Q&A: Louis Millon, CTO and Co-founder, Occi
RTIH: Tell us about Occi
Louis Millon: Occi is a French startup whose mission is to improve the shopper experience by making it more customisable. We enable physical stores to access previously untapped data about what shoppers do inside the store. Who enters my store? What product categories are they visiting? What are the interests and needs of my customers? We help retailers answer these questions by combining IoT, indoor geolocation, data fusion algorithms and AI.
Founded in 2015 by two students from Ecole Polytechnique, we have already worked with international retailers such as Carrefour, Auchan and Galeries Lafayette. We’re also a laureate of CMI (World Innovation Competition).
RTIH: What was the inspiration behind setting the company up?
LM: In the past two decades, traditional retailers and brands have had to adapt to the rise of e-commerce by diversifying distribution channels (website, Click and Collect, mobile apps). However, their main strength remains their stores, where shoppers can see, touch and feel the product before buying it, which explains why 90% of retail sales data still take place in bricks and mortar retail.
Unfortunately, we realised that, unlike pureplays, the only data collected by bricks and mortar retailers is the receipt data. They don’t have any information about non-purchasing visitors in stores. That’s why we decided to bridge the gap between online and offline channels and created Occi.
RTIH: What has been the industry reaction thus far?
LM: After spending our first year in incubation inside an Auchan store, giving irreplaceable field insights about the challenges of store operatives and the real-life constraints of the technology they envisioned, the solution was launched in 2016 and is now live in more than 100,000 m2 of retail space in stores including Auchan (second largest grocery retailer in France and China), Carrefour (biggest French grocery retailer), Galerie Lafayette (leading French department store) and brands like Nestlé.
Although the presentation of our solution is usually received with enthusiasm by retailers, industry adoption has been slower than expected, mainly because decision processes in large retail companies are slow, but we’ve signed huge clients who operate a large number of stores, which means the growth potential is very large.
RTIH: What has been your biggest challenge/setback?
LM: We’ve had many challenges during our adventure. As a startup, we learned to negotiate with multi-billion dollar companies and try to stay the course in the face of changing client demands, like pure in-store analytics without marketing purposes. We had also many technical challenges, including having to pivot and change the geolocation technology we used to reduce installation costs.
RTIH: What are the biggest challenges facing the omnichannel retail sector right now?
LM: Retailers have invested into new sales channels (deployment of e-commerce sites, the acquisition of pureplay competitors etc), making it increasingly difficult for them to track and manage customer contact points and provide a seamless experience, because the shopper data collected by the different channels is stored in separate silos. As such, none of them fully understand individual shopper needs.
On the contrary, pureplays such as Amazon are experts at managing customer data and personalising the user experience and offers. That is why they are gaining market shares over bricks and mortar. In short, the biggest challenge of omnichannel retail is the reinvention of the shopper experience through personalisation.
RTIH: What is the best question about your company or the market asked of you recentlyby a.) an investor and b.) a customer?
LM: a) How will you scale internationally with a retailer operating thousands of stores?
Answer: We’ve designed our IoT sensors with scalability and ease-of-installation in mind. They are inexpensive, and auto-calibrating, simply requiring to be plugged into a power outlet. The integration with a retailer’s data warehouse only needs to be done once. Therefore, deploying a large retailer is not a problem.
b) Will I (the retailer) remain in control of how and when my shoppers are interacted with?
Answer: Absolutely. Our solution is a tool for you to have better information about what shoppers need and why they are coming to your stores. You stay completely in control of communication, it’s just that now you will able to optimise targeting and increase the RoI of each campaign. All of the CRM data, except for a shopper’s customer ID, remains in your system.
RTIH: What can we expect to see from Occi over the next 12 months?
LM: We are currently working on a blockchain-based protocol where retailers can reward shoppers for multiple behaviours, online and offline, such as visiting a store, a website, making a purchase or posting on social media. By accepting to share their shopping data with the network, a shopper earns rewards, while this data is used by retailers to build personalsed redemption offers that best suit each customer’s needs.
In this network, our solution will be used to analyse the in-store behavior of shoppers, while the online and mobile activity can be analysed by other companies who connect to the network. This system is called Universal Reward Protocol, and will launch in approximately a year.