Plenty of discussion around cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies are around those who are either fully evangelised or are in the process of being so. Yet for many others, the benefits will hope to go through unseen.
It’s how technology ought to be – if it’s difficult to use or in any way not a seamless experience, then it is not doing its job. This is how Beam, a startup based across three continents, aims to put blockchain to use in the retail industry.
According to IHS Markit, retail and eCommerce will realise $164 billion in ‘probable’ business value by 2030 because of a rise in the number of blockchain projects that are initiated and deployed. Initial use cases, the research firm added, would be around trade promotions, payments, smart contracts and supply chain, while larger retailers will need more time to be convinced.
Beam outlines the reason why it is opening up its platform on its ICO page. “In the future of retail, all our data belongs to us, the customer, and we get paid to share it,” the company explains. “This has created a waste-free world where every product and service is perfectly matched to our needs and wants.
“Every product and service knows its customer before it is produced, and they find us at the right time, right place, and for the right price.”
Shezan Amiji, co-founder of Beam, takes up the concept of waste further – and it’s not just around retailers and brands disposing of stock, as recently revealed with Burberry, which contributes.
Amiji was recently speaking to a retail partner, who had been in business for the better part of two decades, and asked how much money had been paid in processing fees to Visa and Mastercard over the years. The answer: around $400 million. Amiji then asked: have either of those companies sent a Christmas card for being such a loyal customer in those 20 years?
It may be a flippant example, but as Amiji puts it: “This is a small example of how incumbents in the retail ecosystem are extracting value out of it but are not adding the commensurate value back into it.” With blockchain therefore, the retailer and the end user should win.
Another factor in Beam’s advantage is its age. Six years is not ancient in the grand scheme of things, but in startup and cryptoland it’s almost an eternity. Naturally, the interest in blockchain was recent, having been focused in the payments ecosystem previously. The mission hasn’t changed per se, but the journey has.
“We’ve made a lot of mistakes over the last six years – those mistakes are invaluable in terms of learning,” Amiji explains. “We understand the challenges and the issues of the retail ecosystem perhaps better than most, because we’ve been fully immersed in it. The solution already works [and] already solves problems for existing members of the retail ecosystem – now we want to broaden it and deepen it.”
One particular aspect of retail – as Arianee, a startup focusing on putting luxury goods on the blockchain told this publication – is that third parties are often trusted with suspicion. Amiji confirms this. “The larger the retailer, the more they want to do themselves, because they think they can do it themselves,” he says. “The problem has always been that – I think there’s a degree of self-awareness sinking in to the retail economy – they’re probably better equipped to do some things rather than others.
“I think there is a growing realisation that they should focus on what they’re really good at and leave the rest to people who are specialised.”
With this, then innovation can thrive. Take real-time pricing algorithms as an example. “That’s what the blockchain allows you to do as well,” adds Amiji. “It allows you to deliver specialised services on a common platform, and by creating an open network, an open platform, it allows people to develop a specific and really narrow range of expertise that’s very deep and that can help.”
Beam’s vision is so ingrained – and the company’s position so solid – that they have been in a position to give money back to investors – not least with its recent series B funding round. “We actually had money in the bank, and we went back to investors and gave that money back, because they had solicited that money on a specific plan. Given what we saw about the blockchain and crypto, we felt [that] this was the right plan for us to do, and we felt strongly enough about it to give money back to investors.
“Obviously we have the luxury of doing that because we have an existing business, and so that gave us the opportunity to do that.”
Ultimately, the company’s goal is to bring potentially disparate groups together. It is that, rather than just a basic trust argument, which Amiji sees as key. “I have a slightly different perspective,” he says. “I think what blockchain does is allows people to work together, but not necessarily trust each other to work together. For example, it allows people to partner and cooperate who would not be willing to cooperate otherwise.
“The fact that it’s decentralised, and there’s no one entity that controls all that information, everyone that’s on the platform controls their access to that information, and that is a powerful thing of the blockchain.
“Rather than introducing trust into the economy, and into the system, it eliminates the need for trust.”