Two years ago, Nadia Shouraboura was out shopping with her teenage daughter when they spotted a QR code in a store.
Shouraboura recalled how her daughter pulled out her cellphone, raising it to the QR code and scanning it – nothing.

The code just brought her to the store’s website, an underwhelming result for a young consumer who’s accustomed to using mobile technology for everything, Shouraboura said.

“She was disappointed, and she’s like, Mom, if this app could bring me these clothes right now … she says, I’m here, I’m touching an app, and now I want this item to be brought to me,” she said, speaking from Dx3, a marketing conference held in Toronto last week.

“We started to talk, and so many ideas came up.”

Sales tags with QR codes, attached to jeans at the Retail Collective at Dx3.
Sales tags with QR codes, attached to jeans at the Retail Collective at Dx3.

And with that, Shouraboura began work on a new business. She ended up leaving her job at Amazon.com Inc., where she had been working for eight years, and founding Hointer Inc., a Seattle, Wash.-based startup that works to bring e-commerce into physical brick and mortar stores.

To use Hointer’s services, consumers need to download its mobile app, which is available for Android, iOS, and Windows. Then they can visit a store that has partnered with Hointer and that has QR codes to the sales tags attached to their products.

If customers see something they like, they can go up to one of these tags and scan it to see available colours and sizes. They can then order one of those items to be put into a fitting room through a dropshaft into the room.

“You can pick the sizes you want without any digging. If you’re standing naked in the fitting room and you need a larger size, you simply pull out your phone and you tap it,” Shouraboura said, adding customers can then buy the product within the fitting room simply by using the app.

Being able to try and then buy something in a fitting room, without having to interact with a sales associate, means stores can save money on hiring store help, she said. And for the employees who do work at the store, they can focus on providing better, more targeted customer service.

On the retail side, the Hointer app can also show employees if a Hointer customer has entered the store, his or her purchase history, and the items that he or she has chosen to try on in the fitting room. That means the employee can do a better job of picking out recommendations, rather than just guessing what a customer might want.

For Shouraboura, the idea behind Hointer is to blend the physical store and the online store together.

“I tried shopping for everything on Amazon, and everything worked great, except for apparel and shoes. If you love shoes, you know the online experience sucks,” she said. “[Hointer] is designed to bring the beauty and efficiency of the digital world to the physical world,” she said.

While Shouraboura wouldn’t give exact details on pricing, she said it’s “reasonably priced” and is based on a monthly subscription model. There is also a one-time setup fee.

The company’s next move is to expand into Canada by partnering with retailers here, she added. Hointer already has partners in the U.S., including denim powerhouse Levi’s, as well as plans to enter the U.K. this summer.

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