O2O) — bridging the best of both worlds

The key to winning in this Retailers need to play on their strength — for certain categories (e.g. Appliances) shoppers like to touch and feel the product before they commit, which provides physical retailers a big edge in these segments. ShoppinPal is in the process of jointly rolling out solutions with top marketplaces whereby consumers could reserve a product online and make the final purchase in-store once they visit. Also on our roadmap is the “try and buy” capability, which is most suited for apparel and jewelry.

Happy Realistic Retail Shop

Our vision is to bring true omnichannel to small and mid-sized retailers globally. Take our seller app for a spin and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear how we can help solve your challenges in this space.

India’s Retail Revolution

In the past quarter I’ve been spending a lot of time in India working with retailers of all sizes. Some of the biggest names in the private sector are making massive bets in the space, and at the same time smaller chains are looking for ways to establish a stronger relationship with their increasing mobile/digital shopper. I’ve noticed a few key trends, each of which deserves a post or two – so I’ll start out with a summary here and continue this topic as a series.

The 1st big trend I expect to see in the next 2-3 years is the rapid fire growth of the mobile POS. It will happen like nowhere else in the world. I believe it will be along the lines of the mobile revolution, whereby several nations and continents in the developing world skipped the landline. In the same way much of Indian retail will not see the legacy POS and will directly transition to modern cloud based systems. In the past 2 months we’ve been getting several enquiries from Indian retailers who want to increase engagement with their shoppers and drive higher foot falls to the store. This presents a phenomenal opportunity for m-POS vendors and other related services (cloud-based accounting, digital marketing, mobile commerce etc). However, I think the speed of innovation by dominant players in the west will not be enough, and like the mobile revolution we’ll see a slew of Indian product companies come up shortly that will address local needs in a cost-effective manner.

The 2nd key trend is behavioral changes in the middle and lower middle class that will significantly impact consumption. On one of my cab rides I got into an interesting conversation with my driver. He left his village over 15 years ago and came to Mumbai. Initially he was very hesitant to go to any restaurant or store that had even a slight upscale ambience. However over time he walked into some of these places and realized that prices are actually not that different and the experience is orders of magnitude better…in fact shopping for groceries at a store like Big Bazaar is a great weekend outing for the family. Many of his close friends shared the same hesitation, so he took each of them for a shopping trip to show that these places are indeed price-competitive and everybody is welcome. Now all those friends of his also shop at Big Bazaar and eat at the mall once a month. In fact some of them have even started shopping online. This is a major shift and the implication is that billions more will be consumed as a result of the shifting attitudes of the lower middle class.

Third there’s the war amongst the e-commerce giants — FlipKart and Amazon. Both have insanely deep pockets and they are putting the cash to good use, although some of their practices such as forcing merchants to sell below cost are questionable and have resulted in significant lash back from various groups. The big retailers are obviously scared of this new dynamic – the new kid FlipKart rose to a 10X valuation in less than half the time these big boys (e.g. Shoppers Stop) have been around. This war will be very interesting to watch and I’ll continue sharing my observations as we continue to work with players here.

You can beat eCommerce: Here’s How

In the last 10 years online shopping has come to roost. Amazon, eBay and others have turned the world of shopping upside down by offering a wide selection and addictive convenience to shoppers. Brick and stores have suffered as a result with fall in foot traffic, and resulting loss of revenue. However there’s hope dear hard-working retailer as you can fight online commerce on it’s own turf. Or in other words you can take advantage of technology breakthroughs to attract new shoppers and drive new sales right from your store.

What key advantages can I offer

New capabilities enabled by cloud POS systems, order-ahead services, and easy integrations with new shopping channels, will help you win the hearts and minds of shoppers in your area.

What technology breakthroughs do we speak of?

There are some amazing new tools that need to be availed of.

Cloud POS systems

Point-of-sales systems of today have evolved from the green-screen machines sulking away in a corner. The new breed of POS systems, such as Vend, LightSpeed, ERPLY, and ERPLY allow retailers to manage their stores from just about anywhere with an Internet connection. will let you manage your operations from a variety of devices (including tablets), allow easy upgrades, and also integrate with all kinds of 3rd party software. The last point is critical as we shall see.

