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MarTech Interview with Jaron Waldman, CEO at Rakuten Ready

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“We think the shift to mobile is here to stay. Brands who stay focused on being flexible with short-term plans and a longer-term differentiation strategy will succeed.”

Hi Jaron, please tell us about your role, your team and the technology at Rakuten Ready.

I’m CEO at Rakuten Ready– that came about as part of having co-founded Curbside in 2013 along with former leaders of location innovation at Apple. In 2018 we joined the Rakuten family to accelerate our vision of predictive arrival technology on a global stage. In June 2019, Curbside became Rakuten Ready.

Rakuten Ready is the leader in predictive arrival technology, powering seamless Order for Pickup programs for major restaurants, retailers, and grocers. In addition to our technology enabling superior pickup experiences, we also make it easy for brands to drive demand to their digital ordering platforms. We work with leading brands such as Kroger, Chick-fil-A, Applebee’s, Petco, Nordstrom and PetSmart to power their mobile order for pickup programs.

How is Rakuten Ready ARRIVE empowering merchants/users to deliver superior Order Pickup experiences?

Our clients and partners are facing two major challenges these days. The first is managing the new surge in sales volume due to COVID-19, especially in the Order for Pickup channel.  The second challenge is around building and scaling a contactless order experience across their channels to keep customers and employees safe.

We help alleviate these pain points with our ARRIVE predictive arrival technology which notifies employees when mobile Order for Pickup customers are on their way and have arrived. This enables businesses to better prepare orders in a more timely manner and optimize operations to make order pickup faster, simpler, and more enjoyable for customers.

In addition, knowing exactly when customers will arrive allows merchants to destage orders for curbside pickup and be ready to fulfill orders in the safest, most contactless manner possible…which is of premium importance these days.

You rebranded from Curbside in 2019. What has your journey been since then– how has it helped you acquire new customers and expand your market base?

Since joining Rakuten, we have all felt really welcomed by a group of like-minded individuals who are building a global ecosystem that empowers shoppers and merchants of all sizes. With Rakuten, we’ve become more international and we’ve also been able to expand our mission to more seamlessly connect consumer demand to brands, starting digitally and ending at storefronts.

Whether it is the opportunity to help retailers drive demand from Rakuten’s large consumer audience or delivering superior Order for Pickup experiences with our Rakuten Ready ARRIVE technology, we are well positioned to continue expanding our market impact by helping brands drive demand and create safer, more seamless pickup experiences during these tough times.

“Time matters more than distance”. Could you expand a little on this opinion, and how Rakuten Ready’s geo-mapping technology boosts a seamless online delivery experience?

What makes us unique is our predictive arrival technology, which provides an estimated arrival time to merchants for each customer order. Our technology learns and optimizes from millions of customer trips to create very reliable arrival time predictions. We know that customers don’t always take the same route, sometimes hit traffic, or may stop at the bank before picking up an order.

ARRIVE understands these nuances, adjusts for them and keeps the business notified of the predicted arrival time, without having to constantly ping the customers mobile device.

We find other technologies, such as geofences and beacons, just use distance as the basis for their notifications without adjusting for any possible delays or stops along the way. This unfortunately leads to high rates of inaccurate arrival estimates, which does not help merchants prepare for exceptional customer experiences.

As a result, ARRIVE not only allows the business to optimize their order queue since they know exactly when the customer will arrive, it provides an experience that will create loyal customers who know their order will be ready when they arrive, no matter when they placed their order.

Mobile storefronts are the new marketplace. Tell us which industries and commodities have been the most-agile in selling through mobile stores?

Those brands that are adapting the fastest to prioritizing mobile storefronts, in response to how consumer behavior has changed, are the brands leading the way today. Great examples include Kroger and Chick-Fil-A.

Kroger has made significant investments over the last several years to establish a simple and seamless mobile experience, including the implementation of Rakuten Ready’s ARRIVE into their mobile app, which powers their Order for Pickup programs nationwide.  When COVID-19 came along, Kroger’s digital-first approaches positioned them well to quickly react by continuing to expand curbside and in-store pickup services, as well as contactless payment solutions like Kroger Pay and even opened a pickup-only location in Cincinnati.

