Retail

It can be a fine line between success and failure in eCommerce.

Attracting people to your website is only the first step. And if you think that showcasing your best-selling products to visitors is enough, you may be wrong.

André Brown co-founded merchandising platform Attraqt in 2002 and led it as CEO for 16 years – overseeing the group’s admission to London’s junior AIM public market in 2014 – before leaving and turning his attention to his next venture.

Advanced Commerce, founded in 2020, has built GrapheneHC, a platform which combines three technologies – site search, visual merchandising and product recommendations – to help clients deliver a better, more personalised online shopping experience on their websites, increasing sales and reducing drop-off rates.

“We’re the only platform which is actually designed for merchandisers: the giveaway is that everybody else talks about product discovery, which is very much a frontend way of looking at things – a lot of that’s about surfacing your best-sellers and so on,” he tells BusinessCloud. 

“The reality is merchandisers don’t really care what the best sellers are. What they care about is stock that’s proving hard to shift. So what are you going to do about that? 

“It’s all about sequencing.”

Advanced Commerce – The new gold standard for merchandising

Brown said his original vision for the company – which placed fifth on our RetailTech 50 ranking this year – was somewhat different to the platform of today.

“My original plan was to build a framework for headless commerce. That’s why the company is called Advanced Commerce,” he acknowledges. “But we quite quickly realised that the whole headless commerce space is really an enterprise space. We realised that by the time we built it out – long sales cycles, long deployment cycles – we’d run out of money. 

“As part of the journey, we’d started developing a ‘search and merch’ microservice to illustrate the framework… we realised that we understood this really well, and so we pivoted.”

Integrating with existing eCommerce platforms, GrapheneHC allows users to blend product attributes like price, size and ‘in stock’ with site metrics such as popular, trending and average basket adds, plus further metrics from external data feeds if required. GrapheneHC then uses this blend to determine a personalised product display sequence for the potential customer.

It also has a merchandising templates function which gives retailers complete control over where merchandising blends are applied on a page.

It says that the average shopper only looks at the first three pages of an online store, which can be as little as 5% of the product catalogue: delivering unique digital experiences increases online store performance and also the connection a customer feels with the retailer’s brand.

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At a recent roundtable of RetailTech 50 and MarTech 50 firms – held in association with Refresh PR – Brown produced a deck of cards to make his point. “If you all visited the same website, and these cards represented the products on that site, should you all be shown them in the same sequence?” he asked, peeling them off one by one.

“The same customer profile is being applied to everyone, [which makes no sense].”

After the joker made its planned appearance in the sequence, he further illustrated his message. “As you segment your customer base, you’ve got people with different preferences for, say, brand, colour and price. There’s a lot of focus right now on trying to make sure that you’re showing an appropriate product sequence to each customer.

“But there’s also an inherent conflict between AI and human merchandisers: AI is data-driven personalisation, whereas if you’re a merchandiser, your role is to promote the brand’s DNA on the website – and the way you do that is through the way you curate pages. 

“We’re doing a lot of work at the moment about how you can blend the two together.”

‘You build everything better the second time around’

Brown says a big learning from his time at Attraqt was to not build connectors to every platform but instead “to build everything API-to-API”.

“In my previous business, we built a Magento connector and it was just awful because you get conflicts and contention with other plugins. The API approach is much better,” he explains.

“We also learned a lot of lessons about how to do the onboarding process: you explain to clients ‘these are your options’ rather than saying ‘what would you like?’”

Advanced Commerce launched without funding but has since been through three oversubscribed fundraises and grown its workforce to 20 people, including tech specialists who worked with Brown at Attraqt. It now serves 40 clients.

The CEO says the primary focus is on the UK market. “We do have clients in Europe, Australia and America, but right now we are very focused on just growing our UK customer base,” he says.

“The next round of funding we’ll do is a Series A – it might be next year.”

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