The almost tangible torrent of vigor exuded by Dhruvil Sanghavi, the Co-founder of Loginext, over the ubiquity of social media and digitalization in business, was offset reasonably by Veneeth Purushothaman, the Chief Information Officer at Bharti Retail – a more skeptical and intent critic of the medium.
At Center of Recognition and Excellence’s (CORE) CIO Crown 2015 - a pioneering platform for CIOs & ICT Decision Makers to interact & engage to deliberate upon current trends- Sanghavi and Purudhothaman, along with Mr. Rajesh Saboo, CIO at Future Group, graced a panel discussion to analyze how the internet can be harnessed to create ‘winning moments for consumers.’
An enthusiastic Sanghavi declared, “Social Media must be in the company’s DNA, now!” The veterans in the room – CIO’s of brands that have been around since before the wheel – tried deconstructing this new fad-turned-wave without affording it that devout reverence that the millenials tend to.
Ritu Madbhavi, the CIO at Draft FCB Ulka India, scoffed at how the social media is at the root of a dangerous herd mentality among consumers. But how this herd mentality may benefit a brand if a positive buzz is created was accepted by her with a sigh. After extensive discussion, Purushothaman concluded that “The question is no longer if you will adopt social and digital media, it is how long you can manage to keep it at bay”.
We can’t just wake up one day and decide, ‘Let’s go digital’! It needs to be in the company’s DNA
I managed to sneak Purushothaman away, to ask him if giving uber priority to digital is on the cards for Bharti Retail, and how they are planning to cash in on incoming storm. He said, “Older and more mature organizations like ours, can’t just wake up one fine day and decide, ‘Hey, let’s go digital! Even as the youngsters in our organization come forward with recommendations to adopt this medium, our senior management and policymakers always find it tricky to digest. We have made it to the top of the industry, and discovered our own conventional formulae for success along the way that have never failed us. Hence, simply changing the core of the business based on a new trend isn’t an easy transition.”
“Having said that, it is completely wrong on our part to say that social media is not the right way, people on social media don’t give the right feedback, it is a herd, etc. The herd can be turned into our direction, and we must realize the value of it sooner rather than later”.
Constant tug of war
Bharti Retail’s merger with Future Group was a strategic one in order to remain a formidable entity in the fast-growing retail and FMCG sector. But even as they will continue to have an edge over the younger startups in terms of infrastructure – like their chain of convenience stores Easyday – the new hyperlocal brands are attempting to close that gap by digitally organizing the smallest retailers.
“We continue to have our own Easyday – our format is a convenience store, a small store at every corner. We haven’t really brought a lot of social media influence into this; we’ve stuck to the basics. But in a startup, you’re as free as a bird. The age group is between 25 and 28 years. It is in the company’s DNA; they are more nimble”.
Anxious about growing competition?
Is competition from Hyperlocal startups such as Grofers, Local Banya, Big Basket something to worry about for giants like Bharti Retail and Future Group? “Organized retail is a minuscule percentage of the entire industry, which is to say there is enough room for everyone to have a share of the pie. Yet, these new players have definitely made a dent into what you would call top-of-mind purchases. However, our format itself is what you would call a convenience store, a corner store. People still come to us and make their purchases”.
Long way to go, because of glitches and complicated UI
Purushothaman feels that even with these online and app-based services, from the user interface and the design perspective, we have a long way to go. “For an Indian consumer, it needs to be as simple as going to the corner shop and filling up a physical basket with the things they like, or even easier than that. Instant gratification, rather than swipe right or swipe left, etc. An order needs to be made two or three clicks away”.
In addition, technological glitches are still a major hindrance, he opines. “While someone like Grofers has tried uniquely to organize this whole market place, their biggest drawback is when they at times themselves don’t know what the status of their inventories and stocks are. And it is impossible to track and update it in real time – given the tech-savvy vendors they deal with. This blame game does not matter to the customer; they just expect their order to be delivered to them”.
Yet, digitization inescapable and inevitable, even for Bharti Retail
Not revealing if there were any immediate plans, Veneeth admitted how these offer-based hyperlocal brands stand to benefit from the digital wave a lot more, if the older brands don’t stay abreast. “You definitely need to be in the space. It is no more whether you will be online; it is hygiene”.
But that’s not where the fun lies. The real fun would be if you can really leverage the popularity of some of the competition and convert it to your benefit”.