What’s a Hointer?
Once upon a time, Amazon supply chain manager Nadia Shouraboura spent her time trying to find channels to get consumer goods from point A to B. The mathematics PhD saw an opportunity for consumers: a new way to delight in-store shoppers. And so, Hointer was born.
I came to learn about Hointer a couple years ago from an article in Geekwire about a tiny startup in Seattle that was revolutionizing the way we shop. The initial premise was simple: remove that uncomfortable part of shopping for jeans. The user would walk into Hointer’s brick-and-mortar store in Pacific Place in Downtown Seattle and would download an app on their smartphone via free wifi. The user would then walk around the store and scan QR codes of jeans they liked and request them in their size. The user would then enter a change room, where a handy robot would drop the requested jeans from a chute for the user to try on. Rejects were places in a reject chute, and the jeans the user liked could be purchased directly from their phone. The user could then walk straight out of the change room having never interacted with a sales associate. (Read: you never have to embarrassingly walk out of a change room and request a different size.)
At the time, I had to see this in person, and was impressed by the ease of use and the novelty of the technology. I remember thinking at the time about how limited such a specific technology seemed to be, and I wondered how Hointer would scale, and if it would succeed in markets outside of tech-savvy Seattle, San Francisco, and New York. I then promptly forgot about the technology.
Pivot to Today
Scanning the Geekwire 200 companies, I noticed Hointer was buried on the list at #185. Only #185 after three years existence? What gives?
Then I went to the website. Instead of progressing how I thought the company would: by franchising stores nationwide and internationally, Shouraboura instead pivoted the technology and is now offering it to traditional retail powerhouses around the world. Turns out you can use those nifty robots in a number of retail operations. Hointer is now a B2B retailer, selling customized packages of the Hointer suite to suit a brick-and-mortar retail operation.
Hointer initially began as it’s own B2C enterprise: selling high-end jeans to high-end consumers. We’re talking people who are willing to pay $150 – $300 for a pair of jeans, and want to do it in the least socially interactive way possible. With a switch to licensing technology, Hointer has completely changed the target market. With a typical license running around $40,000 to $50,000 per year, Hointer has identified companies who can afford this technology (likely bigger companies), who desire to change the way brick-and-mortar business is performed to keep in line with increasingly tech-conscious consumers. In 2013, Hointer partnered with Levi’s. Customers get the experience of Hointer with their well-known product. There is rumor that the company will soon partner with a “major consumer electronics chain” in the U.S. While not product specific, it appears as though the tarket market are consumer retailers with a flare for technology, and a willingness to take a risk on increasing sales. Who are they trying to protect from? Online retailers like Amazon can offer better prices on consumer goods, however, in a world where we must try on a pair of jeans before buying, technology like Hointer’s could be greatly valued in the marketplace.