be Retail Social: a virtual fitting room and virtual try on

be Retail Social is leading the evolution of the digital retail shopping experience as we know it. Startups Magazine spoke with Simon Iddon, Founder & CEO about how the company is providing users more confident and informed shopping decisions.

Can you tell me about your background?

My background is a little different in that I wasn’t particularly successful in the early part of my education and moved between several schools – in fact I was in the lowest stream at my school up to the age of 16. In today’s environment, I would probably have been diagnosed with Aspergers, OCD, and Dyslexia but in the 1980s that didn’t occur to anyone, and I was just viewed as ‘a bit different’. When I was able to specialise in more technical subjects I started to excel and went to Loughborough University and got a degree in Computer Science with a year out at IBM. After Uni, I joined an early-stage telecom service provider business called Vanco, starting in tech then moving to consulting, product, and commercial roles – growing with them to a point where the business was acquired. After that B2B experience I wanted a B2C role and became Group CIO of The Restaurant Group, a FTSE 250 business. I was responsible for their multiple brands and trading formats and led their digital transformation, during which time we grew from a market cap of £300M to £1.4Bn. Having worked in different roles on both sides of the B2B/ B2C fence I wanted to do something for myself using the skills I had acquired and thus be Retail Social was born in 2021.

Tell me about your company?

be Retail Social provides a dynamically engaging, interactive, and hyper-personalised virtual fitting room and try on platform for retailers that want to grow their business by offering customers more choice and control via digital innovation.

Where did the idea come from?

Having worked extensively in the hospitality sector I observed that many of the techniques and technical solutions that I had pioneered could easily be translated across to the clothing, fashion, and beauty industries to address many of the missed opportunities and to significantly aid customer conversion and retention. 

What problem(s) are you trying to solve?

In the first place, we are trying to make online clothing or beauty product shopping an easier, more inclusive, and more enjoyable experience. By making it simpler to try out multiple options, that are personalised to look like you on screen, with the opportunity to share the experience on social media with friends for their feedback, we make the experience far more like real-life, far more human for the shopper. This means that brands can be more engaging, sell and upsell more items and experience far fewer returns.

What would you say is your overall mission?

Our mission is to rehumanise the evolution of retail – to help retailers grow their businesses by providing a customer-first approach that delivers more customer engagement and more spend, more often.

What are the retailer benefits and customer benefits?

I believe it's only worth doing something if there is material benefit, so I'll name a few but we explain this more thoroughly on our website.

Customer acquisition and retention are improved as customer engagement is a major feature of the platform, and this helps to provide a more ‘sticky’ experience. Social sharing generates ‘word of mouth’ amplification of the platform that will in turn drive more visitors to retailers’ websites. Also, average order value is improved due to the customer’s ability to quickly swipe through and consider themselves in a wider range of colours, sizes, and styles options. Additionally, upsell and accessory opportunities can be offered to the customer without interrupting their experience. A reduction in returns and an increase in conversions are huge benefits to retailers as the hyper-personalisation capability of the platform allows digital customers to effectively ‘try before they buy’, resulting in less mismatches of perception and reality, more ‘right first time’ sales and less returns.

On the customer side the benefit comes from making the online shopping experience closer to the human shopping experience as the be Retail Social platform uses dynamic imagery that allows them to consider more products, colours, and styles more quickly and easily. Customers swipe vertically through styles and horizontally through colours and fabrics, while the image they have created (of themselves) dynamically moves on screen for a more true-to-life virtual try on experience. Finally, shopping at its best is a fun activity and be Retail Social allows customers to share, using the social media or communications platform of their choosing, dynamic imagery of themselves wearing an outfit. As in real life friends can comment and make suggestions instantly, and they can also interact with the on-screen model themselves and put forward their own suggestions.

How many on your team and how did you build and grow it?

We are a core team of six which is a mix of part-time and full-time people flexing at times up to 10 or more. We built the team following a successful initial raise with some excellent investors who were hand-picked for their experience. They are a varied group of experts that I have worked with over the years who add significant value and provide excellent feedback.

Do you have any competitors, if so, how do you differentiate yourselves?

Yes, we do have competitors, but our big differentiation is that we are a comprehensive modular platform that addresses many problems and missed opportunities, as opposed to a single piece of software that ‘just’ does virtual try on.

 What challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?

The technical challenges we faced early on were tough. Areas like developing a robust and scalable process for creating and codifying digital garments and cosmetics, (while worn by different models personalised in different skin tones, clothing sizes and heights – and making it simple and intuitive to use for both brands and consumers). We had an innovative approach in mind and knew from experience how we wanted it to work, and it was a case of iterating that approach and continual improvement until we and the pilot users and brands were happy with the results. Lots of blood and sweat and plenty of tears at times too but a great challenge. The result is quite simply the best solution available.

What’s next for you guys?

We recently signed a large pilot client, starting with cosmetics then adding fashion so we are now looking for other brands to run large trials with. We are also looking at the next round of investment which will allow us to expand the team and deliver the platform more quickly to more brands.