Q&A: Isabella Aberle, Founder, Xarista
Xarista is looking to make vegan shopping easier across online grocery, fashion and cosmetics sites, and help vegan retail brands move closer to their target customers. “I strongly believe it is the right time for the retail industry to take the next step in building out their web experiences via instant 1:1 personalisation,” company founder, Isabella Aberle, tells RTIH.
RTIH: Tell us about The Vegan Filter and Xarista, the company behind it.
IA: Hunting for vegan products can be a challenge, especially online. The Vegan Filter makes vegan shopping easier across online grocery, fashion and cosmetics sites – and helps vegan retail brands move closer to their target customers.
The Vegan Filter is a Chrome browser extension that automatically sets vegan filters when consumers browse on third-party sites. It is the latest product we’ve launched here at Xarista, and is now live at Sainsbury’s, Holland & Barrett and other UK retailers.
Xarista is a London-based retail tech startup. We empower online retailers to offer relevant, ‘must click’ experiences per visitor right on the first visit. And there are great benefits for consumers too. Consumers find what they are looking for faster, and enjoy personal experiences on their terms.
We were a finalist at the Retail Week Live launchpad ’19 and were invited to present at the Retail Hive recently.
RTIH: What was the inspiration behind setting the company up?
IA: I spend a lot of time online and grew frustrated by all the time I spent unnecessarily. Personalisation has been a ‘hot topic’ in marketing and consumer services for many years. However, when I go to a retail website, it takes time and effort to narrow down the product range to my needs and wants, such as dietary requirements or preferences. The cookie approach just doesn’t help.
I strongly believe it is the right time for the retail industry to take the next step in building out their web experiences via instant 1:1 personalisation. There are regulatory pressures (GDPR), commercial pressures (it’s an Amazon world) and consumers are increasingly sensitive about their data as well as being time-poor.
It was also the right time for me personally. I had just finished my MBA at Cass Business School. Xarista allowed me to combine my experience in marketing automation, highly transactional digital products like PayPal and distributed ledger technology.
RTIH: What has been the industry reaction thus far?
IA: On the concept of consumer-owned web personalisation we got extremely diverse reactions. While most people immediately agree that it will become the future of how retailers and consumers engage online, we see retailers approaching the topic of consumer data in very different ways.
One perspective is to avoid accumulating more consumer data, as this comes with greater responsibilities to manage and maintain data compliantly. The other perspective is the classic ‘the more, the better’ approach. It’s exciting that with Xarista we cater for both perspectives. Think of consumer-permissioned, instant access to consumer data when a consumer comes to a retail site. Before creating an account, logging in or any other interaction.
We also hear industry experts speculating that this movement of consumer-owned data will be carried by consumers, rather than retailers. This was surprising to us initially, but we now see and seize the opportunity in this as a business.
With The Vegan Filter we have created a product that is not only heavily consumer-centric, but that solves also a very specific pain point in the consumer market – to find vegan products faster and with more confidence. As we see interest in The Vegan Filter grow quickly, we expect retailers to read the signs of the time and follow the request of consumers for more and better web personalisation on consumers’ terms.
RTIH: What has been your biggest challenge/setback - and how have you overcome it?
IA: A successful entrepreneur is someone who thinks beyond current limitations but starting a company is a constant struggle of resources, whether it's time, human or financial capital. We needed to ensure that we balanced these pressures in order to get Xarista going.
This was sometimes counterintuitive. We have, for instance, turned down an investment offer including development resources, when we were looking for funding as well as development capacity. Fewer dependencies - hence better optionality - helped us move faster to where we are now.
In terms of the business model, we got challenged around interfacing with both retailers and consumers. Growing both sides to scale is an endeavour that requires either deep pockets, or a well thought-through sequencing of activities. With The Vegan Filter as the first of a series of products we want to offer, we found a way to detach the two sides temporarily, although we are able to generate value for both consumers and retailers.
RTIH: What are the biggest challenges facing the omnichannel retail sector right now?
IA:I have summarised my thoughts on this just recently in this article: The Six Degrees of Connectivity In Retail. Connectivity between individuals and omnichannel retailers is key. In today’s retail environment this connectivity is shaped by six factors.
Out of the six, the least explored - but arguably the one with the biggest incremental potential - is what I call the ‘instant handshake’ between individuals and retailers. An instant handshake exists if a retailer knows the individual on the spot and can advise on the most relevant products and content, per person. Like a sixth sense. Imagine an individual comes to a retail site and is an old friend already.
It is early days for real life applications of this instant handshake and there are reservations with regards to data privacy and enabling and growing such an ecosystem. However, I strongly believe the companies that are among the brave pioneers will secure a competitive advantage. And this is exactly the space we want to develop with Xarista.
RTIH: What's the best question about your company or the market asked of you recently by a customer?
IA: Where can I sign up? As startup we are extremely fortunate to have secured the support, involvement and commitment from retailers and consumers to go on this exciting journey ahead together. With The Vegan Filter in particular, we see ourselves right in the sweet spot of where a rapidly growing consumer market meets retailers that are still catching up on e.g. product labelling. Technology enablement can create a win/win for both sides.
RTIH: What can we expect to see from Xarista over the next 12 months?
IA: We’re set up for growth. The last year, year one for Xarista, we dedicated to market validation, prototyping, product development and establishing the team. Now, we are live in the retail and consumer market and have switched focus to enhancing our proposition. As consumer-led tech startup, it is essential for us to respond to market feedback quickly. As such, there will be many iterations of The Vegan Filter. There are also plans to open up similar special interest communities for whom we can create immediate value and facilitate consumer-driven shopping on UK retailers.
We’re excited to announce another pilot shortly. From there, we expand the ecosystem - clients, users and strategic partners - while securing growth capital on the way.