Chick-Fil-A also understands the rapid change in consumer behavior and continues to adjust their mobile strategy. While they have always offered drive-thru and to-go services, they are now heavily encouraging customers to order and pay through their mobile app, order online before arriving or pay contactless with employees holding tablets where customers can swipe their own card. Chick-Fil-A prioritized a safe and contactless experience that led to greater convenience for customers.

We think the shift to mobile is here to stay. Brands who stay focused on being flexible with short-term plans and a longer-term differentiation strategy will succeed.

Mobile commerce has evolved with better analytics and methodology. Tell us how ARRIVE adds contextual personal experiences into each order and dispatch?

Nordstrom is a long-time partner of ours and also a great example of how our technology can be used to create a personalized experience.  They implemented a pilot program for their shoppers called “Reserve Online & Try In Store.”  Shoppers browse through the mobile app and select the products they’d like to try on at their local Nordstrom. Customers then receive a text message when their items are ready for them to come and try on. With our ARRIVE technology, Nordstrom employees are notified when customers are en route, enabling employees to find the dressing room, fill it, then notify customers with a text message letting them know where they can find their dedicated dressing room with their name and selected items.

Additional personalization comes with the white glove service Nordstrom is known for, as they can fill dressing rooms not only with items reserved by the customer but also with items that compliment what the customer chose. Employees can also gauge the style and interests of the customer and recommend similar items. This seamless and personalized experience very much aligns with the world-class service customers expect from Nordstrom.

When customers are picking convenience over experience, how do you balance the two at Rakuten Ready?

Rakuten Ready’s mission is to provide a superior Order for Pickup experience. The convenience of having your order ready when you arrive — and handed off in a safe manner — is exactly what our ARRIVE technology is designed to do. This gives customers the best experience which means making it safe, seamless and convenient. So we see experience and convenience as inextricably connected.

With COVID-19 making an unprecedented dent on every business and exposing IT and security gaps, how does Rakuten Ready stay prepared and enable customers?

Rakuten Ready has built our platforms around what we expect the future state of data privacy and security to require. That’s why all customer PII is anonymized to us, and why we built our location technology to track users only when they are en route to pick-up their orders (once orders are picked up, all tracking ends).

Building technology that is first and foremost for consumer advantage (vs. those that ping mobile devices constantly to collect more data) is a guiding light for us. Our focus on seamlessly timed customer experiences is what also enables us to power safer contactless handoffs – especially important during times like these.

As a tech advocate in retail marketing and experience management, what advice do you have for the young e-commerce or retail professionals when it comes to up-skilling and career focus?

Channel your inner customer and focus on building the experiences that you yourself would like to have. The initial idea for Curbside was based on my experience and background in location services but ultimately it was driven by trying to figure out how to make life easier and more convenient for connecting with physical stores.

There are always areas of any experience that can be fundamentally improved. The consumer bar is always rising and that drives where the opportunities are in our field.

Tag a person whose answers you would like to read here:

Mada Seghete of Branch.

Thank you, Jaron! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Jaron Waldman is the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rakuten Ready, which started as Curbside before being acquired by Rakuten in 2018. He previously led Apple’s Geo team, which built location-based services deployed on hundreds of millions of Apple devices globally. Apple acquired Jaron’s previous company Placebase in 2009. Jaron holds degrees from the University of Toronto and UCLA.

rakutenready logo

Rakuten Ready, the leader in predictive arrival technology, is defining the future with solutions that make it easy to drive demand and deliver superior order for pickup experiences. The company works with leading brands such as Kroger, Applebee’s, PetSmart, Petco, Nordstrom and Chick-fil-A to power their mobile order for pickup programs. Founded in 2013 as Curbside by former leaders of location innovation at Apple, Curbside joined the Rakuten family in 2018 to accelerate predictive arrival technology and scale on a global stage. In June 2019, Curbside became Rakuten Ready.

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