Imagine this. You’re on your way to work. You are slightly rushed but, nevertheless, you want your morning coffee. You reach for your smartphone and, as you walk down the street or park your car, you place your regular order via the app on your phone.
The staff know you — you come in daily — and when you arrive at Starbucks or Costa or wherever, your cappuccino is on the counter waiting. “Morning, Pal”, your preferred greeting line and a nice personal touch, is scribbled on the cup so you know it’s yours. Then you approach the till, brandish your phone over the scanner and the transaction is made — either charging your credit card or deducting cash from your loyalty card, the details of which are also stored on your phone. You’re in and out in two minutes max.
FabriQate, a mobile technology agency, has delivered this exact service to Starbucks in China and Hong Kong. The app the firm created for Starbucks Hong Kong immediately became the top-ranking app on the Apple store when it launched in May of last year, according to industry data. It remains one of the top 50 downloaded apps globally.
“Brands want to engage with the customer,” says Archit Hari, FabriQate’s Dubai-based managing director for the Middle East and North Africa. “We build beautiful customer [focused] apps which revolutionised the way people perceive apps. We rethink every click the person needs to take. And that’s brought us a lot of success.”
Customers are happy and so too are clients because user-friendly apps help drive sales.
Three months ago, FabriQate, which has its headquarters in London and branches in China and India, moved into the UAE. Mr Hari got on board after he was approached by the agency co-founder Manav Gupta, with whom he had studied at Purdue University in the US. Mr Hari had previously helped the property group Emaar and the media company Time Out launch their apps in Dubai and has spent the past 11 months developing an app on his own time called FabUp.
Unfortunately for impatient consumers of coffee, FabriQate has found that many retailers in the UAE are not quite ready to wholeheartedly embrace mobile technologies. So the agency has, for now, identified banks and car companies as priorities.
“Everyone has been pretty welcoming,” Mr Hari says. “We are in talks with pretty much all the auto brands and all the banks.”
Many of the local UAE banks already have apps. FabriQate’s job, however, is to take it to the next level by designing something really beautiful, he explains. The company includes former Google, Apple and Sapient employees who “really understand design”, according to Mr Hari.
Of course, the agency is keen to win business from retailers too. But there are three reasons Mr Hari identifies why they are difficult to get on board.
First, they are “pretty spoiled” in the UAE and already make good profits.
Second, many retail franchises in the UAE are run by family-owned conglomerates. While these companies are professionally run, it can be a long process to get key people on board to embrace something new, he says.
“I think [the family conglomerates] are going through that corporate transition [to] become a lot more like a public limited company in the retail space,” he says. “They are figuring it out slowly.”
Third, while retailers may be excited about capturing more information about their shoppers, they are not quite sure yet what benefits that might bring. It’s an education-intensive process.
Mr Hari stresses that FabriQate does more than just build apps. In shops and stores, the agency can set up Wi-Fi nodes that interact with shoppers’ smartphones. These collect information about how many shoppers are in store at any given time, what they are looking at, which brands interest them and such like. Armed with their own tablets, store assistants can then more easily figure out what might interest a customer and take a more thought-out approach to interactions — as opposed to trailing around after shoppers robotically asking: “Can I help you, Ma’am?” which, let’s face it, can be off-putting.
“Once Expo 2020 comes around you will have an influx of foreign people who are used to using technology daily,” Mr Hari says. “So if you look a places like Shanghai, people are constantly on their phones looking for the best deals; and brands over there are creating experiences for their customers on their phones. If this region does not catch up to that then it’s going to lose.”
This year, FabriQate will be hiring in Dubai and opening offices in Media City. It’s also likely we’ll be hearing about its work with Google Glass, which chose the agency as a development partner. FabriQate has a team of five developers based in Mountain View, California — the home of Google Glass.
“We’re one of the first few [agencies] to actually have live projects currently being worked on [with companies] such as Ford and Starbucks,” Mr Hari adds.