Theatro: Empowering the Next Generation of Store Associates

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KEY POINTS

 
  • Theatro provides a voice platform, virtual voice assistant and a voice-controlled wearable for brick-and-mortar retail employees to help improve in-store communication, worker productivity and customer engagement. The company has developed a small (1.5 oz.) Wi-Fi-based wearable and voice platform that connects employees to one another, to headquarters and to the retailer’s information systems (think Siri or Alexa in an earbud).
  • Theatro’s voice-based application platform connects store associates to their Wi-Fi network, allowing, for example, inventory lookup or a price check with a simple voice command. This removes the need for associates to walk to a terminal or to the stock room to check or pull inventory, conduct a price check or request floor support.
  • Retailers that have used the tool in stores have seen associates save, on average, 12% more of their time. They have also seen a 77% increase in associate response time and higher loyalty registrations, which has led to lower in-store abandonment rates and higher sales.

Industry Overview

As retail sales continue to shift online, there is increasing pressure for brick-and-mortar retailers to leverage their physical presence to better compete against e-commerce disruption. This reality arguably makes the role of the store associate one of the most important assets for retailers. Today’s informed and savvy shoppers expect associates to provide them with instant, useful information and excellent customer service.

As a result, we are seeing retailers experiment with associate-enabling technologies, beacons, kiosks and digital displays to enhance customers’ access to product inventory and assistance. However, integrating technology to empower store associates remains a challenge, as many retailers are bound by legacy in-store communication and information systems that are often outdated and inefficient.

Typically, store associates do not have mobile access to their information systems, so they must walk to a computer or visit the stock room to check inventory and product information, which can disrupt the flow of customer service on a sales floor. Some retailers provide associates with walkie-talkie devices or headsets, but these can be distracting and inefficient, and they cannot support mobile apps. Retailers must recognize that developing digital applications to match connected consumers’ in-store needs is paramount.

 

 

Theatro’s Voice Platrom Solution

Theatro brings the advantages of Internet of Things (IoT) wearables and new workforce-optimized apps together in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering to provide companies in retail, hospitality and manufacturing with a new breed of mobile solutions for hourly employees. Theatro allows each wearer to instantly contact a specific person or group simply by tapping the device, and then saying “hello” and the intended target’s name. The wearable device is about the size of a key fob for a car and works in conjunction with a discreet earpiece, allowing employees to interact with customers while keeping their hands free.

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The Theatro voice platform also connects to the store’s enterprise systems, enabling associates to gain access to key information such as product recommendations, morning huddle plans, mission-critical alerts and contextual training, all with a simple voice request. This eliminates the need for employees to leave a customer in-aisle to gather information at a terminal, allowing them to spend more time face-to-face with the customer. Theatro also allows managers to communicate important messages, notes of recognition and training information to individuals in real time or offline through a verbal e-mail inbox for each associate.

The solution also includes Theatro’s Manager’s Application and Content Delivery Manager, which enables broad dissemination of internal communications sent as verbal email. The Manager’s Application runs on both iPhone and Android devices, allowing store, regional and corporate managers to communicate instantly with any employee in any store.

The company offers a suite of productivity applications for retailers. Theatro’s Indoor Location App, for example, enables team members and management to find employees by name, expertise and location to ensure all store zones are sufficiently covered in real time. The manager can know who is at the register and who is in the stock room, and can speak directly into an employee’s earbud. The system can also facilitate omnichannel orders, such as buy-online, pick-up-in-store orders, and, in conjunction with a retailer’s order management system, can choose the optimal store and employee to fulfill the order.

 

Dallas-based Theatro launched its first commercial product in 2015, and now has deployments with 13 retailers. More than 40,000 associates use the company’s wearables each day. Theatro’s SaaS model provides the voice-controlled software, hardware and platform as a service for a subscription fee, based on the number of employees the retailer has. Theatro provides the IoT devices and covers any costs associated with the wearables. The software integrates with the retailer’s existing infrastructure, inventory management platforms and other enterprise technologies through an extensible set of APIs. The company has raised a total of $15.2 million.

 

 

What Problem Does Theatro Solve?

While the e-commerce space is somewhat saturated with communication solutions, Theatro is positioned to address the in-store communication challenges that affect the majority of retailers—as almost 90% of retail sales are still generated from stores.

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Theatro’s technology helps retailers increase in-store sales and customer loyalty. According to a leading home goods retailer, Theatro drove a 7% lift in loyalty registration for the company, which experienced an incremental sales gain of $87 million annually. The retailer noted faster response times, which led to less abandonment. By bringing voice-assisted selling capabilities directly to the ear of retail store associates, Theatro enables associates to upsell and cross-sell. Neiman Marcus said that the solution “significantly streamlined store communication and improved our customer service.” The solution helps companies:

  1. Decrease customer wait times. The platform removes the need for associates to walk to the stock room to check or pull inventory, conduct a price check, or request floor support. The technology enables managers and store associates to locate specific employees by name, expertise or location and get needed information without ever leaving the floor or the customer. Open-ended requests via radio are replaced with Theatro’s closed-loop, measurable, targeted requests, which have been shown to improve response rates by 77%, leading to lower abandonment rates and higher sales, according to Theatro.
  2. Connect regional leaders to their teams. Regional managers can initiate real-time two-way communications directly to individuals or groups to provide performance updates and execution plans. Product announcements, employee promotions and store alerts can easily be distributed in real time or on a scheduled basis directly to individuals and groups, storewide or chainwide.
  3. Gain insights on store performance. Theatro’s analytics tool can evaluate patterns and trends in productivity and communication and measure associate performance. Retailers and store managers can discover which associates are performing well, or identify stores that have the fastest response times to customer requests.
  4. Optimize in-store fulfillment and omnichannel sales. Theatro’s real-time data management and inventory visibility platform allows for voice-activated inventory checks and enables associates to receive buy-online, pick-up-in-store pick tasks in real time while on the sales floor.

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The Theatro “heads-up and hands-free” platform is unique in that it is voice-activated. The hardware, a Wi-Fi-based wearable, allows for direct communication versus through a smartphone, and allows store associates to interact hands free when speaking with customers. In addition, Theatro provides new associate forensics data, such as their influence on others, their responsiveness and locational context.

Theatro is currently working with The Container Store, Neiman Marcus, Cabela’s, Fry’s Electronics and seven of the 15 largest retail chains in the US, and is looking to expand its footprint in the US.

 

Publication Date: 
Thursday, May 25, 2017
Publication: 
Fung Global Retail & Tech
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