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50 Innovative Companies to Watch 2021

Wool & Water LLC-Created Extended Retail™ Comes with the X-Factor: Bridges Brick and Mortar and E-Comm, Bringing Convenience, Selection, Experience, and Best Prices Together Using Extended Reality

“We empower retailers and manufacturers alike to better give their target shopper the confidence they need to raise conversion rates, grow basket size, and reduce marketing as well as inventory-associated costs.”

Centuries ago few could have imagined the invention of the printing press would result in mailboxes full of print direct mail. More recently, the Internet and email were created for academic knowledge sharing yet quickly became the foundation for brands to sell to both mass and specialty shoppers. Similarly, AR, VR, smart glass, and other technologies that nearly all brands still relegate to a gimmick, are set to revolutionize the shopping experience.

With that said, we’re thrilled to present Wool & Water LLC — a start-up of a talented business, strategy, and tech leaders, creating create new sales channels for brands using shoppable AR, VR, IoT, and smart glass experiences.

To highlight and further understand what Wool & Water LLC stands for and seeks to explore in this segment, I sat down with Jeff Bodzewski (co-founder), who serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer.

Below is an excerpt.

Q. Please help us understand how Wool & Water helps brands create new sales channels and generate revenue by putting the digital consumer experience first. Describe briefly.

There was a seismic change in shopper behavior in 2020 as people embraced technologies such as augmented reality (AR), QR Codes, and virtual reality (VR) in ways that the most optimistic analysts hadn’t expected to be mainstream until years later. These technologies directly address the most common shopper pain points whether in a physical store or online: convenience and confidence.

We are the first to build the technology and larger strategy behind what we call shoppable Extended Retail® experiences that give companies a competitive advantage by directly addressing these barriers that so often result in someone walking out of a store or abandoning their cart without purchasing. Our approach focuses on integrating Extended Retail throughout a company’s omnichannel touchpoints such as point of purchase, emails, and ecommerce sites. Extended Retail will continue to grow and evolve in the coming years as seemingly futuristic extended experiences such as holograms and the metaverse reach tipping points of becoming mainstream.

Q. What can you tell us about Extended Retail™?

We commissioned a study of 1,000 “average” shoppers in early 2021 and were pleasantly surprised to find nearly 70 percent said they had used AR or VR in the last 30 days and 25 percent were already using the primitive early versions of a handful of brands that were offering when shopping. Yet no brand had thought to integrate ecommerce and CRM within AR or VR to their physical or retail storefronts to make buying easier for the shopper. Even today a leading luxury brand offers a very basic sunglass try-on tool that requires shoppers to go through a minimum of seven steps, including downloading a separate app, to try on and buy a single style of sunglasses, exponentially more if the shopper wanted to try different styles. We knew we could do better.

Extended Retail is both the business strategy and technology that integrates these extended experiences throughout a company’s full omnichannel touchpoints using the technology the vast majority of shoppers already own. That last part of not requiring new technology is absolutely critical for us as every additional step a shopper needs to go through just to make a purchase leads to additional frustration and significantly reduces the likelihood of a purchase. Having shoppers be able to purchase within two clicks is the core of Extended Retail as Justin and me have been part of enough digital transformation initiatives and retail restructures to know how important this is to conversion.

While many want to focus on these (very cool) technologies alone, the strategy of meaningfully integrating these experiences into a company’s retail presence, promoting the new shopping tool that significantly helps confidence and convenience, and building a foundation for future evolutions is just as important. The time of viewing AR and VR as gimmicks has passed as shoppers are rewarding the forward-looking brands who empower shoppers to feel better about making a purchase. We’re already pioneering new uses of these experiences around virtual assistants, driving retail foot traffic using digital signage, and even preliminary discussions for exciting potential large sponsors for a professional sports league.

(Note: We’ve recently changed Extended Retail to a®)

Q. Given that Wool & Water created the first-of-its-kind shoppable augmented and virtual reality, how do you think this technical facility will address consumers’ pain points going forward?

