Business

PowaTag e-commerce system debuts, aims to revolutionize shopping

E-Commerce IndustryConsumer Goods IndustriesAmazon.com Inc.Carrefour S.A.The Home DepotReebok Ltd.

Ever lust after a product displayed in a store that’s closed for the day? Or struggle to find the item you saw in a magazine or YouTube advertisement? Maybe you’re curious about something on a shelf but can’t find a salesperson to offer more information.

A British company called Powa Technologies said it has the solution to all of those consumer conundrums in the form of an e-commerce platform it calls a retail “evolution and revolution.”

Powa, started by serial entrepreneur Dan Wagner and operating on the nearly $100 million it’s raised in recent months, unveiled its closely held digital shopping tool PowaTag on Tuesday.

Designed to as a convenience for shoppers and to encourage impulse purchases, the setup revolves around an app that stores customers’ payment information like a mobile wallet.

But the app can also link up with outside cues created by Powa – QR codes printed on advertisements and price tags, audio watermarks on TV or radio spots, even Bluetooth “beacons” in physical stores – to pull up a product and purchase it with one touch.

Already, 240 brands – including Carrefour, Reebok, Quiksilver and Rebecca Minkoff– have signed on to participate, according to Powa. The app is now live, but Wagner said the full rollout is ongoing.

The system is vastly ambitious, Wagner told the Times this week. But he also said he envisions PowaTag becoming a standard and necessary part of the shopping experience.

“PowaTag is an advancement on the convenience of Amazon,” Wagner said. “Whether or not it’s an ‘Amazon killer,’ it doesn’t really matter – it just levels the playing field a bit.”

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Essentially, PowaTag is yet another attempt to solve the so-called omnichannel challenge that has captivated the retail industry in recent years: how to seamlessly integrate shopping across multiple media.

The system aims to consolidate retail innovations and e-commerce concepts that other companies have tried to implement piecemeal for years. Wagner said adoption of efforts such as Isis Mobile Wallet, Google Wallet, Square and Mastercard PayPass has lagged.

“They’ve been hiding in plain sight but have been very poorly executed,” he said. “We’ve woven all these things together.”

He also said PowaTag is built to prevent basket abandonment in e-commerce transactions.  Nearly seven in 10 online shoppers end up not buying a product they’ve placed into their digital basket, compared to just one in 10 in-store consumers, he said.

PowaTag’s one-touch purchasing system lowers the ratio in any retail setting by making it so easy to buy a product that shoppers don’t have time to change their minds, he said.

Same goes for its brick-and-mortar beacon system, which can identify customers who wander within a preset radius. Beacons transmit signals to shoppers’ devices that deliver details about nearby products along with targeted promotions.

Such social-shopping programs aren’t new – similar technology is being used in grocery aisles in Wal-Mart. But Wagner said the benefit of PowaTag is that users only need to download one app for hundreds of stores, instead of crowding their devices with different apps for different retailers.

Wagner said half a million stores will feature beacons by the end of the year.

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Powa has 400 employees working from 17 offices worldwide. Four offices are in the U.S., in New York, Atlanta, San Diego and Miami, but Wagner said more units are coming in Seattle, Dallas, San Francisco and Chicago.

“We’re really experienced e-commerce guys, not some small development team in the garage that’s just turned up,” he said. “We’re really used to this and we know what we’re doing. There may be hitches, but we don’t expect any major ones.”

Though Powa is a U.K. company, the PowaTag reveal occurred in New York.

“We don’t want to be pigeonholed and characterized as this little British company doing great stuff – we’re much bigger than that,” Wagner said. “It’s not just about being British, it’s about being a new model that allows retailers to transform their business.”

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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