From in line to no line: shopping gets smart

Imagine walking into your favorite store, getting a special offer just for you, choosing your items and then walking out. No line, no checkout. Just a wireless, effortless and secure transaction that automatically charges you for the items in your bag when you leave a store. That’s the not-so-distant future of shopping, and it’s being implemented right now by innovators like Kevin Schaff, founder and CEO of IoT (Internet of Things) start-up Twyst.

Here’s how it works. Upon entering, you’re greeted with a push notification on your smartphone asking if you’d like to try the Twyst Smart Bag. The bag is equipped with Bluetooth, so by simply touching your phone to the bag, you’ll receive a prompt to pair the devices. Now your in-store and digital shopping experiences are linked, and all you have to do is shop.

That’s how Twyst is transforming brick-and-mortar retail. In 2015, Kevin, drawing on his background in data analytics, had an idea – to eliminate points of friction in retail, like the checkout line, and capture in-store behavior to turn it into actionable data. Then he met Avnet Business Development Manager Eric Leahy and discovered the Avnet Innovation Lab at Arizona State University.

An idea and the team to make it real

Eric was immediately impressed with Kevin’s concept and the potential he saw for Twyst. Avnet’s Innovation Lab was conceived to help aspiring entrepreneurs just like Kevin advance their ideas and bring them to market. Through the lab, Eric was able to connect Kevin with all the resources he needed: technical support, mentorship and design, manufacturing and marketing expertise.

“Kevin is an amazing guy. He knew that friction within the retail space was a problem. For customers, it’s waiting in lines; for retailers, it’s trying to understand why people abandon carts. He understood the problem, just not the best way to solve it,” remembers Eric.

Kevin also knew that there were already RFID (radio frequency identification) tags in most products for shipping purposes, and that he could leverage that inside a store. Eric and Avnet helped him architect an IoT product from the ground up. Twyst’s smart bag (or any shopping container like a cart) is designed to detect an item’s presence and transmit data via a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) network. Eric helped Kevin choose and source the right technology – the microprocessor, RFID reader and sensors that go in the bag, and the beacons that go throughout the store – to produce and refine early prototypes.

Adds Kevin, “My background is software. That’s true for most IoT entrepreneurs. Hardware is complicated. You can lose your market position and momentum if you design it wrong. The ability to work with Eric and get his guidance and expertise was a huge benefit.”

Working with Avnet opened doors for Twyst beyond design and supply chain support. Avnet gave Twyst invaluable exposure to retailers and prospective customers through Denver Startup Week and IoT World.

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“For start-ups like us that are new and innovative, this kind of lab and relationship is critical. It’s the foundation of the whole company for us. It’s rare that you find an opportunity like that.” Kevin Schaff, Twyst founder and CEO

What’s next for Twyst?

Now well past the design phase, Twyst is entering full-scale production and installation into its first big-box retailer. Their relationship with Avnet has transitioned from innovation lab participant to full-fledged customer.

“Having Avnet’s help in the design phase as part of the innovation lab was highly valuable. Now I’m at a point where we’re putting a sensor platform across 300 stores in different cities. How can a start-up handle those logistics? Turns out Avnet does that, too. Production, inventory, distribution, even returns. Their ability to help us rapidly scale is fueling our growth,” said Kevin.

Finally, Kevin added, “As an entrepreneur, you want to build maximum value before you formalize your venture capital. That’s what working with Avnet and having their help in the design phase allowed us to do. So we get to keep more of our company – more equity. That’s every entrepreneur’s dream.”

Avnet’s services and solutions span the entire product lifecycle. Just like they did with Kevin and Twyst, they can help turn your idea into a product, and ultimately guide it to market, too.