The instore.nz story
instore.nz started in two parts before the lockdown, early October 2019 and mid-February 2020.
During the lockdown in mid-late March 2020 instore.nz changed in literally a late-night zoom meeting between myself and Ben.
What we had initially planned it to be pivoted into a new shape to become a reality of what you see now.
Then while New Zealand was preparing to be moved from lockdown level 4 towards level 3 (which were those weeks of uncertainty for just about every New Zealand Business), we engaged with a local software company Digital Stock to make it happen.
instore.nz was coded by their developer Allan and we simply launched over 1 -2 days as New Zealand started adjusting to the new way of doing business, all of us waking up into the new world of CV19 at NZ Level 3.
To understand our journey and how this did evolve and pivot, we need to take you back briefly to where it all began.
In October 2019, instore.nz was just a ‘on-paper’ idea of a retail concept to connect local businesses online to their customers, quite simple and elegant which had great potential to help businesses to do business.
Then as we got closer to Christmas instore.nz hit some bumps with its development in getting proof of concept working and we missed the opportunity to capitalize on the Christmas retail market to kick start the business.
In January 2020 instore.nz slowed down and then stalled when one of our initial founders (who was also our developer) had to pull out of the business due to family commitments. Ben and I got busy ourselves with other projects and decided that instore.nz should be shelved at that point.
In mid-February Ben and I started talking about bringing back instore.nz to see if we could get it up and running and decided since there is now only two of us and neither of us is a professional software coder the first step we need to do is talk with a local software development company to see what was possible.
We had this meeting with Will and Jim the owners of Digital Stock and decided that we will do something with them as they were coming off a sizable project and they told us they should be able to free up resources shortly for us and suggested we check back in over the next month or so.
Mid to late February I was in Brisbane on a family holiday and even though I’m considered to be tech-savvy enough. I found myself getting frustrated with not knowing where to go in Brisbane or how to work those multiple ferry crossings with the too many ferry apps I downloaded (I soon found out the ferries were easy enough when we did it, but I used google maps and a paper ferry crossing map to understand where I was and what was ‘over there’)
Then the next challenge was, where to go when in Brisbane City.
There were Brisbane apps of course and websites I could look at. But what was really hard to grasp is that I was not familiar with my surroundings enough to know what the good streets were to take us somewhere worthwhile, where the good coffee is, the food places were or who will even be open?.
We ventured out one night what must have been about 10km walk only to discover the best ice cream shop in Brisbane was not open that night, even though Facebook and their website said they were.
You know that feeling lost and confused in a new town and then annoyed that’s where I was. (my second trip to Brisbane by the way)
Little did I know then that experiencing all this lead to a couple of the core features we have now in the instore.nz app which is the geolocation feature that pin points your exact location of where you currently are on a map and then shows what businesses/services are close to you based on what you type in the smart search bar of the things you want to have or do. i.e. Coffee!
Quick side notes: So in the app, we now have a search bar that returns the associated businesses on your search query but also the distance from where you are physically standing to where you want to go. Click on the distance Icon takes you to a turn by turn direction google map. Easy.
We weren’t there to try to be google, instead, we just wanted to make it easier for the user of our app to navigate their way into google maps and let google do what they do best.
Back home in early March. Ben and I meet to discuss pushing the App for the initial instore.nz concept (connecting Retail business with their customers online) so we resumed the process with Digital Stock and then COVID19 closed the door on everything and New Zealand stopped to go into a nationwide Lockdown.
During Lockdown we had a Zoom session with Jim Dowling from Digital Stock. Even though we were only about 2 – 3 km distance from each other, we all were in separate places using Zoom conducting an internet business meeting, doing our part with social distancing.
In this meeting, we were still looking at building the initial retail concept of instore.nz (from Oct 2019) and they had resources now available for us, the meeting ended with Jim who was coming back to us with the documented schedule and the original retail concept itself should be good to go from there. Ben and I stayed on the Zoom video call as Jim left.
At that point, we started to pivot instore.nz even though we had just confirmed with Jim what are doing for the original initial concept. It just didn’t seem and feel to be the right time to do it, especially with Covid19 changing the business landscape under our feet.
Prior to this Zoom meeting, because there had been time to think over the lockdown period. I had previously pitched to Ben that the biggest concern for a business returning to their store in Level 3, is how do they get their customers to know to buy from them if their customers don’t know they are even open to trade. Even though it was in the back of our minds, it didn’t dawn on us that we were already evolving because the goalposts were being shifted every day by COVID19. instore.nz wasn’t even a line of code at this stage.
(When Jim left the call) This very subject came up again. And throughout what felt like another hour between Ben and myself, we threw everything out of what we been working on for the last 6 months and decided that instore.nz is to be what a business could use to communicate their operational status or their trading status to their customers.
Tied in with a Map, that a user (customer) could use to see who was trading around them and what their trading restrictions will be.
And it should be free for any business to use.
We ended our Zoom call and I whipped up some rough visual mock-ups and sent through to Ben to sleep on. It was about 2:30 in the morning by that stage. (he was still up!)
Here are the original mock ups (from the wee early hours)
The next day, it was discussed with Jim, who said “No problem”. I revisited the mockups, cleaned them up, and Ben and I added some extras that we thought of and a few days later Digital Stock started on the code.
We built the website ourselves, set up our email, applied our photoshop skills, started our Facebook / Instagram social media accounts, dabbled at a bit of marketing and officially did a soft launch on the 1st of May 2020.
We are fortunate to have some great business network connections and timely enough as it seemed. I called Carla Forbes the owner of Market South on the last day of April to ask if we could use one of her Tag lines for our branding as I felt that fitted well with what we were doing.
As I proceeded to outline what instore.nz was about, she politely interrupted me asking us to come on board with their local Thrive campaign with a bit of urgency as the press release deadline was closing within the hour. We pulled Ben into the conversation and provided what was needed from our end.
Carla told us what she was doing with Findex and ConSouth THRIVE, a great tool and resource for businesses in the (post) -Covid 19.
Instore.nz sat perfectly with THRIVE, we were mentioned in one of their media releases sent to Stuff, we had a photo taken of us in Bens business and somehow we made the front page of the Saturday edition of the Southland Times.