Same-day delivery

Heralding a new era in local, new services have sprung up in major metros worldwide that allow for immediate delivery in densely populated areas. Deliv is one of those companies that specializes in same-day delivery for retailers. Their couriers pickup an order as soon as it is placed at the retailer and deliver to the shopper usually within the day. The cost is very reasonable and quite cheaper than next-day or even 2-day delivery by Amazon or at eBay.

eCommerce Carts right from your POS

Traditional eCommerce platforms were designed to best suit the need of online wholesalers, and not brick and mortar. Retail stores need a better solution that works directly with their POS to eliminate the need for managing different systems. Solutions such as ShoppinPal allow you to create a simple and fast online store right from an enabled cloud POS. They also allow you to plug your storefront in new channels such as PayPal, Facebook. Yelp etc allowing you to capture sales from local and social traffic. Finally they allow busy shoppers to order and pickup right at store, and for select metros even same-day delivery.

How does it all work together?

Solutions like ShoppinPal were created to help retail stores drive new revenue and simplify online commerce. Once integrated, they can read all your inventory, pricebooks and stock in real-time, render a storefront with pictures pulled in right from your POS, and further create an invoice right back to the POS once a sale is made. They further integrate with other popular consumer channels, as well as delivery services like Deliv. We are really excited about the future of retail and armed with the right tech tools, the market is yours to win.

10 Steps for Shops to Get the Most Out of Small Business Saturday

Saturday November 30, is dubbed “Small Business Saturday” as part of a nationwide campaign to drive shoppers into locally-owned businesses with deals and events similar to Black Friday.

Small Business Saturday, also called Shop Small, is an event sponsored by American Express.

The fall and winter holiday period is typically the busiest time of the year for most retailers. It’s important for local economies and communities that small businesses don’t go overlooked.

This event is the perfect opportunity to rally the surrounding community around you to check out what local stores have to offer before making purchases at national chains during the holiday shopping season.

Take the opportunity to get creative, make a plan and capitalize on this event to try to drive traffic into your stores. Here are some practical ideas on how you can make a splash with customers on this year’s Small Business Saturday.

Set a goal.

Do you want to attract local media, create awareness of your business, build a mailing list of potential customers or sell slow-moving products? Set goals first, then determine the type of event that will best achieve them. Also, determine the key factors that will make this event successful in your mind (increased daily visitors, higher daily revenue, etc.).

Figure out the scope of the event.

Will you have refreshments, entertainment or workshops? What’s a unique attraction that you can you offer customers to draw a crowd. Scale the event’s scope to your level of experience. If you’ve never held an event before, don’t start by trying to host a day-long party for hundreds of people. Be prepared for large crowds, but keep it small if it’s your first business event.

Select your event team and delegate.

Who will be in charge of the event? Whether it’s you or another employee, you need one person to take ownership and manage all the details, then others can help with the rest of the moving parts. Making sure responsibilities are clear-cut ensures you don’t end up without prizes for a contest or glasses at your wine tasting.

Make a plan and anticipate possible problems.

Sit down with your team, and talk through every step of the event. Take your team’s feedback and incorporate productive ideas into the event. Envision it happening, and picture everything you will need—from chairs to napkins and clipboards. Also, consider how much manpower you’ll need at the event itself, what could possibly go wrong, and what (and who) you’ll need to have on hand to handle those situations.

Set a budget.

As you envision your event, you may find the costs are adding up to a price beyond your means. That’s when it’s time to either scale back your plan or find a way to bring in the additional money you need. Depending on the type of event, you might consider seeking a sponsor for the event (perhaps one of your vendors or suppliers), selling tickets in advance, or partnering with a complementary business to share the costs.

Alert the media.

Allow plenty of time to get the word out. Depending on the type of event you’re planning, your marketing plan could include email outreach, direct mail, in-store signage, and radio, print, online and cable advertising. Local media are critical to building awareness of your event in the community. Send local reporters and bloggers a press release about your upcoming event, invite them to cover the event, and send them a follow-up press release after the event. The publicity will help spread the word about your business even to those who can’t attend.

You can download free email, blog, and social media post examples, as well as other resources, for free on the Shop Small site.

