Aman Khurana of ‘Go Instore’: “Build a strong team around you”

Some fashion brands are using Augmented Reality (AR) to replace changing facilities and allow customers to “try on” products as they normally would in stores. There are a number of good AR solutions out there that allow you to try on clothes and see what they look like and allow for a sizing representation to […]

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Some fashion brands are using Augmented Reality (AR) to replace changing facilities and allow customers to “try on” products as they normally would in stores. There are a number of good AR solutions out there that allow you to try on clothes and see what they look like and allow for a sizing representation to give shoppers a better idea of what they should be buying.

As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aman Khurana, Co-Founder of Go Instore; a technology solution connecting digital customers with instore experts using an AI augmented, live video platform. Aman has spent 20 years delivering technology-based solutions for businesses. Before launching Go Instore, Aman worked as a technical consultant before transitioning into commercial roles at London Equisys. He then moved on to found his first start-up, MindAction, in 2010. He has also held senior roles at SEOJunkies and Peerius.

The concept of Go Instore came together in 2014 when Aman and business partner André Hordagoda identified a weakness in the growing, yet highly impersonal online shopping craze: it has a low conversion rate compared to physical stores. Go Instore humanises the customer experience in the digital world by enabling customers to buy and learn from product experts via world leading immersive live video technology.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career as a technical consultant before transitioning over into the commercial (dark) side. Over the past 15 years I have worked in several commercial roles, heading up various teams and during this time, I came to the sad realization that a number of the companies I worked for consistently failed to deliver on what was sold to our customers. This was extremely frustrating and, in some cases, soul destroying. These companies were not investing in the right personnel and technologies to deliver on what they had promised to their clients. After going through this monotonous and soul-destroying cycle twice in a row, I reached breaking point and decided to set out to change things.

I co-founded Go Instore back in 2014 with my business partner Andre, because we wanted to do things differently, our way and actually deliver the outstanding level of service that tech companies always seem to promise, but very few actually appear to deliver on. We knew the only way to do that was to go out on our own.

We were also very aware that a lot of the companies we’d worked for had a pretty disappointing culture; they didn’t inspire us to go into work every day. So, this was another of the principles upon on which we founded Go Instore. We wanted to create an organization with a positive working environment where people loved coming to work. Sounds simple and easy in words, the harsh reality is actually neither.

We work hard to support our staff at Go Instore every day; to make them feel empowered; give them clear progression paths and opportunities to develop. We look to ensure they are not feeling overwhelmed, or micro-managed, a constant juggling act. We have seen a significant period of growth recently, and I’ve made sure I taken the time to sit down with each and every new starter, and describe to them our culture, and instill it into them from the beginning of their career journey with us.

Andre and I started Go Instore because we saw an opportunity, it was clear retail was moving online, but it was also clear online shopping was missing the human element that shoppers love when they visit a store — and that is how Go Instore was born. We humanize customer experiences in the digital world by connecting online shoppers to in-store staff members via live-video solutions.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Back in March, a popular US retailer reached out to us as all their stores had closed due to lockdown, leaving the business with no choice but to furlough much of its staff. We launched a 5-user pilot with our technology platform across one of its websites to connect staff members to online shoppers, which allowed some members of staff to continue working remotely and showcase the products from the safety of their own homes.

Based on the initial success, this quickly grew to a 650-user set up spanning seven websites and the urgency and importance of both the client and us collaborating in a timely manner resulted in the scale up project being delivered in 3 weeks, for something that would normally take 3 months. The best part was that this project resulted in 650 members of staff being un-furloughed. We were (and still are) so proud of our team who delivered above and beyond all of our expectations. Of course, there were some late nights and some extra support given here and there, but we really felt we were making a small positive difference by helping keep people in work during these uncertain times.

