Meetings behind us, it was time to visit the JustFab retail store. Until recently, JustFab has been an entirely online affair. On the website people could take a quick style quiz, signup for an account, and begin enjoying their runway-influenced shoes.
So why would a company that is succeeding in online retail (to the tune of $400 million in 2014 projected revenues) venture into the challenging world of retail? Why get a physical location when most offline stores are spending so much time and energy to get online? More importantly, from a software developer's point of view, how do you extend your existing drop-shipping and fulfillment to an unfamiliar, new context?
One answer that JustFab's development team hit on was to treat the store as if it were like just another warehouse; a pink infused, pop-eletro playing, stiletto plying warehouse, but a warehouse none-the-less. In shifting their perspective the unknowns of how to run a retail operation became simpler - they know how fulfillment works since they have to support a number of shipping facilities across North America. All that remained was how to graft a consumer experience upon their existing service architecture.
Conceived, developed, and rolled out in the span of three months, their solution involved a custom in-store application deployed on iPad Minis. Each worker on the sales floor wears a sling with the essential tools: the iPad and a Bluetooth scanner. When a customer wants to try a product the staff quickly scans the bar code, as in the video below. The resulting screen displays the available sizes, quantities, and colors culled directly from the real-time inventory.
The integration with the Bluetooth scanners is surprising easy. Once a handheld device is paired with an iPad it acts, for all intensive purposes, like a Bluetooth keyboard. Taking input and populating a text box in this manner is drop-dead simple. A similar approach is used to process transactions. Each iPad has its own credit card reader plugged into the audio jack. The store still requires a 'traditional' register, but this is almost only used for cash transactions. Printers are also wirelessly networked and selectable from a drop down menu from inside the app; on checkout the sales staff just selects whatever printer happens to be closest to them. Paying credit or redeeming an account credit? The entire visit can be completed where you stand.
All of this point of sale (POS) tomfoolery wouldn't be possible without (1) redundant Internet connections directly to the store and (2) an Apple Store elsewhere within the mall. Did the dedicated T1 go down? There's a DSL backup. Problems with the iPad? The genius bar is a short walk away.
It's neat to see all of this in action. It is possible to apply an Internet approach to something that's been around as long as a physical store. We'll be compiling the data from this grand experiment for the next several months. That, in turn, will then inform what new mashups we could build with our modular infrastructure.