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Retail technology vendor innovation: Venda

What is Venda?

Based in London but with offices in Europe, New York and Bangkok, Venda provides a range of digital commerce solutions for manufacturers and retailers alike. The software as a service firm aims to help businesses deliver for their customers across online, mobile and in-store channels. 

Some of the major retail clients Venda works with include the UK's largest grocer Tesco, fashion and homeware business Laura Ashley, and fast-growing online fashion house Boohoo.com.

What's new at Venda?

A significant area of focus for Venda – and something where the company will soon be announcing a new offering to the retail market – is that of responsive design. As the types of device people use to access the internet continue to diversify, be it a laptop, an Apple iPad, a Samsung phone or any number of other gadgets, screen sizes are naturally changing.

James Cronin, chief technology officer and co-founder at Venda, says that it is becoming increasingly difficult for retailers to ensure their eCommerce websites keep up with these different types of device, especially early adopters of mobile-oriented eCommerce who are now realising "there is some re-engineering needed".

He comments: "The responsive design tool is one that primarily came out of the publishing industry – as newspapers realised people were reading products on different devices. It's very new for eCommerce sites to do that and we're in the process of launching the first few with our customers – and I think that's going to be extremely interesting."

Venda will be announcing more about these tools soon, but they are essentially being developed to ensure that consumers who might browse for products on their mobile on their way back from work, but move between channels before completing a transaction, can access the same basket, see the same offers and, ultimately, receive the same experience screen to screen.

Meanwhile, another area of development for Venda comes in the form of technology allowing retailer apps to change when consumers walk into stores, which is currently in test stage and is getting prepared for launch in the first quarter of 2014.

Cronin says that the proliferation of mobile devices globally is helping retailers of all sizes catch up with the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury's and Boots in terms of identifying customer habits in the physical store. For years, these businesses – through their respective Clubcard, Nectar and Advantage loyalty schemes – have been gathering vast amounts of data about their in-store customers.

"Mobile devices are a way of democratising that technology and we're really excited to be able to offer this kind of service to retailers across that spectrum," he notes.

In terms of what Venda has already done, it has worked with Cisco and Retec to launch kiosks in Tesco allowing the retailer to inform its customers about a wider range of products. The kiosks shows "fabulous video content" when they are not being used, but when customers walk up to them they can browse the full catalogue and place an order securely with integrated chip and PIN.

The systems are already in ten stores but will be rolled out in 200 Tesco outlets over the next six to eight weeks, and there are already plans to bring the technology to general merchandise retailer Wilkinson's and ladies' fashion specialist Bon Marche.

"Using technology in those stores is absolutely key to ensuring that when customers walk in they are able to buy the product they want even if it's not in the shop at the time," Cronin argues. "It's a anti-showrooming tool and can be a big win for retailers."

What makes Venda stand out?

According to Cronin, retailers working with Venda have a strong opportunity to expand internationally because the company provides a platform embedded with information such as local legislation compliance, security information and payment/tax methods. Of course, Venda is not the only technology firm that has this capability, but it says it has helped companies such as Boohoo.com trade in four or five different currencies on its website.

A dedicated US site for Boohoo.com will be launched with Venda's help in the next few weeks, followed by a French site and an Australian site all before the end of 2013. Another Venda customer, N Brown Group, which owns brands such as Simply Be, will also be launching a site down under in the not-too-distant future after successfully expanding to Germany and the US.

Venda is not a hardware manufacturer, but its cloud-based platform has been designed to integrate into any solution provider's technology. Much of Venda's work, for example the aforementioned Tesco kiosks project, has been done in conjunction with Cisco, but in the past it has also integrated into BT Expedite's system (when working with clothing retailer Fat Face) and aligned with Torex’s Retail J tool.

Cronin comments: "eCommerce is often the place where it makes most sense to connect different ordering systems – particularly if customers are jumping between channels, they will want to access the same account details or be recognised to receive the same special offers. Our cloud based commerce platform contains all this information.

"We work with our customers' existing investments or in-store infrastructure and refresh that with Venda's open partner network. We tend to integrate with everybody not just one or two."

What the boss says...

Cronin sees so much potential in the modern retail market and he believes it is "an exciting time to be in retail". There is something about the unpredictability of how new technologies are ultimately put into practice that is so intriguing, and as the CTO suggests "people end up using technology in ways that you’ve never imagined".

"The retailers that are winning are those which are embracing technology," he adds.

"We’re looking across our customer base and seeing how they can use consumers' interest in technology [for example, the technology being utilised for Google Glass] to really deliver an experience, which means they are there for their customers at the right point and at the right time."