Getting consumers through the door is one of brick-and-mortar retail’s biggest challenges, and merchants are subsequently turning to mobile to make the in-store experience more palatable. Elephanti, a mobile app designed to maximize one’s real-world shopping process, launches in New York this July. The company is in the process of signing up merchants and expanding its personalization service for users (imagine walking down a city street and seeing discounts on your favorite brands, in stores nearby, pop up on your phone). We sat down with Elephanti’s founder and CEO, Lalin Jinasena, to learn more.
The High Low: As you move toward going live in July, what do you see as an ideal mix of brands and stores to take part in Elephanti’s initial launch?
Lalin Jinasena: We would like to see an equal mix of individual boutique stores, venues, and big box retailers, as well as a variety of brands making use of Elephanti.
We recognized that the brick and mortar stores, whether large or small, need a new solution to get people back into the stores and buying from them, rather than online. We have made it easy for all types of merchants to create a digital presence and drive relevant and targeted foot traffic into their store. Elephanti has been designed on multiple platforms for single stores, chain stores, brands, malls and department stores.
Our goal is to be able to serve all types of businesses and therefore we hope to have an equal mix of brands, stores, chain stores and malls signed up.
HL: What kind of shopper demographic(s) do you expect to appeal to most?
LJ: Since Elephanti is open to any type of store or business to create store profiles, we think that it will appeal to any demographic. I think the early adopters will be digitally savvy, young shoppers, but over time it will appeal to anyone that is looking to shop smarter either by finding the stuff they love or getting a respectable deal.
HL: How many users do you expect to have signed up by the end of 2012? And how many retailers?
LJ: We will be rolling out in July to consumers and growing slowly. We will be taking feedback and perfecting the offerings as our merchant base grows too. This will be supplemented by marketing activities, and our goal is to have strong and significant numbers by the end of the year and we will be able to give better estimates once the consumer platform opens.
HL: Can you tell us how you expect shoppers to interact with the site? For instance, do you see it more as a daily check-in for small items, or trending more toward discounts on big purchases?
LJ: In the information age, Elephanti will serve as the best way to be informed about places in the city before heading out shopping, dining, or for entertainment. Elephanti was created as a lifestyle network where people can connect, follow, discover, and get the most out of shopping in their cities and neighborhoods. I feel that there will be different aspects of Elephanti that will appeal and be beneficial to different types of people.
There will be the members who check-in regularly and follow their favorite merchants. We will also have the members who check-in to a merchant when they are going to purchase something so they get their guaranteed discount and earn loyalty reward points. There are also going to be the people that are looking to discover new products and merchants. Elephanti makes it easy for its members to find what they are looking for and discover new merchants in their neighborhood that have what interests them. This will also be a useful feature when traveling to new cities.
Our shopping list users will be able to shop smarter. Our intelligent shopping lists make sure you never miss a deal on things you need to buy or are looking for today. When you check-in to a store, we search the store’s products and if any of them match an item on your shopping list, we remind you. This way you never forget to buy those things on your list.
HL: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in technology and retail?
LJ: I have owned and managed hotels, restaurants, bars, a fashion retail store (my wife is a fashion designer), and a chain of doughnut cafes. I have used social media and online advertising extensively to build up my brands and to engage with customers. But I found that there is more that can be done for retailers, and that there isn’t a social site that is dedicated to bringing retailers and shoppers together. A lot of what is out there is great for online shopping, but nothing serves brick and mortar stores. I decided to fill this gap by creating a site and app that would be a powerful tool for retailers to connect and socially engage with customers, and for customers to have an app that would help them save time and money and find exactly what they are looking for when out shopping in their city. In the course of my work I designed a website in 2002 for one of my hotels which won a Gold Award from PATA. My forte lies in designing and finding solutions to problems. Together with my team of 40 developers, we turned my idea into a really cool app and website which we all love.
HL: We’re just curious! How did you arrive at the name Elephanti?
LJ: I love elephants and I think everyone loves elephants. But the important thing is that elephants remember. Like them, Elephanti also remembers your interests and your lists and is able to remind you when you pass by places that might interest you, or when there are offers or products nearby that would interest you. Elephants are social animals and they navigate through jungles to find new places through socially interacting with other elephants. Therefore we thought that Elephanti would be an appropriate name for our app and site.
HL: Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Elephanti?
LJ: Elephanti is free for merchants to sign up. All we ask is that when an Elephanti member checks into the store, they are given a minimum of a 2% discount on their purchase. This is what we believe is the incentive to get people back into the stores, and purchasing items in-store, rather than online.
In July, the free app for consumers will launch. Right now we are in beta and merchants can sign up and create their profile, add info and products. We will be adding a number of interesting features for merchants shortly to make their profile even more interactive.
Users can register their email and name and we will email them as soon as our app is ready to download and use.
Elephanti launched officially at Internet Week New York in May this year and was received very successfully by the internet community. We are very excited about Elephanti and know that it will help businesses to get more customers in, and for people to get the most out of their lifestyle.