The work we did for that retailer epitomized all the reasons Andre and I started Go Instore. We were able to deliver excellent service to our client, while also making a real difference by enabling that retailer to continue to engage with its consumers. Our team worked really hard on the delivery at such a chaotic and uncertain time for all, and they felt immensely satisfied from the work they were engaged in, we couldn’t be prouder of the results.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

When we first launched Go Instore, we decided to build it to run on Smart glasses, i.e. that would be the device the salesperson would use when receiving calls from customers. We researched different smart glasses, including Google Glass, before deciding on the Epson Moverio range. At the time smart-glasses where all the rage and we gained a lot of publicity as a result, so much so that we become known as the smart-glasses guys! After some time, it became clear that smart glasses needed more time and a couple of further evolutions before they would be successfully adopted for our use case. In 2016 we decided to focus our energies on optimizing the Go Instore app for smartphones instead, however still to this day, some people still refer to us as the smart-glasses guys!

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We are working on a number of global projects to support retailers and brands in delivering a visually immersive, easy to use and efficient, human led sales engagement with customers who are browsing and shopping on their website. Retailers and brands have learnt from the first wave of coronavirus constraints that if we go back into any sort of second lockdown, digital will again be their only way of connecting with customers and generating revenue. The first lockdown led brands and retailers to quickly realize that what they currently offer as a shopping experience on their website is not optimized for delivering a great customer experience and hence does not efficiently convert browsers to buyers.

Due to the intense demand in online shopping, we are also seeing a lot of interest in the “Dark Store” concept — physical stores that serve online customers only — and we are currently helping a number of retailers set these up.

The benefit being that Dark Stores can connect all of the retailer’s online traffic to a single physical location, where shop-floor experts, using Go Instore, are able to communicate directly with consumers. The Dark Store has clearly proven to deliver a better customer experience as we have seen the Average Order Value (AOV) increase around 200% through the Dark Store. It empowers shoppers to make complex and considered purchasing decisions and enhances the experience of shopping online. Dark Stores can host and demonstrate a retailer’s entire product range, without needing any stock. All it needs is one of each item to demo to consumers.

The Dark Store concept also allows retailers to have their physical space in a cheaper location — it doesn’t need to be on an expensive high street in order to try and drive foot traffic. Overall, cost saving on this model is pretty significant and we expect to see this becoming increasingly popular over the next 6 to 12 months.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’ve got four key tips for colleagues in not only my industry but generally:

  1. Have an unwavering level of self-belief — you will come across challenges every day and it’s so important to believe in yourself and your conviction.
  2. Have a business partner — running a business is too much to do on your own. You need someone on the same level as you who really understands the pain and can console you and pick you up when you are down and vice versa. The key thing there is when you choose your business partner, it is vital they have the same level of ambition, same work ethic, same principles and you actually get along with them as a human being. If you can’t have fun together, it will not work.
  3. Build a strong team around you — it is vital to have people in your business who are better than you at what they do. Some people are intimidated by this, but it is those experts are the ones who are going to help the business thrive.
  4. Emphasise your company culture— make sure all your employees and colleagues are aware of the culture you believe in and establish it across the organisation.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My business partner, Andre. We have known each other for the better part of 30 years, and we have been working intensely together for the last eight years.

We have been through some really tough times, but we have never fallen out with one another. Of course, we have had disagreements but ultimately, we always have each other’s backs and trust each other unreservedly.

Above all, I think the thing I am most grateful for is that we are both able to put our egos to one side, in order to help and support each other. When you have a relationship like that with your business partner, you can achieve anything.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

At the height of the pandemic, with all stores closed, retail staff around the world were being furloughed or made redundant as brands tried to cut costs where possible and survive the losses they were facing. This meant a significant proportion of the population was now out of work — which is where Go Instore stepped in.

We showed retailers that their most valued asset, their salespeople, could be used across digital channels to support the only possible sales channel at the time, online, in a way that brought a human touch to retailers’ digital worlds. In fact, since the start of lockdown back in March, our user numbers have increased by around 800% as brands brought back their staff to support consumers shopping for products online and help convert physical footfall, to digital.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Some fashion brands are using Augmented Reality (AR) to replace changing facilities and allow customers to “try on” products as they normally would in stores. There are a number of good AR solutions out there that allow you to try on clothes and see what they look like and allow for a sizing representation to give shoppers a better idea of what they should be buying.