We spent months analyzing why shoppers would walk out of a store without buying what they intended and the real reasons people abandoned their cart to crystalize our approach. Convenience and confidence were overwhelmingly the top reasons with price, the typical scapegoat in lost sales, usually third behind these two. The stakes for retailers are enormous not only in the bottom-line impact of lost sales, but an industry that loses ~$400B each year to returns and the critical impact on inventory levels at a time when many retailers’ supply chain is already strained.

Driving sales, increasing revenue, and reducing costs are the entire basis of Extended Retail and the single-minded value proposition for which Wool & Water is built. Our tech experiences are strategically crafted to directly give shoppers the confidence, convenience, and knowledge they need to confidently complete their purchase whether in the store or online shopping. Consider a favorite example where a person walks into a hardware store looking for a new kitchen faucet, but isn’t sure the exact model, finish, warranty, etc. Most of all, they’re not confident how the faucet in the aisle-long display will look at home.

In nearly every scenario, the shopper either walks out too overwhelmed to select a new faucet or buys multiple to test the look at home knowing the others will be returned once a decision is made. Our approach would look analyze how and where best to intercept the shopper throughout their journey with an emphasis on packaging and point of purchase with faucets that can be saved and shopped directly on their phone, viewed in full 3D shoppable AR in their home, get the information they need about installation and feel confident buying that faucet.

We empower retailers and manufacturers alike to better give their target shoppers the confidence they need to raise conversion rates, grow basket size, and reduce marketing as well as inventory-associated costs.

Q. What new endeavors is Wool & Water currently undertaking?

Consumer adoption of technologies guides our roadmap that ranges from the continued evolution of AR shopping through boosting retail within the metaverse that is still years away from the mainstream. Any extended technology that can blur the physical and digital world while either serving as a stand-alone storefront or enhancing existing shopping touchpoints is of keen interest to our team.

We’re also continuing to grow Extended Retail for small business owners who may not have the same resources as a larger competitor. Plummeting technology costs, increasing shopper expectations, and demonstrable positive financial impact makes me especially passionate about ways to bring this competitive advantage to all retailers in various industries.

There isn’t an industry that can’t in some way benefit from Extended Retail’s confidence and convenience so we’re looking at growing our presence in some categories that may not be intuitive such as energy retailers to demonstrate the individual impact of potential savings/benefits as well as customer care where AI-based virtual assistants will replace chatbots online.

Q. Is there anything else you want us to highlight that we might have missed?

Consumers, investors, and other stakeholders are already rewarding those brands that have become to dabble in AR for shopping purposes. There is a quickly closing window to be the first offering these shoppable experiences in their respective industries that benefit from the new analyst notes, headlines in business and retail trades, and of course, giving consumers the shopping experience they now demand. xCommerce, sales flowing through extended technology channels, is going to be commonplace in 3-5 years.

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Leadership | Wool & Water LLC

Jeff Bodzewski, CEO and co-founder, has delivered transformational digital, mobile, social, and XR experiences to some of the world’s most innovative companies such as Google, Infiniti, AT&T, Boston Beer, Canada Goose, Discover Financial, Victoria’s Secret, and Pernod Ricard over a 20-year career.

He has been a leading voice for brands to monetize new technologies since being quoted in Harvard Business Review in 2008 about the then unrealized potential of shopping via social media. Since then Jeff has been named one of the Top 50 CAO/CDOs, profiled by leading media, and spoken before some of the most prestigious industry audiences. He also serves as an adjunct focused on digital growth within DePaul University’s PR/AD graduate school.

Jeff earned his MBA in Strategic Management from Kelley School of Business at Indiana University where he was named the 2011 Alumni Leader of the Year. He graduated from Purdue University that has twice named him as a Liberal Arts Influential.

Justin McAneny is the co-founder of Wool & Water LLC.

“We are the first to build the technology and larger strategy behind what we call shoppable Extended Retail® experiences that give companies a competitive advantage by directly addressing these barriers that so often result in someone walking out of a store or abandoning their cart without purchasing.”