Helene Berkowitz of ReceetMe: “Retail is no longer only about the products we buy”

Digital services. Shoppers expect convenience and real-time information at their fingertips. That’s why most consumers shop while holding their phones in their hands and why mobile payments have risen in popularity. Added digital services are icing on the cake, from touch screens inside fitting rooms to digital browsing and AR platforms that enhance and optimize […]

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Digital services. Shoppers expect convenience and real-time information at their fingertips. That’s why most consumers shop while holding their phones in their hands and why mobile payments have risen in popularity. Added digital services are icing on the cake, from touch screens inside fitting rooms to digital browsing and AR platforms that enhance and optimize the retail experience.

As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Helene Berkowitz, a Retail Tech executive and startup founder with a background in finance and international payment systems. She is passionate about technology with a human component. In 2017, Helene founded ReceetMe to create a positive digital retail experience focused on the consumer.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’ve always had a penchant for improving inefficiencies. When I see something lacking a smooth process or unnecessary steps being taken, I have to take action. It’s simply a pet peeve of mine.

A few years ago, I bought my husband a pair of jeans and mistakenly purchased the wrong size. I wanted to exchange them for the right size, but I lost the receipt. As I went digging around multiple purses, pockets, and wallets, it occurred to me just how inefficient paper receipts are, with email versions not much of an improvement. After all, who wants MORE emails in their already crowded inboxes?

With digital transformation at the forefront of virtually every industry, I considering the simplest, most effective method of implementing a more efficient digital receipt solution, and so ReceetMe was born.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

When I first started the company, I knew that I needed to create a strong team, beginning with the right technical co-founder. I met several potential candidates, who for one reason or another, didn’t work out. During this time, I changed my email account password on my desktop computer, but forgot to update it on my phone.

Months later, I updated something else on my phone and this time included my password, not realizing that there were 15+ emails that had been stuck in my outbox the entire time. This, of course, triggered my mobile email program to immediately send out those emails, some of which were messages to co-founder candidates who were no longer relevant. That caused an awkward situation, to say the least.

Lesson learned: always update your password across all devices at the same time.

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

My parents. They’re immigrants who came from humble beginnings who got to live the American Dream. I learned about hard work, dedication, and the importance of helping others from them. My father emigrated to North America without speaking a word of English, built a career in hi-tech, and was laid off 8 times throughout his 30-year career, but he never gave up. He helped other people find jobs and taught them about networking. My mother worked for non-profit organizations and taught English to new immigrants. They’ve both always supported me in whatever I chose to do in life and were one of the first to help me get my company off the ground.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I recently read Satya Nadella’s “Hit Refresh”. I was inspired by how he blends his passion for business with his dedication to family; they aren’t mutually exclusive. This is something I try to emulate in my own business while managing a busy family life. I’m a mother of 4 girls. Showing my daughters what they can accomplish is something I’m especially proud of.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What I think makes ReceetMe stand out is its simplicity. Very often, companies spend a lot of time and resources developing extremely advanced technologies and then they try to find a problem in the market to solve. This has never been our approach. We solve a very common pain point — paper and email receipts — with a simple solution in a beautiful layout that’s virtually effortless for the user.

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

Research continuously. Learn as much as you can about your competitors. Surround yourself with people who support you, challenge you, and push you to be your best. Never stop asking questions.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. 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?

First, there’s no denying that e-commerce has skyrocketed. However, brick-and-mortar retail is far from dead. A number of retailers are actually expanding, such as Dollar General and Petco, while Adidas and Costco are continuing to invest heavily in their physical stores. These brands understand the need for a robust omnichannel strategy, which includes in-store shopping. However much online shopping will continue to grow, there will always be a need for physical stores.

Second, profitable retailers excel at creating outstanding loyalty programs. Retailers must offer REAL rewards that customers actually want. Starbucks does this exceptionally well. How? By giving customers stuff they really want, like free refills and snacks. Too many retailers offer things like a free iPhone (what if a customer already has one or is an Android lover?) or discounts on products they can’t or don’t want to use.

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 retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

I would advise them to invest the resources to find a customer segment that they can target more precisely. Large conglomerates tend to cast a wide net; smaller enterprises ought to think smaller and refocus their offering. Small store formats with localized inventory tend to outperform larger retail chains.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

When CEOs and founders start a retail business, they sometimes lose sight of the customer journey or the pain points. These issues become lost in the shuffle of R&D, fundraising, sales, and marketing, yet they are so critical to a retail business’ success.

To avoid this problem, it’s important that the founder take the time to act like a consumer. If you’re the CEO of an AR platform for grocery commerce, head to the supermarket and use the AR app in the cereal aisle. See it through the eyes of your users. All the QA and beta tester data in the world can’t compare to first-hand experience.

This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?

