Utah company brings in-store shopping experience to the internet

Published: Monday, Jan. 23 2012 4:49 p.m. MST

Online shopping just became more like shopping in a store.

Needle, a company founded in 2010 by Utah Native and CEO Morgan Lynch, enables online shoppers to chat with a salesperson, who can navigate the shopper through the site, ask the shopper questions, answer questions and make recommendations.

The idea for the company started when Lynch was trying to buy a wet suit for a triathlon online, but couldn't figure out which one would be best for him. Lynch ended up going to a store for his purchase. He then realized, there were people who could've helped with his purchase, but he had no way to communicate with them. So he started a company to fix that.

Needle works with companies to ensure online shoppers have salespeople who are experts and fans of certain products and stores available to help customers in their purchasing decisions.

"You're not talking to someone in a call center in a foreign country. You're talking to a person that can relate to you," Lynch said.

If shoppers are trying to decide what kind of headphones to buy at Skullcandy's website, a banner will appear that says, "Chat with a product expert." Once customers click on that banner, they will be communicating with someone who owns Skullcandy products and can help the customer make a purchase decision, Lynch said.

"That's what we do at Needle," Lynch said. "We help sites like Skullcandy engage their customers and sell more of their products and services on their website."

Online shopping is missing the human component of going to a retail store, Lynch said. Needle brings that human component to online shopping.

Lynch likened what Needle does to going to a store, saying it was just like having someone help customers in a store like Best Buy or Nordstrom, but online. Lynch said his company gives people immediate responses to questions they have, unlike an internet forum.

Lynch said Needle obtains its revenue from the various companies that pay to use their online platform and for Needle's ability to find, hire and manage salespeople for the different companies and their products.

Lynch said Needle will be adding a lot of companies to its list of clients in the coming year but did not divulge which. Some of Needle's current clients are Urban Outfitters, Skullcandy and Under Armor.

"We basically do the whole thing for them and they basically get higher sales," Lynch said. "People go to their website and are able to engage with people who know something about what they're selling."

Salespeople under contract with Needle are called "needlers" and are paid an hourly wage. They also participate in a rewards program for the products they get people to buy, Lynch said. If the salespeople get customers to purchase an item or answer someone's questions, then they get points they can later redeem for items of their choosing.

The salespeople at Needle can live anywhere in the world as long as they have high-speed internet access, Lynch said.

Currently, Needle has 15 employees, most of whom work on making sure the online chat platform works. However, Lynch said he expects that number to grow to 30-50 by the end of 2012.

There are hundreds of needlers available to work for the sites that are signed up with Needle, but Lynch said that number will grow to be "thousands and thousands" at some point.

In some situations, Lynch's company has salespeople ready to help people at any time with their questions, but the salespeople are typically available during the high-traffic times of each specific company.

In 2000 Lynch also founded Logoworks, a company that provided graphic design for small businesses. Logoworks grew and was then sold to Hewlett Packard in 2007.

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