During Kateri Osborne and Susan Akbarpour’s talk at #LetsGetSmart18 at ICSC RECon, they discussed integrating the retail industry with technology.
Kateri Osborne is the Director of Events at CRETech and the Newsfunnel, which aim to bring innovation to Commercial Real Estate, using events, content, and news. Susan Akbarpour is the CEO of Mavatar, a company that builds software to close the gap between online and offline retail.
Susan began by discussing the genesis of Mavatar and its mCart platform. She had always been bothered that there’s no way to track the return of advertising dollars in sales dollars. She also wanted to build a product for the consumer, not just retailers. While today’s retail environment has lots of options for consumers—between all the apps, websites, and brick and mortar storefronts—shoppers can often be overwhelmed by all these options.
These days, Susan said, when people want to buy something, they don’t have the time to spend all day shopping. This is especially true for working women, who still like to shop more than men, but don’t have as much time to do this as previous generations of female homemakers.
Online shopping provides a partial remedy for this time deficit, Susan added, but it is not a complete solution. Online shopping hasn’t had the growth that was predicted for it, constituting only 10% of retail. What’s missing from online shopping, Susan posited, is the human component: “touch and feel, socializing…you can’t do online shopping with your mom, sisters, and friends. Share ideas, have fun.”
To bridge the gap between people’s desire to shop in person while also taking into account their limited time, Susan and the Mavatar team created the mCart platform. mCart lets retail businesses, such as malls and large stores, easily create their own marketplace. Consumers can use the mCart platform to view and interact with the marketplace. This unified retail ecosystem helps businesses organize their online presence and gives consumers a more time efficient and engaging retail experience.
If this sounds somewhat like Amazon to you, that’s intentional. Mavatar was partially inspired to make the mCart platform by Amazon’s success. Amazon has been so successful because, Susana noted, “consumers love the experience of the marketplace” that Amazon provides. However, big retailers have reason not to work with Amazon because its uniformity dilutes their brand and it creates a very fragmented marketplace. Also, as Kateri noted, the quality of products on Amazon can be variable, as there are many small merchants that sell poorly made products in its marketplace. When you shop on Amazon, you’re much less sure of the quality of what you buy on Amazon.
The mCart platform allows businesses to create their own little “mini-Amazons.” For instance, a mall could log all of its inventory across all its stores using mCart, and shoppers could search the entire mall for what they want before going. Then, shoppers could add the products they’re interested in to their shopping cart and go to the mall where their cart is ready for them to pick up or try out.
Another important aspect of mCart for our social media age is that the shopping carts are shareable across many platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. Social media influencers, like fashion bloggers and celebrities, can use these shared mCarts to monetize their influence.
The influencer payment system of mCart is one of its most innovative features. It uses blockchain technology to deliver micropayments to influencers for the content they promote. Without blockchain’s automated payments, it would have been impossible to deliver all these micropayments by more traditional manners of payment, such as checks.
As the mCart platform pays people for promoting products, it should lead to an increase of user-generated advertising.
To build the innovations of the mCart platform, Mavatar has spent the past seven years trying out different “windows and doors” for users’ different shopping behaviors. The alpha testing of mCart showed that every shopper has their own unique shopping behavior, and mCart took the disparity of these different styles into account when building the platform so all types of users feel comfortable.
By the end of 2019, mCart should have 10 large platforms up and running.
Watch Kateri and Susan's presentation below:
Thanks to Howard Kline and CRE Radio and TV for the video.