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30 Fastest Growing Private Companies to Watch 2022

Transforming Organizations’ Omnichannel Retail Footprints with Shoppable VR/AR Experiences: Wool & Water LLC

“Our Extended Retail© tech platform is the only one of its kind to integrate a retailer's current ecommerce platform and CRM to deliver a truly shoppable AR experience, whether enhancing the in-store or online shopping experience.”

Wool & Water LLC, a pioneer in building and growing Extended Retail™, is created by the minds of pragmatic futurists, creative strategists, and passionate retail advocates. Extended RetailTM bridges the physical and digital storefronts using shoppable AR, VR and other elements of the Metaverse to provide shoppers with the confidence, convenience, and selection they require. It also helps putting the digital consumer experience first.

The company is based in Chicago and New York City with offices in Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Savannah.

Jeff Bodzewski (Co-Founder & CEO) spoke exclusively to the Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Q. Have you always been passionate about technology in retail? Tell us what inspired the foundation of Wool & Water LLC?

Dinner conversations growing up would often shift from my day at school to new insights and ways to engage shoppers as my dad led merchandising, sales, and marketing for a retailer that many of your readers likely shopped at recently. The challenge of getting a shopper with near-infinite choices to walk into your store and do so consistently was and, frankly, remains intoxicating to me. My dad and many great mentors throughout my career really taught me that technology and media vehicles change, but the shopper's desire for convenience and confidence should always drive the retailer's every decision and innovation.

It's that core belief that led me to wonder why retailers and manufacturers of all sizes were ignoring the seismic shift in consumer behavior in 2020 toward AR and VR in ways beyond gaming. A chance conversation with former colleague and now Wool & Water co-founder, Justin McAneny, led us to discuss all these ignored shopper signals, such as Google searches around VR and travel or education increased exponentially in 2020 over previous years. People toying with early AR shopping tools to 'view' a sofa in their home or try on glasses. The QR code is suddenly becoming a mainstream and integral part of your average shopper's life overnight after languishing in the US for years.

This critical technology shift we identified has been the core of our new tech platform that integrates within a company's various properties from website to email to physical stores in a way that will be commonplace 3-5 years from now.

Q. We believe that retail is not dead and created Extended Retail to advance our clients' needs and fulfill their consumers' wants.' Do you think you're setting a new bar for your company creating this platform?

We are setting the bar for how retailers sell to shoppers at a time when financial pressures, uncertainty, and other variables are eroding most company's shareholder value. Extended Retail© demonstrates clear financial and brand benefits throughout an organization as a long-term investment similar to ecommerce and retail store enhancements. And that's a key part of our appeal to retailers is our ability to serve as a true bridge and partner to both the physical and digital retail teams.

Heads of sales love us because we can increase conversion rates up to 90 percent, grow average order size 18 percent, and even drive additional foot traffic to physical stores by eight percent. CMO's can point to the significantly lower CPM, exponentially larger reach, and 3x higher engagement than comparable non-AR media. Finance appreciates the dramatic reduction we can have on their returns, ability to scale without increased labor costs, and easing their supply chain pressures by not needing to have every item at every store.

Public companies that have announced innovative new AR and VR integrations have seen shareholder value jump on the news, as happened when Lululemon saw its share price jump 5.5 percent the day it announced it was purchasing Mirror to sell in their stores. The brand benefits are also significant from the PR value of early adopters being rewarded with positive media, the increased preference among current and potential partners, and of course, the pride retail employees have for working at one of their industry's most innovative companies.

Q. What are your focus areas? And how is your shoppable augmented and virtual reality platform relevant to today's retail industry?

Eighty-five percent of US shoppers are interested in using AR and VR in their shopping to gain greater confidence online in how that product would look and at physical retail where they can benefit from a retailer's entire inventory. Confidence and convenience are nearly always at the top of shopper expectations. To date, it's been mutually exclusive depending on if the shopper wants to order at the moment online (convenience) or go to the store to see or try the item itself (confidence).

Extended Retail© is the first tech platform to empower retailers and shoppers alike using technology that nearly every consumer in the US owns without any cumbersome additional downloads. It's a long-term foundational part of a retailer's complete retail ecosystem that can be triggered by either a QR code or web link that is fully integrated with an ecommerce platform such as Shopify and nearly any CRM system so shoppers can check out whenever they want versus going back to a website to find the product again.

Nearly every participant in the $1 trillion retail industry, from small boutiques to the largest manufacturers, can directly benefit from this approach to bridge online and offline sales. We've also found success among other industries, particularly those dependent on direct mail and email that often struggle with personalization to the individual shopper. One of my favorite use cases is an energy-saving AR experience triggered from direct mail QR code or email weblink.

Q. From your perspective, how is the industry your serve currently evolving? And what are the trends in the different categories?

Both Justin and I have deep digital strategy backgrounds and remember basic web architecture best practices such as empowering the shopper to purchase within two clicks that seem to have been lost in how others are developing shoppable AR. One luxury brand we benchmarked our accessories prototype against requires shoppers to go through a minimum of seven steps, including downloading a standalone app, from try-on to purchase. That's unacceptable to us and ignores 20+ years of ecommerce best practices.