Retail is no longer only about the products we buy. It’s about the experience of shopping — how it makes us feel — so there’s this whole psychological, emotional element at play.

When a consumer has a great retail experience, they become champions and brand ambassadors. In the age of social media, this is marketing gold. CX has a direct correlation to sales, as well. A strong CX is essential for a retail business to be successful and maintain its competitive advantage.

If a company understands where its customers are, they must make themselves available there, wherever that is. For example, a retailer who sees an uptick in communications on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger should promote these channels as its top communication tools for customer engagement. When you’re approachable, customers respond and sales follow suit.

We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?

I believe it’s a disconnect interdepartmentally. In a typical organization, the Product team thinks about product features. The Marketing department thinks about its marketing campaigns and ROI. Sales teams think about closing deals. Rarely does it happen that all teams work harmoniously in sync together.

Retail companies need to think more holistically. Customer experience should be a priority across the organization, from Marketing to Customer Support, from Sales to BizDev, from Finance to Operations, all the way to the Executive leadership.

Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?

For all the talk about contactless shopping, the receipt process is still handled physically. Our customer’s ‘wow’ moment happened when they witnessed how generating digital receipts at checkout really was contactless and the speed of the process was fast and frictionless.

Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?

We’re beginning to see that ripple effect now. The pandemic has pushed contactless shopping to the forefront of the retail sector. Consumers are more health conscious than ever before, so there’s a greater focus on optimizing the in-store experience while decreasing physical contact between consumers and store associates.

Implementing a digital receipt solution ensures there is no physical exchange of paper receipts, which contain toxic chemicals coated on thermal paper, and no need for shoppers to manually enter an email address on a keypad, which has been touched by thousands of other shoppers. Retail executives, such as Chief Digital Officers, Heads of Innovation, Chief Sustainability Officers — they’re all searching for digital solutions that address the need for innovative tools and sustainable processes.

A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?

A fantastic retail experience is a combination of convenience, simplicity, and smart returns.

1. Consumers demand convenience. It’s why shoppers will spend more money at retail chains that offer curbside pickup vs. going to cheaper stores where they must physically go in, choose their products, checkout, and then leave the store. Flexible payment options also fall into this category. A retailer who offers ApplePay, Venmo, and mobile checkout will likely see their sales increase vs. another retailer who limits payment options to credit, debit, and cash.

2. Simplicity is often overlooked in favor of more robust, deep technical solutions. Yet the psychology of shopping demands simple solutions. People want to get in, get they want, and get out. If digital systems take too long or feel too cumbersome, consumers won’t use them. Creating an exceptional customer experience demands solutions that are simple enough for the majority of shoppers to use.

3. Returns and exchanges can be a double-edged sword. Retailers incur significant financial losses on returned items. However, smart retail leaders understand that a positive return policy creates upsell opportunities and ensures a fantastic customer experience. You know how you can order something on Amazon and return it to a Kohl’s store? That’s customer experience done right.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Omnichannel. The customer experience between online and offline must be seamless, transparent, and delightful. There’s nothing more frustrating to a consumer than checking product comparisons online, then seeing something different at the store, or vice versa.

2. Invest in brick-and-mortar. Even in a digital world, consumers crave physical experiences. This has never been truer than today. While the pandemic has caused e-commerce to surge, it’s also making consumers miss the in-store experience. The social and psychological aspect of shopping in a store with family or friends, trying out products, feeling them in a physical space — these simply can’t be replicated online.

3. Digital services. Shoppers expect convenience and real-time information at their fingertips. That’s why most consumers shop while holding their phones in their hands and why mobile payments have risen in popularity. Added digital services are icing on the cake, from touch screens inside fitting rooms to digital browsing and AR platforms that enhance and optimize the retail experience.

4. Better loyalty programs. Every retailer on earth has a loyalty program. To keep consumers engaged and coming back, retailers should create programs that are simple, transparent, and consistent. Rewards programs that are complicated, unclear, and constantly changing cause a negative user experience.

5. Get in on wellness and sustainability. Health and wellness have been on the rise for some time, now more than ever. We’re seeing this across many channels: health and beauty, apparel, furniture, even pet supplies. Socially conscious consumers want to ensure that the brands they buy use recyclable materials, contain natural ingredients, and benefit the environment.

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 I could start a movement of greater good, it would be about mental health. I wish that mental healthcare was on par with physical healthcare. I think the pandemic has shown us just how critical it is. Although mental illness is less taboo than it used to be, there’s a long way to go before we get to a place of equal healthcare for both physical and mental health.

How can our readers further follow your work?

We’re on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/receetme/, Twitter @ReceetMe, and Facebook: www.facebook.com/receetme. We publish insightful, funny, and interesting blogs on our website, as well: https://www.receet.me/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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