50 Innovators of the Year 2021
Whether it is an online business, offline retail chains, or managing supply chains, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has helped companies grow exponentially. Appriss Retail, a well-known retail technology company, optimizes retailers’ performance using predictive analytics to cut shrink, unlock sales opportunities, and protect margin. The company’s analytical insights and real-time decisions drive action throughout the retail organization, including operations, loss prevention, marketing, and finance.
Appriss Retail serves a diverse base of specialty, apparel, department store, hard goods, big box, grocery, pharmacy, and hospitality organizations in more than 150,000 locations and ecommerce sites across 45 countries on six continents. Its Software-as-a-Service solutions yield rapid financial payback, with a significant return on investment. The company is headquartered in the United States. We interviewed Steve Prebble, the President of Appriss Retail, to know his viewpoints on technology and the blurring lines between brick-and-mortar retail and ecommerce. Here are a few excerpts of the interview:
We recognized Appriss Retail for its innovativeness in helping retailers become more profitable and provide better service to consumers. Your company impacts three key areas—consumers, employees, and products. Tell us about that.
Thank you; we are honored by the recognition. Innovation is a key driver for our business and has been for more than 20 years. We hold several patents, and our AI-driven data analytics helps retailers solve persistent problems. We started as a company focused on preventing retail loss, but through acquisition and product development have evolved into a company that enables retailers to build relationships with their consumers at all consumer touchpoints.
We have developed a way to help retailers connect with consumers at the point-of-purchase or point-of-return in any channel or combination of channels and do it with the goals of increasing revenue, improving service, and decreasing shrink/loss. Three key things our solution platform does: 1) Helps decode consumer behavior to identify opportunities to enhance profitability. 2) Provides a new way of looking at employee performance and managing strengths while correcting weaknesses. 3) Helps optimize the profitability of products within the store’s four walls—even merchandise that was returned after an ecommerce purchase.
Considering the incredible transformation retailers undertook in 2020, what technologies do you think are important now?
The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for omnichannel transformation—everyone had a great deal to do, and quickly. Retailers already engaged in omnichannel commerce added functionality, like pick-up, curbside returns, and contactless payments, and those without it implemented at record speed to survive. That technology now lays the foundation for ongoing strategic growth – being able to purchase and return from almost anywhere offers an outstanding consumer experience but certainly adds complexity to any retailer.
The technologies large retailers are likely to benefit most from now are AI, SaaS, and real-time information. The changes imposed by COVID require that these technologies be used together to optimize the consumer experience in ways that may not have been considered before. In fact, I think they will be even more important regardless of whether the retailer plans to improve the consumer experience, have better control of products, or elevate employee performance.
Why do you think AI is more important to the retail sector now?
The volume of data within a retail organization has exploded. One of the benefits of omnichannel commerce is that one can learn so much more about consumers, products, and employees; unless you are equipped to use that information, however, it just sits in a database. The immense computing power of AI can find the patterns in those huge volumes of data and, through modeling, offer recommendations faster and better than any human could do. AI can fuel better reporting for management, but it also can benefit front-line workers. It helps with daily questions like: Which employees are making or losing the most money for the company? Does a particular transaction appear to be fraudulent? What will entice a consumer to make an additional purchase? Appriss Retail offers several solutions, but notably, there are three that benefit the consumer through AI. We deliver a solution called Incent™ that uses the retailer’s own data from a consumer’s omnichannel purchase and return behaviors to recommend an incentive that encourages them to make a purchase after returning goods—essentially preventing that revenue from walking out the door. Can you imagine a store associate taking in a return from a consumer, trying to look up the consumer’s information manually, and then making an appealing offer in the few seconds allocated to handle a return transaction? There’s no way. AI running in real-time is necessary to gather the information and offer the option in an instant. Retail is no longer about responding to something in a day, it is about reacting now.
Verify® return authorization is another of our flagship solutions.It uses AI as an always-on monitor of a retailer’s transaction data at the point-of-return and analyzes the data in real-time, and it delivers consumer-specific recommendations to help the retailer improve the merchandise return experience in any channel. It can help speed up returns, it can help enforce the retailer’s return policies uniformly across the entire brand, and it can give the associate working the returns desk or help line confidence that the consumer is entitled to a return. Our experience shows that in the approximately 1% of cases where a consumer seems to be behaving fraudulently or abusively, Verify recommends to the associate that he/she accept the return but warn the customer that their ability to make returns will be limited for X number of days, or perhaps Verify will recommend that the return not be allowed. Though the percentage of such consumers is small, the impact on a major retailer can provide an average of 8% reduction in return rate and a 13% reduction in shrink which can total millions of dollars per year in savings or preserved net sales.
Our Secure™ product uses AI for pattern recognition in its exception processing. It reviews point-of-sale data and finds employees who seem to be suspicious, helps gather the pertinent facts, presents them to an investigator, and recommends next steps. We have customers who have uncovered high-value cases which would have just kept growing had the investigator not stopped them. This system is designed to present the suspicious incidents that will offer the most bang for the buck to investigations by the retailer every day. It helps identify the biggest employee and collusive fraud threats from anywhere transactions are processed and helps speed their resolution. Alternatively, Secure can also be used to identify employees who are outperforming their peers, raising their visibility to the management team.
We have a staff of more than 20 data scientists who are continuously monitoring trends and developing new statistical models. Consumers’ purchase and return behaviors are different online than they are in-store, and we develop models that can discover the behavior indicators and help retailers intervene. For example, a bad actor may buy a pair of jeans online, then take the identical jeans from a shelf at the retailer’s brick-and-mortar store, walk to the returns desk, and use
the ecommerce receipt to “return” them for a refund directly to their credit card. Without Verify operating in real-time, the fraudster could repeat this action at several stores and possibly never be noticed.
And Software-as-a-Service? Why is that important for software deployment and use?
There are several reasons. A SaaS deployment allows us to provide world-class data security. We are ISO 27001 certified—the international standard for data security. Also, the SaaS environment offers the retailer data processing flexibility that can bear the extra load if the retailer experiences a surge of activity, something a retailer-operated system may not be powerful enough to do. By offering our platform and modules in a SaaS environment, we take on the responsibility for running, maintaining, and securing the system so that the retailer’s IT department does not have that burden.
As a final point, SaaS allowed us to develop a software platform that enables our customers to use new functionality as soon as it is available and to turn on new applications quickly. Are you using Verify and want to now use Secure? No problem. Is new functionality available or a new model developed? It is in the customer’s hands immediately.
Since we are not limited to issuing a major upgrade once or twice a year, our customers can take advantage of the continuous improvements we are investing in and making to our platform to help ensure we remain best in class.
How do you help your customers maximize profits?
Incent stimulates sales while helping to offset the impact of returns on store profits—this is a case of selling more and losing less. Verify and Secure reduce return loss and employee loss (respectively); reducing total loss has a direct and positive impact on net sales.
With those savings—which can be in the millions every year—our customers can afford to improve many parts of their business that can make the company even more profitable in the future.
Meet the President
Steve Prebble serves as the president of Appriss Retail and is responsible for all aspects of its operations, joining the business in the summer of 2019. Prior to Appriss Retail, Steve led several marketing service provider companies, including directing the growth of SaaS engagements for EYC and Aztec. Earlier, Steve held senior roles with global food retail businesses across store operations, merchandising, and marketing for leading retailers, including Sainsburys, Shaw’s Supermarkets, Albertsons, and Tesco Lotus (Thailand).
Steve has led the design and launch of two retail loyalty marketing programs, creating CRM engagement programs and the supporting insights and analytics infrastructures. He has earned his MBA from the Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland.