“The traditional store has changed very little in the past century,” said Nancy Wang, the managing director of Trax Greater China Region in an interview with KrASIA.
Trax, headquartered in Singapore, is an eight-year-old image recognition solutions and analytics startup specifically targeting the retail and consumer goods market. The company counts market research giants like Nielsen as its competitor, said its CEO Joel Bar-El. It works with clients like Coca-Cola, Nestle, Heineken, Tsingtao, AB InBev, Diageo, Molson Coors and others to analyse its retail inventory and sales to track performance, among other uses.
Having raised US$125 million in a funding round led by Boyu Capital in July 2018, Trax is looking to build an engineering centre in China to develop products for a global audience, Wang told us.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, in June, the total retail sales of consumer goods, including online, amounted to 3 trillion yuan (around US$437 billion), which is a 9% year-on-year increase from the same time last year. While for the first half of this year, the total retails of consumers goods spiked to 18 trillion yuan, up by 9.4 per cent year-on-year.
While Wang did not specify how many people Trax has on its payroll in China, she shared that China is one of their “top regions in terms of strategic focus”, and that the firm offers a “full range of features and functions that cover sales, marketing, operations, service” and more in China.
In China, when so much is now online, e-commerce giants Alibaba and its rivals are now going offline, leveraging customer engagement to generate more revenue and loyalty. Popularly known as ‘new retail’, this trend adds technology to the offline shopping experience: shoppers now find themselves doing retail therapy in unmanned stores, playing games in shops to win discounts, and trying on apparel virtually. Trax plays a part in ‘new retail’ with its image recognition solutions, which help prevent out-of-stock issues, she said.
We speak to Wang about the firm’s localisation efforts, the Chinese market and Trax’s growth strategy.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity:
KrASIA: What brands are you working with in China? How has your technology been deployed in China?
Wang: Some of our core clients include Coca-Cola, Nestle, Heineken, Tsingtao, AB InBev, Diageo, Molson Coors and more.
In term of real-time insights, we remain the fastest real-time solution, where most of our competitors take 24-48 hours for analysis and reporting. We also commit to a 96%+ accuracy rate for image-recognition, the highest in the industry. Moreover, we are the most cost-effective solution and structured to match clients’ pricing strategies and constraints. Additionally, we have a proven 4-6 week setup for more than 80,000 stores.
In China, we are not the new kid on the block: we have been serving our customers for more than three years. Leveraging this valuable three years’ experience and our global leadership in our particular niche of retail technology, we’ve been able to overcome the tech localisation difficulties together with the data-operation challenges.
We use our centrally managed, mature platform to provide the fastest, most accurate service to our customers; and, at the same time, we’ve expanded our local team to fulfil tailored local-language, last-mile service. Now it is all about how we can quickly scale the Chinese market to develop — from 10 to 100 brands — to generate sustained value for our FMCG brands when it comes to digitising the shelf.
KrASIA: Comparing clients in China versus different markets, are there any key differences or efforts to localise?
Wang: The Chinese market is certainly different in many respects. The geography is huge, the number of outlets is enormous, the diversity of the channel is rich.
However, we encounter a relatively similar situation in other large markets, such as Russia, Brazil and others. Our highly agile and scalable solution is able to overcome the above difficulties. What is critically important in a big, demanding market like China is that the platform offers the service level and speed to meet expectations, as we do at Trax.
In China, everything is more dynamic and extremely fast-paced. So that is why we, as a company, have focused on developing a strong, experienced local team in China to serve our customers for the last mile: to enable them to quickly roll out and expand to bigger geographies with multi-channels, huge amounts of outlets and thousands of sales reps.
KrASIA: What are your thoughts on ‘new retail’? How do your technology and solutions tie in with the concept of new retail?
Wang: Trax digitizes the retail shelf: a necessity for the new retail. Trax enables brands like Coca-Cola and Nestle to quickly adapt to changing shopper demands and enhance the shopping experience.
For example, it helps prevent frustrating out-of-stock issues. Trax does this through Computer Vision technology, which captures how products look, perform and compete on the shelf. Trax captures over 60 grocery categories.
Innovation is in Trax’s DNA. It is consistently trying to push the limits of computer vision and its application within retail. By leveraging its deep knowledge and expertise in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, deep-learning and machine-learning, it is helping to drive the digital transformation of physical, bricks and mortar retail at a time when Amazon and Alibaba are presenting a huge challenge to traditional, in-store commerce.
In terms of situation analysis, shoppers are used to the immediate, personalized and convenient experience of shopping online, an experience that has yet to be replicated in a physical store in terms of seamless rapid search and fulfilment. The traditional store has changed very little in the past century. Smartphone penetration necessitates an omnichannel strategy and digitisation, to date, has transformed many traditional areas like music (Spotify) and travel (Booking.com). So it is just a matter of time before the brick and mortar environment is digitised to optimize and enhance the shopper experience.
Sweeping changes are happening in retail and will continue to evolve exponentially over the next several years. Shoppers are used to the immediate, personalized and convenient experience of shopping online, an experience that has yet to be replicated in a physical store in terms of seamless rapid search and fulfilment. In fact, we see digital natives like Alibaba and JD.com making big bets on brick and mortar, but closing the gap between online and offline retail is proving hard for both brands and retailers.
Trax enables brands like Coca-Cola and Nestle to quickly adapt to changing shopper demands and enhance the shopping experience. Our breakthrough computer vision platform analyses shelf images and turns them into real-time actionable insights to provide the most accurate and consistent way to digitise, measure and analyse what is happening on the store shelf. By digitising retail stores in real-time, consumer packaged goods companies and retailers will have previously unavailable information and insight that will provide the missing ingredient to solve persistent issues such as out of stocks, incorrect shelf sets and improve speed to shelf for new product launches.
Trax delivers a powerful portfolio of shelf analytics solutions to enable the world’s brand and retailers a single source of shelf truth, so that Sales, Marketing and Trade can collaborate with trusted data and be empowered to truly understand what is happening in the store at a granular level.
KrASIA: In an interview with our parent 36Kr (link in Chinese), it was mentioned that Trax expects its revenue to grow 300% per year: what are some of the things Trax is doing as a firm to achieve this?
Wang: We plan on optimally executing for our key existing clients around the world, providing them with sustained, high ROI on their use of the Trax solution – and to bring on new customers who see the compelling value of a platform that has a proven potential to lift sales 3-5% annually.
Editor: Ben Jiang