Three years ago, Aditya Birla Group, the $41-billion Indian conglomerate, realised the potential of its own e-commerce business for its seven apparel retail brands, and launched the portal and app called TrendIn. The move proved to be a success, because the portal increased sales and created consumer loyalty for its five brands. It was successful because the management worked with 10 startups to understand how to build immersive technology experiences and content for consumers. The company signed up vendor agreements with seven startups and is looking to partner with many more, provided the startups understand the technology roadmap of the retail arm. The roadmap includes everything from virtual reality to “devops” to data engineering.
Today, TrendIn manages half a million transactions a year and is also helping its parent company, Aditya Birla Fashion and Lifestyle (ABFR) – the retail arm of the conglomerate, build an omni-channel experience across its 1,800 stores in the country. Sources say TrendIn’s annual revenues are close to $15 million and growing at 100 percent, year-on-year, which is a decent run rate for an e-commerce company that is not advertising (sustained by the investments of a large corporate) and is purely generating sales based on word-of-mouth from its chain of stores.
By working with startups Trendin has been able to experiment with exclusive designs to differentiate from the fashion lines of ABFR brands, available on popular e-commerce sites like Flipkart and Snapdeal. Shivanandan Pare, Head - e-commerce at ABFRs says,
“With Internet speeds getting better and its access or reach being subscribed to by hundreds of millions of people over the next five years will change retailing.”
ABFR works with startups for three months on a free-trial basis, before announcing a partnership for a pilot across a few stores. It is already piloting a concept called Endless Aisle, across eight stores in Bengaluru, where a tablet-based solution allows customers to discover their fit and also enables them to make payments on the device itself. The customers can also choose their items to be shipped home from the store.
Here is why TrendIn wants to work with startups.
- In-store to home experiences
Bringing an ABFR store to the mobile app of the consumer is the obvious step. It is a technological challenge because of the integration necessary on the back-end with so much rich data. However, the opportunities are game-changing. Imagine a customer sitting at home and not being able to go to the store. But by ordering on TrendIn, the ABFR store present closest to the customer’s suburb can make the delivery in a matter of hours. However, this requires the entire process flow of supply chain to be restructured physically at the store, and technically the workflow should be able to locate the product in a store. These new systems need to be on the cloud and the employees in the store should be aware of being new-age retailers to keep customers loyal to the platform. Over 40 percent of ABFR’s current orders come from mobile.
- Data engineering, virtual reality, machine learning and analytics to understand consumers
The company does not want sales data to be primary data to stock in stores. Instead, it wishes to understand consumer profiles and shopping habits on a real-time basis. Whenever a customer picks up a shirt or a shoe, the software should automatically make intelligent recommendations and not just showcase what the previous set of customers bought. The recommendation engine should be clever enough to induce a purchase, like an intelligent salesman who understands a customer’s fit and preferences. There are several startups doing this, Fittrati being one of them.
- Virtual reality and 3D printing
Globally, fashion companies are experimenting with augmented reality and virtual reality (VR). In Bengaluru, Google Glass has already been used by home décor companies like MyGubbi and HomeLane to help customers experience tile designs and décor that embellish their homes. It would be no surprise if fashion companies too figure out a way for consumers to use these technologies for immersive experiences at home and in store.
Oculus Rift, funded by Facebook, Magic Leap, funded by Google, come to mind as VR startups that will eventually break into the fashion industry in the USA. Others like Jaunt and Rethink Robotics are working on similar technologies that can change every industry, not just fashion. 3D printing is another technology that is going to disrupt the fashion accessory business and there are a handful of these startups in India.
- Store experiences
In-store experiences could also have wearable technologies to sync up data about the store. Startups like Mobmerry and Mobstac have commercialised beacons that can connect customer smartphones to stores as they walk in high street. Startups in this business need to go beyond cataloguing, and making connections to customers over smartphones. They have to dynamically make available inventory in store to the customer and offer shopping experiences.
All brick-and-mortar retailers are changing
“The future is digital and we are all experimenting in digital experiences in store and on smartphones,” says Kishore Biyani, founder of the $3-billion Future Group, a consumer business conglomerate with over 1,000 stores. He adds that brick and mortar will still be 95 percent of the retail experience in five years. “Smartphone experiences supported by data analytics will be additional channels to boost sales,” he says.
Here is why startups make sense for them
- The product lifecycle on the shelf (for apparel) will reduce drastically to 30 days instead of 90 days.
- This would mean that the retailers will have to use lot of consumer shelf-browsing data to arrive at the potential winners and laggards in their product portfolio.
- Hence the focus on technology will be to enable the above inputs. Technology will be focussed as a driver and not as a support function.
- Engineers and product engineering professionals will start gaining more prominence.
If Aditya Birla’s e-commerce business is growing so fast then there is clear evidence that loyal customers are going mobile and want fashion that is customised. So startups can reach out to them with their platforms. The question is when will India retail corporate launch focussed incubators like its US counterparts Lowe’s and Target.
Startups with ABFR
- Unboxd: Search engine
- Cloud2scale - AWS-managed services
- Infinite Analytics – Social recommendation
- Cloud Infra- Recommendation
- Streamoid – Image search and similar product recommendation
- Cloud cherry - Consumer response measurement
- virtual reality
- Kishore Biyani
- Social Media & Networking
- Aditya Birla Fashion
- ABFR store
- Shivanandan Pare
- wearable technologies
- aditya birla startups
- working with startups
- omni channel strategy