Elephanti: Combating Retail Showrooming with Mobile Tech

December 23, 2012

10:00 am

Showrooming – the act of walking into a physical storefront, reviewing the products on display, then leaving to buy the item online at a cost-savings.

This holiday season, 80% of retailers expect to be impacted by showrooming, with the average loss of sales to be 5%, according to a survey by Edgell Knowledge Network (EKN) and eBay Local.

Retailers are finding creative ways to compete. This year saw the launch of large retailer apps to promote in-store purchases (e.g. Macy’s) and investments in improved customer experience via mobile points of sale – previously seen in Apple stores – now found at places like Sephora and Alex & Ani.

Mainstreet retailers, however, may find efficiencies in participating in an existing system, like Elephanti. This recently-launched mobile app allows merchants to connect with consumers in order to offer in-store discounts. Consumers, in turn, save money at local businesses.

Elephanti was conceived and launched by Lalin Michael Jinasena, a Singapore-based, Sri Lankan entrepreneur whose other ventures include hotels, restaurants, bars, and cafes – as well as retail stores. His own use of social media (along with the experience of showrooming in his own establishments) led to the idea. “I found that existing social media was tailored to help people connect with their friends and business contacts, and isn’t optimized to help businesses, especially brick-and-mortar businesses.”

Merchants who sign on have access to the mobile app as well as a website platform to create a virtual storefront featuring the products, brands, services and foods they offer, while making them discoverable with location-based technology. Consumers sign on and follow establishments they are interested in, get special offers, and check-in for discounts.  A check-in guarantees a discount (of the merchant’s choice.)

All of the established social aspects (following checking-in) are in play – the app is the filter for both merchant and consumer that larger social networks lack, and works as an aggregator so users don’t have to download dozens of apps from stores they like.

If the app is free for both merchants and customers, how does Elephanti generate revenue?

“Our revenue comes from advertisements, which only Elephanti merchants can post,” explains Jinasena. “For merchants on Elephanti, it gives them a very different kind of return. If brick-and-mortar business owners want to do digital advertising, they can do so on social networks and search engines. But these models charge for every click or 1000s of impressions. For someone who owns a website-based business, this translates into direct sales, but for brick-and-mortar stores it doesn’t. You don’t really know what you get back from the money you spend on advertising. With Elephanti, a business only pays for the ad when a person who has seen that ad on their app actually visits their store and checks-in.”

Why the name Elephanti?

Jinasena  explains, “Being a wildlife photographer, I absolutely love elephants and have had the pleasure of spending lots of time in the wilds of Sri Lanka and Africa with them. And it’s amazing how social elephants are. Studies show that they communicate between herds and families about trails, waterholes and where the greenest feeding is. Kind of like us humans, when we tell our friends about the latest cool store or café that opened in our neighborhood.”

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Marla Shaivitz is a writer, developer and digital marketer. She's interested in innovations & innovators in technology and those working toward social good. Follow Marla on Twitter at @marlashaivitz.

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