An Ottawa startup believes the future of retail is a return to the physical storefront with a virtual twist.
Noibu Technologies, founded in March of last year, creates 3D virtual tours of high-end retailers’ brick-and-mortar stores. The interactive experience allows users to walk through the model, view clothing and other items, add to cart and checkout all within the pseudo storefront.
Co-founder Robert Boukine says the virtual storefront is meant to convey the “same spirit, feel and emotion” as the traditional shop.
“The retail apocalypse is here.”
“The retail apocalypse is here,” Boukine says. “Companies are looking for new, innovative ways to connect with customers on a more experiential level.”
That pitch was good enough to land Noibu its first funding at last week’s Capital Angel Network mash-up event. The Ottawa startup walked away with CAN’s pitch award, an instant $10,000 investment from the organization’s angel investors.
CAN executive director Nolan Beanlands said Noibu's strong, succinct pitch helped lay the groundwork, but that the crowd was won over by the firm's product demo afterwards.
"Getting to properly feel what the product does helps everyone understand its potential impact. With this additional information our investors are optimistic that this company will continue to grow and raise additional financing,” he said.
Noibu was born when Boukine and his co-founder Kailin Noivo saw a gap between the standard e-commerce experience and the time and effort that retailers put into organizing their brick-and-mortar storefronts.
“People were purchasing toothpaste the same way they were purchasing high-end clothing and fabrics,” Noivo says. “The convenience of e-commerce, although it works extremely well for commodity products, does not work well for emotionally-driven products like high-end retail.”
The focus on higher-end, boutique retailers is Noibu’s niche market. The founders say custom fashion outlets or certain brands such as David’s Tea have a focus on the customer experience that gets lost in the transition to online. To attract customers to the online site, many retailers will end up slashing their margins on exclusive coupons or free shipping offers, Noivo says.
Instead, Noibu’s founders believe carrying over the investment in a curated customer experience to virtual storefront will help retailers close sales.
Boukine credits mentorship from Kanata-based L-Spark for helping Noibu get off the ground. The firm has been spending weekly sessions with the accelerator’s mentors to craft marketing and sales strategies.
“It’s been a game changer,” he says.
There are other aspects of real-world retail that Noibu hopes to bring to its solution, including a social aspect where friends can remotely wander through the same virtual store.
For boutique retailers with a single physical location, Noibu’s virtual approach also offers the chance to scale. For shoppers in Hong Kong who might never get the chance to visit a hip Montreal shop, Noibu’s solution may be the only chance a retailer has to share its unique experience with that prospective customer.
“Companies are ready for this type of solution now,” Boukine says.