Speaking to Alex Schlagman, CEO of Pocket High Street, there's one statistic that keeps coming up: “Online to local retail is projected to be the largest customer journey in retail, bigger than local-only, and orders of magnitude larger than online-only, by 2020.”
Schlagman will be presenting at the Mobile Marketing Retail Summit in London next Thursday, outlining where the company is now, where it's headed and where it fits into that picture.
In short, though: Pocket High Street is a platform that aggregates and digitises live inventory data from bricks and mortar retailers, which can be used by publishers and bought by consumers, either through click-and-collect or delivery.
“We're creating this whole new data and ecosystem,” says Schlagman. “Firstly, because we're making data available around products for sale in shops right now, not just things in warehouses that are listed on websites. But secondly, because we're working with businesses that haven't engaged in that whole ecosystem before.”
Schlagman admits that this isn't an entirely new idea. “There's a lot of little local shopping marketplaces that have emerged around the world,” he says. “But none of them have really been able to get out of their own city and even if they do, they're scaling very slowly across platforms and sectors.”
Pocket High Street's solution to this problem is opening up its database for retailers and publishers alike. As Schlagman puts it, “it's like an API that connects any stock with any audience and any fulfilment as well.”
So what kind of companies are able to make use of Pocket High Street? On the publisher side, Schlagman says, “it can be anyone, really. The local news networks, independent bloggers, city guides, social media influencers, directory listings, anyone who's got an interest in – initially – London, and talking about the city to a London-focused audience.”
Publishers can leverage the platform in a number of ways. “We've got people integrating content and commerce in different ways, so writing articles about the top five bike shops in Hackney or a showcase on shops, all linked through to pages where you can see the real time inventory and order anything for delivery or click and collect,” he says.
Pocket High Street is developing some of the use cases itself – currently, it's working on a map widget where users can see stores around them then click directly through to make purchases, which is due to be adopted by local newspaper group Archant. Ultimately, though, the open nature of the platform means how it is used will lie with the publishers themselves.
“We're making our API available and allowing developers to do all kinds of wacky things with it. We have put some creative ideas out there, such as shoppable business listings so any of the online sites that give you information about a business can now have effectively a mini shop within that, but really it's up to the community to decide what actually happens.”
The motivation for publishers is a new way to monetise their content. Signed-up retailers pay a cut of any purchases – “like a hyperlocal on-demand affiliate proposition”, as Schlagman puts it – to the publisher and Pocket High Street.
The company should have a good understanding of what publishers can do with its platform – after, the first to make use of it was actually Pocket High Street itself, in its previous incarnation as a mobile app that listed London cycling shops.
“We had a big database of all the things for sale in all these bike shops and you could search for products and see where you where in relation to the things that you were looking for, and everything was then available for click and collect.”
It was while working on this app, and building up relationships with local stores, that Pocket High Street spotted a bigger opportunity. “We recognised that the whole economics of building local-to-local shopping marketplaces were broken,” he says, “and actually a whole new solution was needed.”
This brings us back around to those stats we opened with, and the problem Pocket High Street is really trying to tackle: the connection between physical and digital commerce.
The digital high street
“If you look at online retail, it's mostly things that you can order from warehouses,” Schlagman says. “The stock that's actually in all of these bricks-and-mortar shops – that these big retailers invest aggregated billions of dollars every year to maintain – is just not utilised.
“The historical experience for click-and-collect has been that an order comes in and the product is then sent from a warehouse to the shop to be picked up the next day. Meanwhile, there are billions of products for sale right now that could be available to collect direct from the store – but they're not available online.
“Effectively, the high street is the largest interconnected network of warehouses and showrooms in the world, but it's more or less disconnected from the internet. That stock is actually kind of invisible.”
Currently, all of the 400 stores signed up to Pocket High Street's platform are independent retailers, but that's not necessarily their direction going forward.
“Bricks-and-mortar chains are facing similar problems to the smaller independents,” Schlagman says. “They're trying to compete on like-for-like with online pureplays and they're just not playing to their strengths. They're not leveraging their location to be able to tap into local demand for the things they have to sell right now.
“And that's as true of PC World as it is of the electronic shops on Tottenham Court Road. They're facing similar challenges.
“The high street is far from dead but it can't continue to stand alone. It's going to be a digital high street that will survive, and prosper.”
Pocket High Street is currently in an open beta for independent retailers in London, but others retailers are able to register for future inclusion.
As well as broadening its range of retailer and publisher partners – not to mention developers for its API – Pocket High Street this years plans to build tools for native mobile development, so that its platform can integrated seamlessly into publisher's apps to make purchases without leaving the in-app environment.
To find out what else the company has in store (pun only slightly intended) you can see Alex Schlagman presenting alongside the likes of John Lewis at the Mobile Marketing Retail Summit in London on Thursday 14 April. The event is free to attend for retail brands – for more details, click here.