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Online service to help retailers use web to drive consumers back into stores

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by Paul Skeldon, editor of

In what may seem an unusual twist to the idea of e-commerce, start-up company Udozi is aiming to harness the power of the web to help retailers drive consumers back into their stores and get them shopping ‘the old fashioned way’. The company has launched an online and mobile service that aims to offer a stock comparison experience. Consumers can use it to search out goods that they need based on where they are in stock in relation to their location, reserve them and then go and collect them in store.

Retailers pay an annual membership fee of £750, which gives Udozi access to each company’s stock databases and websites. The software within the Udozi then uses this information, in conjunction with the consumer’s location data and preferences – which are supplied when the consumer signs up to the service – to then allow searches based on stores holding items in stock in increasing distance from the consumer.

Consumers can search by product or brand name, product code, or even just generic search terms such as “orange t-shirt” or “fridge” and the service will then display a list of stores stocking the items based on how near they are to the user and marking whether they are in stock or not. It will even show how many items are held in stock and how often the stock update is amended if the retailer allows.

Once the consumer has found what they are looking for, they can then email, call or even Skype the shop and reserve what they are looking for to collect later on.

Initially the company is focussing on fashion, electrical goods and books, but aims to increase this as retailers buy into the idea. The company is also so confident of success that it is waiving the retailer fee for 18 months to allow retailers to really see that it works or to pull out without incurring any cost.

The whole purpose of the service is to help drive consumers back into high street shops, says the company’s founder and the brains behind the technology, Alan Gabbay. “When I was a student, I tried to buy a specialist computing book and had to ring each book store in my local city up individually to see if any had it in stock: I thought then that this would be something that could be done online, so I did it. In working on it I realised that it was something that had a huge potential benefit to retailers as well as consumers, as it could use online technology to drive footfall, rather than taking it away.”

Driving footfall is crucial to retailers, says Gabbay, because “unlike online shopping where the customer comes in, buys the thing they wants then leaves, once you have them in store they are more likely to browse and leave with more than they came in for. This is one of the advantages Udozi will help deliver.”

To this end, Gabbay is also looking to add vouchers and couponing to the service, so that retailers can get reward those customers that come in through Udozi with an extra incentive to buy from them.

The online service is also back-up with a smartphone app – due to launch in October – that allows the consumer to carry out all the functionality that is found online, but while they are out and about. “This would allow, for instance, someone in one branch of a store wanting to buy a shirt that isn’t in the correct size to find the next nearest store that does have it: turning a no sale into a sale,” says Gabbay.

The service, which is set for a huge consumer launch in late October in time for the run up to Christmas 2010, is currently recruiting retailers to sign up to the service. “We have already got many independent retailers signed up, and are now driving hard to get as many big names on board so that we can make this work really well for consumers come Christmas,” says Gabbay.

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