Nicole Junkermann is an international entrepreneur and investor, and the founder of NJF Holdings, an international investment company with interests in venture capital, private equity, and real estate. Through NJF’s venture capital arm, NJF Capital, Nicole oversees a portfolio of over 30 start-ups across three continents, including in healthcare, fintech, and deep tech.

The traditional bricks and mortar-based retail sector has been substantially changed by a new wave of technological advancement, shift to online shopping and advertisement activities. Retailers who have not been able, or have been slow or unwilling to adapt, have invariably experienced difficult times as a result and many have even been forced to close.

However, as with all business industries, seismic changes also bring opportunities for innovative companies to increase efficiency and help established retailers to adjust for new realities.

Some of the most exciting e-commerce innovations include solutions for increasing online conversions, advanced supply chain analytics using IoT sensors and data loggers, and improving the customer experience with augmented reality.

In 2007, e-commerce represented only 5.1% of total retail purchases across the world. Now it accounts for more than 16% and this trend has no doubt been further accelerated by Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures taken by the Government around the world.

I have been following this trend closely in the last decade, and since 2012 have invested in a number of early-stage companies which are providing innovative, digital solutions to the retail sector. As an investor, I try to identify companies utilising the latest technology to disrupt and redefine traditional industries and business models – and the following three are good examples.

Bolt: a payments company improving the customer checkout process and thereby the turnover of e-retailers

Bolt is a payments platform that provides an optimised checkout experience that has reinvented the concept of the one-click buy. The idea is that online retailers can utilise Bolt’s technology to encourage and facilitate their customers to be able to make purchases more quickly with less clicks, faster page loading, fewer fields to complete and a faster time from decision to buy to purchase to completion.

Bolt democratizes one-click buying by making it accessible to e-merchants who are not on Amazon. However, their new payment processor goes even further: it also avoids the problems linked to fraudulent chargebacks, which for most e-merchants would result in 2 to 3% of losses. Bolt represents a valuable alternative to traditional payment solution providers.

Gideon Brothers: AI and robots to improve the supply chain

Gideon Brothers specialises in robotics. The company uses artificial intelligence (AI) and robots to improve the efficiency of logistics centres serving commerce. Gideon Brothers has been successful in converting a wide variety of industrial machines and vehicles into autonomous mobile robots. The company’s first product is an autonomous transport vehicle, capable of moving up to 800kg of goods.

Digitisation and automatisation also facilitates the flow of goods, helps to improve efficiency and reduces costs. Supply chains could really benefit from adapting to new technologies like those offered by Gideon Brothers. It is no coincidence that Gideon Brothers has been recognised as one of Europe’s top AI rising stars at a time when AI and logistics are proving to be the perfect match.

reBuy: a secondary marketplace for used electronic devices

reBuy is an online marketplace that allows customers to buy and sell used electronics and media. This includes tech products, such as smartphones, tablets and computers. The market-leading German platform, which also operates in the UK, Italy and Spain, matches supply and demand. Consumers can also re-sell items to reBuy itself to be refurbished and sold on.

Another attraction of reBuy is that it has a really positive impact on the environment. Its online marketplace makes it possible to extend the life of electronic products which, as we know, require declining resources for their design. At the same time, it enables people on low budgets to afford and enjoy good quality, inexpensive premium products.