The world of retailing is changing fast with shopping moving to multiple point-of-sales; and the smartphone is central to this change. The consumer today is always connected to the physical store and the supply chain of the retailer. Some of the world’s top retail companies such as Walmart, Target and Lowe’s are investing heavily in omni-channel retail and creating technology solutions that integrate malls, stores, mobile and chat bots to offer services to their customers no matter where they are. This requires integration of different technology products from the legacy world and in the cloud.
Large companies such as Infosys and Wipro claim to do such work with a snap of their fingers. However, most of their solutions are template driven and rely on one-size-fits-all approach, which does not work well for majority of the small retailers. But a startup can offer tailor-made omni-channel technology solutions to these retailers. E-bee was founded in January 2012 by Reshma Nagpal with the same premise and focus on customer-centric retail. Today, it has over 10 large and medium sized clients spread across India and South East Asia.
Let’s assume a retailer named Ahmed Fakhruddin, who owns a chain of five 4,000 square feet stores across Bengaluru. He has installed a traditional ERP system, which connects with all the vendors supplying goods to his warehouses. In addition, he has a Customer Relationship Management system which maintains the contact information of all his customers. Now, consider that Fakhruddin also plans to launch an e-commerce portal and a mobile app. So, now there are four different systems working in his organisation which are capturing data and are not customer centric. Fakhruddin spends money on technology to stay relevant - but neither is it helping him understand his customers better nor helping him improve his revenues.
For example: consider the case of a regular customer, who buys luxury soap, skin care products and sanitary napkins from Ahmed's store. The platform in the store should not just be able to fulfil his order but must also be able to deliver it to the customer regardless of the store branch she is at. Also, irrespective of the fact if the order is placed from the app or via the portal. In addition, the platform should be intelligent enough to inform the retailer about the buying preferences of the customer to increase their loyalty to the shop. Lastly, using pattern recognition, it should be able to deduce that a particular customer comes in regularly because of a specific brand of biscuits or ice cream.
“Omni-channel technologies are the future, we ourselves are in the early stages of implementing a store to app kind of experiences focused entirely on a real time connect with the consumer,” says Siddarth Sood, Co-founder of Wildcraft, a brand that has an integrated retail and manufacturing business.
Reshma started out as a lawyer in England in 2007, before moving back to India in 2009 to take up a role of corporate sales in Dynamic Vertical Solutions. While working there, she closed the deals for ERP integration and sold Microsoft retail products to retailers in markets such as Africa and South East Asia. It seemed a bit odd at the time for a lawyer to venture into corporate sales. However, it was a move that she made to understand the inner workings of running a business.
“While working in a corporate, I realised that although retailers were investing in ERP systems, they were focusing on engaging customers only in stores. They did not understand the omni-channel world and didn’t have a plan to target their customers on newer mediums such as smartphones. The future is not about the retailers pulling customers into stores, it is about marrying customer experience with technology,” says Reshma.
She leveraged her sales experience and also brought in a few technology experts to build a platform that could manage fulfilment of product in an omni-channel retail system. Within an year, she was able to acquire business from leading brands, such as Ferns & Petals and Bombay Dyeing, who used its product to integrate their in-store kiosks, the app and the supply chain to manage their fulfilment rates better.
“My technology team has ramped up the E-bee platform to integrate web commerce, orders from stores, products in warehouses and customer loyalty. Traditional ERP’s do not do all these things,” she says. Reshma adds that her business works on a modular approach wherein the customer can pick from 22 functional modules on the E-bee platform, and integrate it with their traditional technology.
According to a report by CRISIL, there are 50 million retailers in India of which 10% use some form of technology solutions. Reshma did not want to disclose the revenues or the money she has invested till today. However, she revealed that she is now planning to take the product to Australia and other developed markets.
The company works both on a per-user basis and on an annual maintenance contracts. This is a standard software-as-a-service model. It relies on a partner ecosystem to sell its products to retailers. Omni-channel retailing is going to be a big opportunity for Indian startups. There are companies like Fulfil.io and Mobmerry who are looking at similar ways to integrate omni-channel technologies with retailers. The Indian retail market is one of the largest in the world with $600 billion as its size. Unfortunately, only about $54 billion is the organised market and only three percent of that amount is spent on technology. There are no big omni-channel technology companies built out of India yet, so the opportunity exists. Also, due to the growth of the e-commerce businesses, a lot of smaller retailers that sell on their platform need technology solutions to organise their businesses.
“Startups can only succeed with anchor customers and it is an important measure for their success,” says V Ganapathy, CEO of Axilor Ventures. For E-bee, the business opportunity exists. However, the real test for it will be to go from ten customers to fifty customers.