Following this week’s launch of an innovative app and retail concept, allowing customers to turn impulse into rapid purchase, we caught up with the entrepreneur behind the idea, Dan Wagner.

Founder and CEO of Powa Technologies, Wagner, has created the PowaTag concept, which allows consumers to walk up to an item, billboard, screen advert or retail display, and purchase the promoted product with a touch of their smartphone screen.

Wagner, who has opened offices in 14 countries so far to accommodate demand for the app, said this new speedy purchase path for consumers gives total buying freedom.

He also said while some may look to copy the innovative technology, they will have a difficult time imitating the head start that PowaTag has had, after spending years on its development.

Approximately 100 new jobs have been created in the UK, Europe, China and in the US thanks to the venture.

The service will be rolled out to the UK, North America, and across Europe to start, with additional locations, such as China, joining over the next year.

In terms of the firm’s financial background; it secured $76 million in funding last year, and an additional $20.7 million in January 2014, bringing the total amount raised in Series A to $96.7 million.

So far, more than 240 brands worldwide, such as Universal Music, Quicksilver, Nestle, Adidas, Reebok, Danone and Carrefour, have signed up to be part of this new hybrid technology.

We spoke with UK-based Wagner to find out more:

Allowing people to shop by snapping photos of desired products sounds almost too good to be true, but how does this actually work?

The PowaTag app is free for anyone to download and use. The app can scan products from merchants that have subscribed to the PowaTag service.

PowaTag scans and recognises special code tags attached to products and included in advertising material from partnering retailers and brands. PowaTag is ‘signal agnostic’, meaning the app was architected to allow seamless expansion to support other types of digitally encoded inputs as required, including digital watermarking in images. However, we believe a consistent and recognisable visual ‘call to action’ is key to driving consumer adoption and ubiquity in the market.

PowaTag supports an advanced audio watermarking technology that enables shoppers to purchase products directly from adverts on the TV and radio. In addition to retail applications, this opens a huge opportunity for marketing at events such as football matches and concerts, as attendees can purchase through announcements made at the venue. It also has enormous potential for charity and political donations, as people will be able to contribute the instant they hear or see an advert.

You say people can take a picture of a billboard or a passerby’s shoes, but how do we know it will register/link-up with the PowerTag app? And how accurate is it from distance?

The app provides shoppers with guidelines and hints so they know how to scan items. For example, a PowaTag code on a billboard would be produced using guidelines that take into consideration the distance away it is from the targeted audience. When the shoppers scan the billboard, the app provides an indication of how to scan the code and when the code has been successfully scanned. PowaTag can scan these codes from a distance quite easily.

What makes you so sure shoppers are ready to adopt this type of technology?

PowaTag changes the shopping experience for customers by providing total buying freedom, enabling them to instantly transact wherever and whenever they desire, with unprecedented ease and convenience. We believe the convenience offered by PowaTag and the ability to transact online, offline, in-store, across different retailers and manufacturers and across different venues, charities, and through TV/radio adverts, provide tremendous incentive for shopper adoption. This is an entirely different proposition from simply pulling out a smart phone app rather than a physical credit card to make a payment.

Once they have found the product how do they pay for it? Can they have it delivered or even pick it up in-store if they wish?

PowaTag enables retailers to provide the range of delivery and collection options now demanded by consumers. Options will depend on specific retailers, but there is scope to provide home delivery or store collection at the touch of a button. Retailers can creatively utilise location services in the PowaTag app, for example, to automatically determine a customer’s location preference for in-store collection, without the need for a customer to input postcode information or select a store from a long list.

Tell us more about the music side of things. Does it act as an alternative to Shazam?

Universal Music Group has signed as a PowaTag client to transform the way its customers shop for and buy music. PowaTag utilises a superior audio watermarking technology that offers distinct advantages for the retailer over Shazam’s audio recognition and matching approach.  Audio watermarking allows the music (or other audio visual content) to contain information tying it to a specific retailer, SKU, and potentially a campaign identifier to measure the efficacy of varying marketing efforts and channels. PowaTag is focused on providing an intuitive and rapid purchase path for consumers. Shazam is focused on getting additional information into the hands of users, rather than directly enabling transactions. PowaTag and Shazam are very different solutions focused on different market opportunities.

How do you plan to overtake other similar apps, such as voucher publishers, that have a headstart?

There is simply not another company with the funding, the influx of quality talent, the market penetration, the momentum, or the exposure we have today.  While there are lots of apps on the market, PowaTag transforms the way we shop and buy with a simplicity, convenience, and elegance unlike anything else on the market.  

How long has the idea for the app been in the pipeline? Are you worried about other tech companies snapping up your idea?

As the saying goes, imitation is the highest form of flattery. We expect other companies to compete in this space with similar offerings.  However, other companies will have a difficult time imitating the head start we have achieved with over 240 brands signing up pre-launch and nearly $100 million in funding.  The concept has been in development for a number of years.

Could the app act as a type of digital wallet?

PowaTag is not a digital wallet, but rather a transaction enabler. There are many digital wallets in the market that have been funded with hundreds of millions of dollars, yet have failed to achieve widespread consumer adoption. PowaTag offers the customer a completely new way to buy products instantly, not simply a new way to pay for them at the end of a process. The ability to scan and purchase an item within seconds, combined with location services and in-store beacon technology offer a convenience and value to the customer not offered by traditional digital wallets.  When customers register for the app, they enter their preferred payment and shipping details, which facilitates instant purchases and reduces the friction of entering this information, often the source of customer frustration and purchase abandonment.    

By allowing manufacturers to sell directly to consumers via the app, does this mean most goods will be cheaper than in-store? Similar to the Amazon model?

This is entirely dependent on the strategy of the manufacturer. Typically, the manufacturers we’re signing already sell directly to consumer. PowaTag simply offers a new way for their customers to shop and buy from them. PowaTag can also be used to enable sales of their products through a retail channel partner, by providing store specific purchase information to facilitate affiliate or commission payments to these channel partners.

Does PowaTag’s commission structure revolve around CPA?

Yes. Clients are charged $0.25c (£0.40p) or 10 basis points per transaction, whichever is greater. There are no commissions, simply a flat charge. The service is also free for retailers to deploy and carries no up-front costs.