Q&A: Brad Moran, CEO, Citrus
Ocado recently went live with a new digital advertising platform from Australian startup Citrus. “Personalisation is the key to success, get it right for each shopper and meet their own needs. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach anymore,” Citrus CEO, Brad Moran, tells RTIH
RTIH: Tell us about Citrus
BM: Citrus is a world first digital platform that has unleashed the potential of online shelf space. It effectively turns online retailer websites into highly targeted ad revenue generating digital advertising platforms, and in the process has changed the way in which retailers, suppliers and customers manage and experience e-commerce.
Citrus brings personalisation and monetisation together for the very first time and provides a true win for every party in the value chain. We have been referenced as a "white label Amazon for e-commerce" offering an efficient value chain process for all three parties: the shopper, the supplier and the retailer.
Delivering a number of personalised services from sponsored product placement, display media, sampling and email marketing. Using our machine learning technology, we deliver results based on what the shoppers expect to see, we look at products in their digital basket whilst they shop and view previous purchases and optimise delivery of relevant products.
Suppliers can now bid in a real-time auction to target the most relevant shopper and will only pay on a performance basis, which helps reduce wasted media spend and creates efficiency and is fully transparent, they have access to build their own media campaigns through the retailer’s white label SaaS platform and each campaign will provide them with performance metrics. These include, impressions delivered, number of clicks, items bought, what search terms delivered the best return and of course ROAS.
Lastly, but equally important in the value chain, our service delivers the best performance for the retailer’s own websites and apps, delivering a highly efficient personalisation service which has helped improve the speed of shop, created effeciency of their site, increased in basket sales and enable them to monetise their own digital shelf which unlocks the opportunity to all sizes of clients.
We are unique in that we work via an API, which means we are offering a highly secure service and deliver back results in less than 40 milliseconds.
RTIH: What was the inspiration behind setting the company up?
BM: After our initial venture into the e-commerce industry, we had a clear understanding of the challenges retailers and suppliers faced. We experienced a high level of resistance from retailers to adopt e-commerce systems, due to the heavy costs associated with infrasructure and fulfilment.
At the same time, we saw that suppliers were being penalised by substandard e-commerce search engines, and relevancy algorithms, thus having little to no control over their online product positioning. Unlike the in-store format where every inch of shelf space is highly negotiated by both parties, the online format is a much harder landscape for this negotiation to be executed within.
However, with every problem you often encounter a better opportunity. This opportunity was to create a system that allowed for a high degree of personalisation as well as achieving monetisation simultaneously. Imagine the inside of a supermarket changing its product display depending on who was walking through it! With digital technology, this is now achievable.
RTIH: What has been the industry reaction thus far?
BM: Retailers and suppliers have been very receptive to our product. Once a retailer understands that it is more than another monetisation system, and that Citrus can improve the consumer experience by personalising the sponsored content, they realise that there is a way to achieve personalisation and monetisation in one solution.
For suppliers it is a no-brainer. As we have seen with the mass uptake of the Amazon ad platform, modern day suppliers are now looking for more performance based channels to spend advertising dollars. Citrus provides targeted advertising for suppliers right at the point of purchase and provides crystal clear reporting in real-time.
RTIH: What has been your biggest challenge/setback?
BM: Our technology is best suited to Tier 1 retail customers that unfortunately have long and arduous sales cycles, particularly for startup companies. Once we are able to get an audience with retailers, we are generally very successful in getting traction.
The only minor setback we have had was in the US with the recent retailer movement against Amazon and any technology vendor using their AWS platform. Being a startup, AWS was a nice technology platform to build our infrastructure on, but we have since steered away from AWS due to this reason. It is something that all retail tech startups should be aware of, particularly when dealing with US customers.
RTIH: What are the biggest challenges facing the omnichannel retail sector right now?
BM: As we know, the consumer journey has changed beyond recognition from just over 10 years ago and shoppers expect a convenient, quick, efficient service from the moment they visit a website or store through to the efficiency of delivery.
Some retailers are having to adapt their business organisation structure, as we have seen in the past, some can be very laboured in moving quickly in an agile world. The infrastructure was not conducive to the quick pace of consumer and tech change. By the time a retailer has launched a "new" service it can already be behind the pace of change and they are playing catch-up.
Retailers need to look outside of their business for tech solutions and services to help make quick improvements and not rely on always building in-house solutions that in some cases are only delivering what they think they need right now and usually falls short on delivery. Be it the web/app platform or the logistics behind the delivery model and everything inbetween.
There are some great examples of retailers adapting to change and quickly, such as Argos where the shopper has the option to collect or receive delivery, either through shopping online or in-store, and linking all product information to availability, therefore limiting the customer frustration when they get to transact. We have seen many stores with a strong loyal customer base fall behind or in worse cases "close shop" because they didn't keep up with the shopper demand.
Retailers need to have an entrepreneurial edge to them and not be afraid to take risks. There is enough technical expertise and solutions in the market today and plenty of great systems to support small regional trials. If it doesn't work just move on quickly and adapt before it's too late.
Personalisation is the key to success, get it right for each shopper and meet their own needs. There is no "one-size fits all" approach anymore, we all want to be treated as someone you know what we want and we expect to see it. Tesco are great in delivering targeted coupons based on your purchase history and meeting your specific needs. Making the shopper feel valued and heard is key. Get it wrong and social media can destroy you.
RTIH: What's the best question about your company or the market asked of you recently by an investor?
BM: Investor: Amazon have built an immense ad business in a short period of time and have been known to license parts of its platform off to the rest of the world (like they did with AWS). Do you see Amazon becoming a competitor to Citrus in the next three to five years?
Answer: The initial gut reaction is to think that it is actually plausible for Amazon to do this since they did it so well with their AWS platform. However, the reality is that because they are so competitive with retailers, it is unlikely that the Tier 1 retailers would use their services for this type of product.
RTIH: What can we expect to see from Citrus over the next 12 months?
BM: Hopefully a lot more market penetration across Europe and the US markets. We have a strong desire to be the ad platform of choice for UK grocery retailers in particular and know that we can help them rival the ad business of Amazon.
This is actually one of the few technologies that works in a retailer’s favour if competitors are also on the platform. The bigger the pool of customers accessible to suppliers through the platform, the more funding the brands will give it. Individually, retailers will struggle to rival Amazon’s ad business, but together they are arguably more influential for advertisers given their collective bricks and mortar reach.