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Bridging the app! New technology connects Slope small-business owners directly with customers

Out of the dog house: New app Hi Commerce makes it easy for Brooklyn Daily deputy editor Bill Egbert to query Park Slope shopkeepers about gift ideas for his lovely wife.
Brooklyn Paper
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These shopkeepers can now apply a personal touch — from a distance!

A new app tailor-made for small-business owners in the city’s mom-and-pop mecca, Park Slope, helps the local retailers compete with massive e-tailers such as Amazon by offering them a more intimate connection with customers, its creator said.

“Shops can’t compete with Amazon in inventory, but we think they can compete with expertise and human interaction,” said Pierre Giraud, founder and CEO of Hi Commerce.

The inventor said the neighborhood’s business-advocacy group was the first call he made after developing the technology, because its honchos are major supporters of the so-called “shop small” movement.

“We specifically reached out to Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue BID,” Giraud said. “They’re super involved in the shop local initiative.”

The service, which is available in other neighborhoods as well as the outer borough of Manhattan, lets shoppers message dozens of establishments with a single text, easily allowing them to ask owners if they carry something specific or if they can suggest ideas for what to get the better half for Christmas.

This reporter fired off a query about what to buy mom for her birthday at 12:50 pm on Friday, and by 5 pm, received responses from staffers at Fifth Avenue businesses including O Live Brooklyn, Mivida Market, and Private Picassos Art Studio, all of whom suggested ideas in an attempt to vie for my dollar.

Hi Commerce doesn’t require shopkeepers to keep digital inventories, Giraud said, and proprietors gravitate to it because they can engage with app users in their downtime and ignore them when they’re busy.

“It’s a way for them to leverage their downtime,” the founder said.

The technology’s lack of demands on small-business owners is one reason honchos at Park Slope’s business-improvement district promoted it among local stores, according to the group’s executive director, who said he shied away from other attempts to digitize area businesses that required maintaining an online stock.

“It’s very difficult, especially with all the other challenges,” said Mark Caserta.

And it’s hard to tell exactly how the app, which launched last month, is affecting small-business’ bottom lines, but some participating entrepreneurs said it’s definitely an innovative way to get their name in front of customers.

“It’s really great for getting new people to discover you,” said Valeen Bhat, the owner of Private Picassos Art Studio.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:53 pm, July 9, 2018
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