Retailers are also benefitting from click & collect, or curb side pick-up, where customers can buy what they need online before heading straight to the store or a pick-up point without even having to leave their vehicles. This is another contingency plan brands have been putting in place to adapt to some of the challenges they face in the pandemic. We are seeing grocers use micro-fulfilment centers to support the chain’s curb side pick-up and delivery service. The centers use technology to automate picking and packing of products, making it a much more efficient process. This then increases the probability of customers receiving the right order and this arriving on time. This is a vital part of enhancing and improving the grocery customer experience.

Video powered retail has also come to the forefront as brands understand this is a great way to connect to customers while they are perhaps unable or unwilling to visit stores. At the end of the day, people buy from people so having human connection on online channels are going to be vital to survive in this new retail landscape.

Finally, retailers are enabling ease of payment and electronic payments to make the shopping journey as seamless as possible. Making a completely cashless transaction is going to be heavily fulfilled within the new buying journey.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

Physical retail spaces will continue to exist but as a growing number of people shop online, some stores will naturally become obsolete, some will evolve into hubs to support online sales (Dark Stores) and some will become experiential stores. Experiential stores will continually need to focus on the instore experience and retail theatre they deliver to customers, as that will be the differentiator and the key to ensuring brand loyalty and return visits.

Localized lockdowns, health concerns and the convenience of online shopping is preventing people from venturing out to the shops. At the same digital shopping is missing the human element that shopping in physical stores is able to provide. People crave human interaction and need advice when making considered purchases such as fridges, jewelry, TV’s, furniture, bicycles, and many other items consumers may buy every couple of years, or after long periods of time.

This is where physical spaces will support digital sales, giving retail staff a location to give online shoppers an in-store customer experience. I anticipate they will also become delivery hubs, working as a space for click and collect, returns and quickly sending out orders to customers to arrive the same, or the next day.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

Over recent years we have seen many retailers come and go but those who have thrived are the brands who listen to customers and tailor the way they interact with them accordingly.

International lockdowns left brands with no choice but to shift entire businesses online to continue to serve customers via digital channels. Those who suffered during the pandemic more often than not, did not have an adequate online offering meaning customers shifted to competitors to purchase products from them due to convenience and availability. One thing we can learn from profitable retailers, is that putting the customer experience first, listening to their needs and adapting your approach to meet those needs, is absolutely essential in order for retailers to survive and thrive.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Again, this comes down to customer experience. In today’s tough retail landscape, it is imperative retailers focus on getting the customer experience right — and with more and more shoppers moving online, the digital customer experience has never been more important.

Customer experience is expected to overtake both price and product as a competitive advantage this year. With a strong online customer experience, brands can ensure customers continue to shop with them, rather than turning to competitors for an enhanced experience.

One-way retailers can boost the online customer experience is by connecting the physical and digital worlds, as well as implement emerging and innovative technology to reach at home consumers. In particular when we look at considered purchases, shoppers seek guidance to make sure they are getting the right product. They can only do through online channels by utilizing live video technology.

We are at a critical point for retail through Covid and retailers who can replace physical footfall with digital footfall are the ones we will continue to see and read about in years to come, and they’re the ones that are keeping at the forefront of implementing technology to connect and enhance the user experience.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If everyone, every single day could do one non-selfish act for another human being, that would be a start!

Imagine if every single person did one thing for someone else, every day to pay it forward. It would change our outlook immensely…

Unfortunately, in my experience, a lot of human beings focus on how they are being affected first, versus how they are affecting others. If we as a mass people could try a little harder, and at least once a day not put ourselves and our needs first perhaps offering assistance, compliments, advice or just a good deed to another individual, that would make the world a better place.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Head over to our website — or follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram to see what we do next!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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