To be a successful entrepreneur, hard work is a must. Sometimes, though, it is also about being in the right place at the right time. Way before Covid-19 forced many luxury boutiques to suspend their operations temporarily, German tech entrepreneur Thorsten Walther and his team had already been working on the concept of a virtual boutique that would bridge a physical store and the digital space. In a Zoom interview, the Singapore-based founder of Inspify recalls, “I had always felt that the e-commerce side for luxury was not strong enough. In luxury, you must always put the product in a context, and there must be human interaction with a salesperson.” Inspify has since launched virtual boutiques in various cities for Richemont brands IWC, A. Lange & Sohne and Piaget, as well as Italian fashion brand Max Mara. Walther shares his take on the evolution of luxury retail and the changing role of the physical store.
What was the initial idea behind Inspify?
When we launched the app in 2018, it was for customers. The idea came about after I went to a boutique at the Marina Bay Sands and wanted a pair of shoes in a particular colour and size, but they didn’t have it. The advisor called the brand’s store in Orchard Road, and they didn’t have it either. Subsequently, I went there and they had the exact item I wanted. So that was the initial idea: connecting the physical boutique to customers via a mobile app so that the latter could have instant access to the availability and prices of different luxury products. The app has evolved in multiple stages. It is also a reservation service and a never-ending source of inspiration. Today, if you want style inspiration, you might look at Instagram, YouTube or magazines. We curate this and create a flow of content personalised for you. For instance, if you like Louis Vuitton, you will only see content relating to Louis Vuitton.
Since then, Inspify has begun working more closely with brands rather than individual customers.
Now, the app is only about 5 per cent of our business. It has become smaller as we move more towards partnering with brands, and delivering our solutions to them with the right look and feel from their perspectives. With our partner brands, you can go into a store with our app and discover the store by yourself. It works by using our own patented nearables. As a customer walks around a store with the app, these nearables communicate with the app and deliver curated stories relating to that specific item. It’s all about storytelling, which is what luxury is. Users can also take photos and send them to their friends via the app.
Tell us about the virtual boutiques you recently built for several luxury brands.
The great thing about our VR (virtual reality) experiences is that a customer can now visit the boutique without actually going to the boutique. It’s a virtual space, which allows you to discover and look at products, and even lets you shop with friends. More importantly, a salesperson can join the customer in this virtual space and offer advice in a video chat, as though they are actually in a physical boutique. They can tour the boutique and the salesperson can explain an item to the customer – how it’s made, the materials used, and so on – while the latter is sitting on their sofa.
Currently, sales advisors usually engage VIP clients via texts or calls. Why should they switch to using the Inspify virtual environment?
The quality of interaction is higher. With Inspify, the client can get a video chat with the salesperson in an environment with a better quality of product presentation and storytelling. Salespeople have access to our virtual cockpit, whose technology is similar to that of a multi-player video game. When Covid-19 happened, people started doing online video meetings. But when you do product presentations and show videos, the quality on the other side is pretty bad. Our technology solves this problem. When a salesperson walks a customer through the virtual boutique or presents images of products or videos, everything appears in perfect quality on all devices. The salesperson also has access to analytics data of different customers – their purchases, their likes, their wish lists. It’s about personalising the experience.
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