Build buzz in the community.

Use social media to get your target audience excited about the event. You can tease the event well in advance, post pictures of and news about your preparations, and even invite customers to the event via social media. Stir buzz and get people excited during the event by having an employee live tweet and post pictures and video from the event as it’s going on.

Develop promotional offers.

Figure out how you’ll market to customers when they’re at your event, whether with business cards and brochures, discount coupons or gift cards, or product giveaways and contests. After the event, you’ll most likely want to follow-up with visitors, especially new customers. Be sure to capture attendees’ contact information—this can be as simple as having them write their email addresses on a form or put business cards in a fishbowl for a drawing to win a free prize. Or if you don’t do this already, think about incorporating customer email address collection into your checkout process.

Follow up.

When the event is over that’s when your work really starts. Follow up with customers who attended the event to thank them and offer them something special, such as a discount. Ask them to complete a quick survey on the event’s success so you can improve for your next one.

Learn.

Assess how well your event achieved your goals. How many new customers showed up? How many unique or returning customers? How many units did you sell? How many attendees return to the store in the months following the event? Revisit the goals you set in the beginning, gauge how well you did and convert your findings into actionable information that will actually improve business.

For more information on this year’s Small Business Saturday, visit the Shop Small by American Express website.

Wanna keep in touch? Sign up for our newsletter and updates!

Image credit: American Express

What do the APIs for the best point-of-sale platforms have in common?

Retailers who work with ShoppinPal are often surprised by its ease of setup. Within an hour or less, the retailer’s store is online and consumers can start shopping in-store via mobile devices. This is because we do the legwork of integrating with POS vendors ahead of time and when we show up at the retailer’s doorstep, all that remains is simple configuration to get them up & running.

In order to be judicious with our go-to-market strategy, we take time to rate various point-of-sale platforms in the market by (a) their adoption rate and (b) their developer API.

API Comparison

Starting from the bare-bones feature set and moving towards the fully-furnished ones, let’s have a sneak-peek at what the APIs for the best point-of-sale platforms have in common:

  1. Almost all the APIs have the foresight to expose an endpoint for working with products:
    1. GET /api/products – this will fetch all the products in a store’s POS, nice & easy.
    2. POST /api/products – add a new product to the store’s POS.
    3. The ones that stand apart, also provide a way to filter the result set by specific product fields such as UPC, SKU, barcode, product_handle, product_name etc.
      • GET /api/products
        • ?upc=1234
    4. A cut above, are the ones that provide paging and multi-field-filters too.
      • GET /api/products
        • ?filter=”name matches generic OR description matches generic”
        • &from=0
        • &size=50
  2. Next come the APIs that expose endpoints for invoices or sales:
    1. GET or POST /api/sales
    2. The ones that stand apart, also provide a way to iteratively update the fields on an existing sale, without resetting all the other fields back to empty or zero.
      • PUT /sales/<sale_id>/
        • application/json: { “notes” : “this is for my son’s birthday so make sure to wrap it nicely & put a bow on it”}
        • application/json: { “notes” : “paypal transaction number 111555”}
    3. Payments can be accepted and processed out-of-band. So the API should allow reporting transaction details, this way sales can be marked as paid and closed.
  3. The ability to provide notifications for any updates or additions to products, inventory, sales or customers – is another key feature of a platform that is geared for success. More and more this is done via webhooks as it doesn’t stress out the retailer or the POS’s infrastructure and still provides the highest level of flexibility to developers.
  4. Allowing an API endpoint which tells the timezone of a retailer can be important as well.
  5. And the holy grail of “engineering done right” is an API that exposes tax calculations:
    • GET /taxes/
      • request: customer is a US veteran, we are in a Venezuela duty-free airport area, its presidents day, and the purchase includes liquor, cigarettes, perfume, t-shirt, flip-flops and a Hugo Chávez poster!
      • response: after applying the various tax-free, tax-exempt, must-tax etc. rules, the POS should provide both the total and itemized taxes for a full breakdown.

Feel free to share your own experiences and grading structure based on the POS APIs that you’ve worked with … please use the comments section.

Image credit: Good APIs Project Blog