Hands-on Shopping

Hointer converges mobile and in-store shopping

After customers choose what items they want to try on via tablet or smartphone, the store delivers merchandise through a chute to the dressing rooms.

Hointer Inc., a Seattle-based denimwear retailer, may be new (the first store opened in April 2012) and small (two branded stores in Seattle plus a pop-up inside a Levi’s store in New York City), but its goal is impressively large.

“We want to build a different store experience of the future,” said Nadia Shouraboura, founder and CEO of Hointer. “The store is divided into two parts, a showroom and a microwarehouse in back. We took traditional piles of clothes out of the showroom and into the back, where they are packed like sardines. That leaves a massive floor space where we can present the product in great detail.” 

The first major encounter customers have with technology is the Hointer mobile app, compatible with any Android, iOS or Windows device. Customers without a mobile device are provided with a Nexus tablet.

Customers with NFC-enabled devices can tap products to bring up a page that works like the product page of an e-commerce site, offering a product description, Instagram photos and even competing prices. Customers without NFC-enabled devices can scan a QR code to load the page. If a customer wants to try on a product (mostly pairs of jeans), they can add it to their shopping cart and type in specific colors and sizes.

“It works like mobile site shopping,” Shouraboura explained. “You shop with a mobile device while everything flies around you.” 

As customers add items to their shopping cart, the cloud-based “software brain” running the store sends a signal to the microwarehouse to prepare their delivery to a dressing room. Store management software runs on a public Amazon Web Services cloud, but everything else is proprietary.

When a customer is ready to try on merchandise, they are either assigned an open fitting room or wait to be notified by a buzzing sound on their device that a room is ready. An automated system provided by a German manufacturer picks items and delivers them via chute to the dressing room within 30 seconds. Shouraboura could not divulge specifics of how the system works, but employees with tablets can also manually pick items and send them through the chutes if needed. 

Customers place unwanted items in a return chute for automatic return to the microwarehouse. Different sizes or colors of items they return can be automatically requested for delivery with the app.

“There’s no need to leave the fitting room,” Shouraboura said. “The system finds the item in the size and/or color requested and delivers it.” 

To check out, existing shoppers can simply leave the store with selected items and have an account automatically charged. New customers or those who do not want to register with Hointer can also check out using in-store kiosks or by entering credit/debit card information into the app.

“Returns are almost non-existent because the customer can try on so many items with no wait,” Shourabora added.

Future plans include a current pilot of personalized suggestions offered through the app, with features such as Instagram videos of models displaying the product on a runway. Hointer is also experimenting with in-store stylists who can recommend items to customers based on their preferences and add items to their shopping carts with mobile devices.

“We’re a technology incubator,” concluded Shouraboura. “We run daily experiments.”

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