Creative Commons

In 2004, six people gathered in a garage to throw ideas together. Eight years later, those ideas walk the halls of Mercatus Technologies Inc. Inside a culture where creativity has trumped ego

Sylvain Perrier isn’t your run-of-the-mill COO. In his signature green Chuck Taylors, Perrier is the picture of the modern executive, one whose aim is to cultivate a comfortable work environment where great ideas and high energy collide.

5 Questions
with Sylvain Perrier

1. What does innovation mean to your company?
Positive change and outcome—being able to take a problem, break it down to understand the relationship between all the pieces, and come up with a unique way of resolving the smaller problems.

2. Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
We really understand the fundamental business objectives our customers are trying to achieve, and resolve those by pairing them with the right technology—whether it’s something existing in the market or something we create on our own.

3. Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
Mercatus will be well positioned at that point to lead the next series of evolutions. When you achieve critical mass, at some juncture in the industry, you’re in a better position to drive the direction rather than follow it.

4. How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
The changes of the past 20–30 years have not been [made by] scientists at some hidden bunker [on] the West Coast—it’s anyone with a pen and paper, or a laptop, or a Facebook or Twitter account. The proliferation of innovation is just that much more rapid.

5. What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
One that’s not satisfied to stand still, to challenge the status quo; that’s not afraid to embrace fear. There’s such a thing as companies that are comfortable being uncomfortable, and those are the companies that challenge innovation.

Spend some time at Mercatus Technologies’ home offices in Toronto, and chances are you’ll literally see problems being solved all around you. They’re written on whiteboards covering the walls and on blackboards adorning the kitchen—one department’s dilemma posted for all to see in the morning hours, only to have a possible solution written under it (in different handwriting) four hours later.

It’s an idea that has been borrowed by some of Mercatus’s customers as well, much to the delight of COO Sylvain Perrier. “You’ll see an idea being put up by marketing, and the business’s finance guy is contributing to it too,” he marvels. “It’s kind of fantastic, because that’s what true innovation is. We’re trying to promote that great ideas can come from anywhere—and that it can only get better when everyone participates. The process doesn’t have to be so regimented.”

“Regimented” is one of the last words Perrier would likely use to describe the earliest days of Mercatus, which consisted of half a dozen people sitting around a table in a garage, back in 2004. In those days, one primary focus for the company was a cart-mounted device designed for use with grocery shopping carts, one that would allow for personalized in-store communication between retailer and consumer. As it happens, the pilot program for this idea came about just as the iPhone was being launched, and the folks at Mercatus realized a whole new world of consumer-technology interaction was close at hand. “We discovered that this—plus websites, social media, etc.—meant we were well positioned to take our platform out to retailers and enable them to engage with consumers any way they see fit,” Perrier says.

This realization is what led Mercatus to develop the Mercatus Smart Shopping Technology about three years ago. It’s a platform that is comprised of Mercatus Concierge and Mercatus CURO (a market-specific CMS). To set the stage for Concierge’s capabilities, Perrier recalls the customer-retailer experience of 50–75 years ago—when merchandise was typically kept behind the counter, allowing the retailer to get familiar with each customer’s tastes and to make recommendations based on that knowledge. Skip back to modern-day shopping, where a phone app can simplify the process via direct communication between consumers and their retailers of choice. Concierge delivers a suite of services throughout the customer’s shopping journey: managing the shopping list prior to the visit, suggesting accompaniments, providing coupons (digital ones, of course), guiding the customer to what they need while in-store, and even helping them share whatever aspect of the trip they’d like via social media.

“In today’s market, we have more efficient and vast in-product offering in exchange for the personal experience of the past,” Perrier says. “Mercatus Smart Shopping Technology helps the retailer engage with the consumer in a more personalized way. At the end of the day, it provides value to consumers, and makes the experience more fun. It kind of brings back that feel of old-world support.”

With what Perrier calls “a proper ecosystem of partners” working in their favour, Mercatus not only creates key performance indicators to measure the platform’s success, but personalization and engagement that supports the user experience. It’s this sort of detail that Perrier says helps set Mercatus apart from those who do standard mobile apps and websites. “We feel we satisfy the market that doesn’t exist as a cohesive solution that ties into various communication channels,” he says. “A tightly knit experience that is very much branded in the image and the culture of the retailer.”

Making money or saving money—those are the ever-present goals Mercatus has for its customers as it strives to grow its market. “That’s always what I’m thinking critically about—how do I help them do this?” Perrier says. “Technology for the sake of technology isn’t enough … but I’d say the one thing we’ve become excessively good at is the consumer experience.”