Thanks to increasingly powerful mobile and web technologies, people can work from practically anywhere. One eCommerce startup, the Utah-based Needle, sees a big opportunity for this mobile, remote, and telecommuting workforce to change the way businesses connect with their customers and influence the way consumers make purchasing decisions. Rather than relying on customer service reps stuffed into rows of cubicles in call centers to offer canned answers to customer questions, Needle offers a social eCommerce platform that connects online shoppers to experts and brand evangelists — people that actually use the product.
In April, as a way of demonstrating the “work anywhere” model — and that Needle practices what they preach — the team swapped out its traditional office for a decked-out Airstream motorhome. While this alternative approach may sound gimmicky, it seems that investors are intrigued, as the company announced today that it has closed a $10.5 million round of series B financing.
The round was co-led by Shasta Ventures and Rembrandt Ventures and brings Needle’s total funding to $12.5 million, following a $2 million series A raise from Rembrandt earlier this year. As a result of the new investment, Shasta partner Jim Barnett and Rembrandt partner Douglas Schrier will be joining the startup’s board of directors.
Online retailers are looking for better ways to create that in-store shopping experience for their customers online, so Needle’s social platform gives them a way to link certified product experts to customers who are perusing the brand’s digital catalog via chat, video or voice. Needle identifies and certifies these experts and fans, allowing them to reach out directly to shopper via its web-based communications platform from anywhere — er, anywhere they can find an Internet connection.
In turn, brands can display a banner or offer an invitation popu-up that allows shoppers to click-to-connect with experts who can then walk them through the product, answering questions in realtime. Needle goes out of the way to be flexible to its “agents” or “Needlers,” who might be working moms (and avid skiers that rep Skullcandy, for example), working with clients to find the right times to fill out their customer response chat connections. The company also tailors incentives for each client based on how they want to chats to go, whether sales, leads, or support.
Needle founder and CEO Morgan Lynch believes that people are more likely to offer great recommendations if they can work anywhere, on their own schedule. Rather than being cramped into a cubicle, they get to be flexible, and a result, more creative.
The CEO says that many of the startup’s clients have seen doubled ROI through increased sales conversion rates, better retention, and improved “Net Promoter Scores” (a loyalty measurement) as a result of using its social chat platform. Needles clients each have NPS scores higher than 72 percent, he says, compared to an industry average of 47 percent.
Needle’s solution gives eCommerce companies an alternative to text-based chat and gives brands an opportunity to insert their fans and most vocal supporters directly into sales process. This can be a great way for brands to fix their online shopping experiences by making them more interactive, and for Lynch, Needle it an opportunity to disrupt the enormous, antiquated global call centers — all told, a $100 billion space.
Currently, Needle is working with retailers like Skullcandy, Woolrich, Under Armour, and Urban Outfitters — to name a few.