Zionsville team offers digital support for retailers

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Zionsville’s Chamber of Commerce and local software startup Perfit are offering a digital framework local businesses can use to cushion the pandemic’s blow this holiday shopping season.

After watching customer traffic at local retailers dwindle last spring as a result of  COVID-19 restrictions, Zionsville Chamber Executive Director Allyson Gutwein partnered with Zionsville-based Perfit to offer local businesses some of the tools that big box competitors and digital marketplaces enjoy. The site, ShopZionsvilleChamber.com, acts as a hub for multiple stores’ live inventories, allows shoppers to make appointments and sets the stage for new in-store features.

“We understand that shopping online is incredibly convenient, and it’s a trend we’re not going to see change,” Gutwein said. “But, we really wanted something where people would be able to shop locally—whatever their comfort level was.”

CEO Jason Fordham founded Perfit in 2018 as a platform for local businesses to offer shoppers alternative styles, sizes and colors within a store’s inventory. Now, he’s pitching Perfit to malls and chamber organizations as a benefit for their tenants or members.

Perfit’s suite of services now includes an online application that allows shoppers to reserve items and schedule an appointment to try them in-person. That advance notice gives retail employees the ability to stage a fitting room, for example, with reserved items and others the app recommends because of their similar style or sizes.

“We started with a concept of changing out the in-store experience by driving the best of digital into traditional brick-and-mortar,” Fordham said.

Fordham said Perfit has spoken with 50 of the chamber’s 458 members, and about 20 stores have provided their inventory to be included on the hub.

Brian McCall, owner of Midwest Jewelers & Estate Buyers in Zionsville, closed his store for seven weeks last spring and wound up losing two months worth of retail sales. Though he’s surprised how well his sales have recovered, he said he has no idea how the holiday shopping season will go.

Like other retail stores, Midwest Jewelers’ online sales are limited by the constraints of the internet.

“Jewelry is something you have to see and feel and hold and smell and touch. It’s an emotional thing, and you lose some of that emotional connection if you’re just seeing it online,” McCall said.

McCall said if case numbers continue to rise and there’s another shutdown, Perfit will put his store in a better position to pivot to hybrid sales.

“If this brings five or 10 customers in, I would consider that a resounding success,” he said.

Gutwein’s hopes for the website extend beyond what could be a lackluster local holiday shopping season.

“I hate to say it, but I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of [the pandemic],” Gutwein said. “We will still need to have an option for people to shop locally without having to come out. If not, we’re going to have trouble bridging the availability of products and store owners making that income.”

In addition to customer benefits, Gutwein said Perfit’s software offers other advantages for retailers. She said shopping appointments let stores know when and how to schedule their staff, and customized recommendations allow business owners to make informed inventory decisions instead of guessing how many pants they should buy in a given size.

“We’re looking at this potential dark winter, a resurgence of closures,” Fordham said. “We need to do everything we can to instill confidence. That we can allow for appointment shopping may be the difference between stores operating or being shut down the fourth quarter.”

Though not included in its initial partnership with the chamber, Perfit also offers leasable smart displays that can be installed in a fitting room to show shoppers in-store alternatives to products they are considering.

Fordham said Dayton, Ohio-based StrataCache, which manufactures the self-ordering modules the public sees at McDonald’s, makes his company’s smart displays.

“Stores have been doing smart displays for many years, but it has been a massive capital investment,” Fordham said.

Fordham said small businesses that would otherwise have to spend thousands outfitting each fitting room can pay just $250 per device, per month to insure and lease the device, the associated software and any customer support they may need to keep things running.

Eventually, Fordham said Perfit would also like to expand into delivery. He said it would be natural for customers to build a cart with items from different stores that could then be delivered to their homes.

“This is a new venture, new software they’ve created just for us. Just for our members. It’s not going to look the same as a multi-billion dollar company like Target, Walmart or Amazon,” Gutwein said. “This is a growing, changing website we’re going to keep working on to make it better.”

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