E-Commerce Solutions

Carphone's Honeybee seeks a buzz in retail solutions

The retail sector is in an awkward position at the moment. Journalists, analysts and pundits talk about “the death of the high street” or predict the demise of “bricks and mortar” businesses but the fact is that many of us value seeing products close up, getting advice from experts and buying on the spot. Retailers know this so most of them retain physical premises but they all too often see buyers use those premises to look at products before buying at a lower price online and they struggle with the fact that buyers today often have very strong knowledge and preferences that are established before they walk into an outlet.

Enter mobile phone retailer Dixons Carphone-owned Honeybee. Honeybee, headquartered in London, is a bold attempt to reimagine retail interactions for high-value goods such as cars, electronics or mobile phones, making it easier for the buyer to get the information s/he needs and for the seller to be armed with that information and swiftly march through the buying journey. Honeybee is also part of a broader push to make the UK retail powerhouse a major player in software and services through its Connected World Services group.

“Selling has never been so complex: there’s more choice, more products, more places to buy them and you’ve got more demanding, more knowledgeable customers,” says Simon Post, an ex-IT director of BSkyB and CTO at Carphone Warehouse who is now COO at Honeybee.

Honeybee’s platform is an attempt to address exactly that perfect storm of challenges together with the ability to change processes without days, weeks or months waiting for IT to make the requisite adaptations.

“If you want to improve how you sell and do that with technological change it is slow and pretty expensive today,” Post says. “You’re dealing with lots of legacy systems that haven’t been designed for what’s happening today. Even a website built yesterday has challenges with multichannel. We wanted to revolutionise the way people buy and sell in the offline marketplace.”

‘Offline’ in this case refers largely to face-to-face selling. As Honeybee CEO Graham Stapleton notes, “The online retail world is a $2 trillion market, has been heavily optimised and you have a lot of data and science. The offline retail world is more than 10 times bigger, $23 trillion, but that hasn’t traditionally used much technology. Most retailers will know someone has entered because they track footfall but they won’t know who you are and there’s very little technology to help in the complex sales process.”


Desperate remedies

Often, he says, both parties clutch at straws: the customer feels pressured into taking a deal and the salesperson can only offer so many deals because that is all the information they can retain. The answer Honeybee has come up with is HTML5-based cloud service that helps both customer and seller: a platform to make and re-make the “journeys” and expert services to make the service operational. The seller will access the Honeybee services, often on a tablet, with all offers clearly outlined and the customer can see what’s going on every step of the process from defining needs, to finding relevant products, changing aspects, selecting from options, establishing delivery details and purchasing.

So a price-sensitive customer knowing they want a car for a family with two children and a dog might be offered an estate vehicle currently being discounted with a choice of brands, colours and so on. Honeybee uses MuleSoft, the fast-growing integration software company that recently went public.

“CRM is a backwards-looking record and service-oriented architecture is the stuff techies will talk about… and it doesn’t work,” says Post with the world weariness of a man who has seen many an IT silver bullet proffered. Instead, Honeybee offers a way for information and offers to be tweaked in real time without any code needing to be scripted so offers can be made (or countered in the event of a rival making a promotion), prices can be changed, inventory managed and so on.

Stapleton suggests this makes retailing better for everybody and gives more scope for upselling, cross-selling and gamification through, for example, sales league tables and rewards. Apple (for handset activation), energy firm SSE, the US telco Sprint and a member of the Dixons Carphone family, Dixons Retail, are already customers

 “We’re supercharging the journey for a customer and making the sales person a hero,” Post says. Dashboards provide fast insights into what’s working and selling, and what’s not, so sellers can increase conversion rates.

Accenture and PwC are partners as Honeybee seeks to crack its first targets, the Europe and north American markets. The company might appear to be ripe for breaking off from Carphone but Stapleton says that “at the moment it will continue to stay within as a separate resource”. That “at the moment” might be key but Honeybee is for now a sizeable start-up with 130 staff and these are early days.

Rivals for business include ERP giants such as SAP and Oracle that have acquired their ways into the retail vertical as well as specialists such as Emarsys, Cegid and Aptos. But Carphone has always been a bulldozer of a business and its executives have high hopes. Stapleton says he wants Honeybee to be “the industry standard” of retail in two or three years.

Miya Knights, global technology research director at Planet Retail, says that part of Honeybee’s success or failure will lie on integration with hardware and CRM and POS software, and price competitiveness.

“Mobile sales assist or ‘clienteling’ systems, as some call them, are fairly common. The main point of difference is that Carphone is a retailer itself, and so can develop, then eat its own dog food, as it were. Indeed, Planet Retail shopper research last year found 56 per cent of shoppers would be influenced to frequent retailers with knowledgeable staff who can treat them like a valued customer.”

Also read:
What’s making MuleSoft hot to trot?


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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