Another area of opportunity is how even the largest companies in the world are adding significant and often frustrating friction to the shopper experience. Consider how one of the biggest luxury automakers in the world is still texting QR codes to people's phones despite me not figuring out how to scan a QR code with a phone that's on the phone. That automaker is able to tell its various stakeholders that it's an early adopter of AR, yet unfortunately, it likely did more to frustrate its current and potential owners. It's simple strategic and executional elements that really are the difference between integrating Extended Retail© as a contributing sales channel within a company's omnichannel footprint or a pilot that is doomed from the start.

Q. What is the roadmap of your company in terms of technological expansion?

We have an aggressive three-year roadmap that all hinges on growing consumer behaviors and trends that represent a tipping point of an emerging technology becoming mainstream. Metaverse and the buzz surrounding large investments by Facebook, Epic, and even Roblox is becoming more of a focus for us as forward-thinking retailers interested in having their brands part of eventually part of it ask for our recommendations.

There are very deliberate and strategic tech decisions and milestones that will eventually lead to a meaningful retail presence in whatever the first real iteration of the Metaverse becomes. It's a linear path through shoppable AR followed by VR and smart glass that companies must plan and build a sustainable foundation for now to ensure various tech stacks and platforms are seamlessly integrated across an enterprise. My role as a Chief Analytics Officer at a mid-size Manhattan-based agency would often have me working with companies whose various data lakes could not communicate with each other because each was built around a different legacy system. New car sales couldn’t integrate and act on data from parts and service. Outbound conquest marketing couldn’t benefit from retail shopper data. The mistakes of tech are already being repeated in UX and commerce within AR. We don't want to see the mistakes around system integration, data sharing, and agility lost as retailers plan for the newest generation of tech shopping experiences.

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Please help us understand how your company culture promotes creativity and innovation.

Justin and I are both fiercely intellectually curious and entrepreneurial in nature, so we've very deliberately recruited people who share both values to join Wool & Water. It's important to have that base knowledge about everything from retail trends to art to pop culture since we can't predict the inspiration for our next tech innovation or industry solution. That’s honestly one of the most exhilarating elements to me as we continue to see pop culture, design thinking and product development more closely integrated than ever before.

Deep experience across complementary industries is also something we specifically look for to ensure that one person is always a subject matter expert regardless of the client we're working with to provide the best perspective. Each Wool & Water member can point to experience leading engagements with many of the world’s leading brands such as Google, Boston Beer, Macy’s, GM, Lyft, Tinder and Canada Goose to name a few. It's incredible how many transferable best practices and learnings exist from seemingly disparate industries such as energy and food or professional sports and automotive.

We also come from a variety of personal backgrounds with various team members originally from the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast that brings us the needed different perspectives on consumers, shopping behaviors, tech adoption, and even core values among different groups. Combining these different perspectives and knowledge bases in a common way focused on solving problems is what gets the best outcomes for our clients and investors.

Q. Will your company be expanding, bringing on any new products or new services that we should be aware of? And what are you doing to stay ahead of the curve?

Our Extended Retail© tech platform is the only one of its kind to integrate a retailer's current ecommerce platform and CRM to deliver a truly shoppable AR experience, whether enhancing the in-store or online shopping experience. It’s deliberately scalable and agile as an umbrella platform for all extended reality technologies that will comprise the Metaverse such as shoppable AR and VR. Today shoppable AR is the competitive advantage that few companies are utilizing while their exact target shopper is beginning to expect the confidence and convenience that it uniquely delivers.

Today's shoppable AR will shift into branded and commerce-focused VR shopping experiences. The Oculus Quest 2, released in Q4 2021, was the tipping point for VR to become mainstream as it delivered a cordless, highly responsive virtual experience capable of becoming far more than gaming that VR is most associated. You can already see the foundation for shoppable VR in new areas of the Oculus Store, such as entertainment where you watch select ESPN broadcasts, visit exotic destinations such as Tahiti, or interact with exhibits in museums. Shopping is the logical next step as Oculus begins to break down its current restrictions on overtly branded experiences.

From there, our roadmap focuses on further enhancing the at-home shopping experience to bring more confidence to a shopper who seems less and less inclined to visit the mall for that shopping trip. Deeper integrations with pick-up now through AR, VR, and smart technologies coming online in the next 24-36 months will present a significant opportunity relative to the market size. This is a significant revenue opportunity for us, particularly in the coming 2-3 years as companies of all sizes race to integrate the foundational elements of shoppable AR and quickly move them into other commerce-appropriate areas of the Metaverse.

Leadership | Wool & Water

Jeff Bodzewski is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Wool & Water LLC. He has been a driving force in digital transformation and data initiatives at leading companies, including Google, Boston Beer, Unilever, Lyft, Discover Financial, and AT&T, as they look to drive revenue. Harvard Business Review profiled his work in reaching actionable consumer insights while Corinium selected him as one of the Top 50 Analytics professionals in the US/Canada.

Justin McAneny is the founding partner and Chief Strategy Officer of Wool & Water LLC. He has over 15 years of experience using digital strategy and storytelling to help companies monetize their web properties, social media, and emerging tech. A generalist amongst digital strategists, Justin has found success reaching consumers at scale using various digital touchpoints.

“Extended Retail© is the first shoppable AR tech platform to empower retailers and shoppers alike using technology that nearly every consumer in the US owns without any cumbersome additional downloads.”