Vaughan Rowsell talks AI, Xero, and the importance of self-disruption

Vend’s chief product officer Vaughan Rowsell is in a happy place. The cloud-based software company he founded in 2010 has a much-envied corporate culture; is partnering with the likes of Apple; and is expanding into North America and the UK. We chatted with Rowsell about the future of technology in retail.

Rowsell stepped down from CEO six months ago. He’s now enjoying the handful of emails he gets per day versus the 100+ in his former role. His mandate these days is to keep abreast of the rapidly evolving e-commerce environment, listen to customers and keep developing the Vend products.

Vend is ‘hitting its straps’ in North America and the UK, he says, although not at the expense of the other core markets of Australia and New Zealand. In late July, Vend announced a ‘deepening of their partnership’ with Xero, which will see the two companies becoming preferred providers to their customers. About 30 percent of Vend customers in NZ and Australia connect to Xero, and they want to accelerate this growth in the UK and US.

The new partnership means sales, customer and cash flow data is shared in real-time between Vend’s and Xero’s software, reducing overheads and administration for small business. It’s essentially about making it more simple for small retailers to get on with selling, instead of being knee-deep in accounts, says Rowsell.

He gets his gush on when talking about Xero, and talks about how they both share the same values: “We continue to get closer to Xero, and make sure that the product is delightful.”

Obligatory use of the most published photo in the history of Idealog

On the partnerships with cool companies, Rowsell says it means that Vend gets introduced to more customers, gets cut-through among the myriad of competitive options, and is hugely validating. But it’s not the end game. “It doesn’t make it a slam dunk," he says. "You’ve still got to make a great product, which is the right fit for the customer.”

In the e-commerce environment, Vend is looking for ways to enable retailers to sell anywhere, known as ‘anywhere e-commerce’, he says. Retailers now have the option of selling their products across multi-channels: Facebook; online; Twitter; Pinterest; and Instagram. “You can start a transaction on any of these platforms, and not have to direct customers to private websites you’ve spends thousands of dollars putting together.”

The much-talked-about brand or shopping experience has become paramount, he says. Hence why there are a lot more online retailers, such as eyewear company Warby Parker, starting to get into bricks and mortar operations. Operating a retail store is less expensive than it used to be, because of technology, he says. For instance, you can now know whether you have enough pairs of shoes in store to cope with a sale. Stock rooms – and therefore, your footprint – do not have to be as big.

Looking further ahead, automation and artificial intelligence are primed to create some interesting challenges for all types of businesses, including retail, he says. At the moment, AI is being used in online messaging, so consumers chat with a bot about a product. Will robots replace humans as sales assistants in store one days? These are the sorts of questions Rowsell is facing in his role. “I think people want a genuine experience in store, and maybe that is far-fetched, but that’s just what I think at the moment."

Data collection of customer details is interesting, and helps create an engaging, magical experience, Rowsell believes. This technology can help recognise when you get back in the store, the products you last bought, your shopping profile.

Constant disruption of your business models is essential in the rapidly evolving digital environment, he says. “That’s why I’m constantly listening to customers and thinking about how we can make things more simple for them.”

This story was originally published on The Register