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TBS spoke with George Freney, the brain behind the innovative Booodl, who save shoppers time by helping them find the right physical store selling what they want.

 

 

Hi George. Can you please tell The Big Smoke readers a bit about your background before you came to lead Booodl?

I hail from Adelaide in South Australia and I do have a fairly varied and interesting background. By training I’m a chemical engineer – an avenue I never directly pursued but one that provided a great platform for learning how to tackle large and complex problems. I’ve been applying that to building my own businesses and helping other entrepreneurs since then. In past roles, I’ve been the GM of a furniture manufacturer, the IT guy in a large retail business and I’ve started and run numerous companies myself, ranging from spring water and t-shirts to nightclubs. I did say varied!

My latest venture before Booodl was ConTgo, a mobile travel technology business, which was sold to US-listed Concur in 2013. Leading that process taught me a lot about building businesses and gave me the hunger for building technology that makes people’s lives easier.

While selling ConTgo I encountered a very simple problem: I kept forgetting to buy my wife a USB cable when I was at Westfield Bondi Junction. She wasn’t happy! It was then that the idea for Booodl started to form.

 

Tell us about Booodl. What’s the grand vision?

Booodl saves shoppers time by helping them find the right physical retail store selling the product they want. They can do this via our website, our iOS or Android apps, and now on Apple Watch too. It’s sort of like Google, but only for the physical world (not online retail). By solving that problem for shoppers, Booodl will help retailers (stores, brands, malls and other retail places) to be discovered and increase shopper visits and sales. We’re all about raising the physical retail ecosystem up!

It’s a very tough problem to solve as you need to get a lot of data about the products retail stores sell. We’re tackling it in three phases.

Phase 1: help shoppers find stores based on the brand and category of product they’re looking for.
Phase 2: help shoppers find stores based on the product name.
Phase 3: help shoppers find stores based on size, colour and inventory.

That’s the grand vision we’re working towards. People often forget that before retailers organised the data on websites to be indexed by search engines, you couldn’t find the right online retailer selling what you wanted! It’s seamless today, and we will do the same for physical retail.

 

You talked recently about the state of bricks-and-mortar retail in Australia. What do you think is the biggest mistake Australian retailers are currently making?

Definitely underestimating the threat of Amazon.

They’ve made their intentions clear: they are coming to Australia. But despite warnings like this one that “Amazon will eat our breakfast, lunch and dinner”, physical retailers are still a step behind.

Australian retailers don’t yet understand the implications of the Amazon ecosystem and what that means. They have the most comprehensive product catalogue and an incredible understanding of shopper behaviour, not to mention their Alexa product; an intelligent voice assistant that will power their next generation of voice search.

They’re a giant and there’s no point chasing them. You won’t win. The way the physical retail ecosystem can defend against Amazon is:

Prepare now: there is no time like the present, particularly where Amazon is concerned! Physical retailers need to future proof now, and SDO (Store Discovery Optimisation) is the way to do that.

Play to your strengths: you won’t beat Amazon at their game (e-commerce), beat them at yours (bricks-and-mortar). Despite the perceived dominance of e-commerce, 90 percent of sales still take place in-store. So focus your innovation efforts on the in-store experience, rather than online, to build customer loyalty and engage with shoppers in a way Amazon can’t.

Treat your store as a media channel: this is an idea we first heard from The Retail Prophet, Doug Stephens. Your physical shop isn’t just a box that sells products, it’s another channel for your customers to engage with and experience your retail brand. It should be measured accordingly (not just by how many sales it generates!).

One of Amazon’s key value propositions is convenience – that’s the main reason most people shop online. But we can make offline just as convenient through Store Discovery Optimisation. The more data stores provide, the more discoverable they become, and the more convenient it then is for shoppers who want to buy products they sell.

 

Can you explain to TBS readers how Store Discovery Optimisation works?

Store Discovery Optimisation is all about making sure the right store is found by the right shopper, at the right time. It’s the whole process around making stores discoverable, much like how Search Engine Optimisation is about helping websites be better discovered.

By sharing their data down to the category, brand and product level, a store will become optimised for discovery, so they’ll be found by nearby shoppers searching for their products.

We don’t just do this on the Booodl platform; we make sure physical retailers rank in relevant Google search results too!

We’re so passionate about this concept that we just launched a whole website dedicated to it: StoreDiscoveryOptimisation.com.

 

What is the key trend every retailer should know about?

The rise of location-centric search. By that I mean shoppers who are searching in-the-moment for things nearby: “the closest store selling Nike Air Max” or “nearby shops selling Samsung phone chargers”, for example. Whether you’re a global player or a local boutique, knowing how to deliver on these searches in the moments that matter is essential – when people are actively looking to find and buy products your store sells.

The interesting thing about location-centric search is that it’s growing like crazy despite the results being poor. Recent Google research showed that searches containing “near me” are up a whopping 34X since 2011, and 76 percent of shoppers who conduct a local search on their smartphone visit a store within a day. The key takeaway is if you make it easy for shoppers to search location centrically and find your store on mobile, you will end up with more shopper visits.

On the topic of trends, I can’t ignore the rise of intelligent voice assistants! Voice search is the fastest growing type of search (55 percent of teens and 41 percent of adults use voice search on a daily basis). Consumers are searching on-the-go (whether via text search, chat bots or voice search) and they expect the right answer, right when they want it. If physical retailers want to capture those shopper visits and sales, they need to make sure they’re discoverable. That’s what we’re passionately dedicated to at Booodl: helping the physical retail ecosystem thrive through SDO.

 

What is your biggest advice to tech entrepreneurs navigating the e-commerce and retail space?

Try and find something unique and different – something that solves a real problem. Once you find it, pursue it relentlessly. Also, if you’re providing a service to retailers, I would highly recommend not building one reliant on a large app audience; it’s crazy hard and expensive. Four out of five of the world’s top apps are owned by Facebook, and they consume 80 percent of time spent in apps. If you winning requires building an app audience, think again.

 

You’ve been very successful raising money in Australia, including a $2.8M round led by Scentre Group. Any advice for founders looking to do the same in Australia?

I think there’s never been a better time in Australia to raise money. There is more money in VC than there ever has been, and Angel Investors and high net worth individuals are all looking to the tech sector.

My advice for those looking to raise money would be to wait as long as possible. Proof up as much of your product hypothesis as you can before raising and think very carefully about why investors are getting involved. It’s important to know what you want out of your investor, their motivation for investing and why it’s a good match. Is it just financial, or is it something to do with their areas of interest?

Also, corporate investors can be fantastic if there is a strong alignment of strategic interests. Don’t count them out! We’re very fortunate to have Scentre Group as an investor, who run Westfield in Australia and New Zealand. Our missions are perfectly aligned: we want to help shoppers find the right physical store or retail place. The mission of Westfield (one of the biggest shopping places in the world) is to create amazing experiences for shoppers and enrich local communities. We’re very aligned so it makes a lot of sense.

 

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