Decoding strategies for the great Indian omnichannel puzzle

Decoding strategies for the great Indian omnichannel puzzle

Wednesday July 18, 2018,

6 min Read

Omnichannel has been the buzz in the global retail ecosystem for a while. The size and scale of the formidable Indian economy make it a necessary arena for any such global trend. As the GDP grew by close to 7 percent in 2017, the consumption space is expected to grow from $641 billion in 2016 to $950 billion in 2018. By 2020, we are expected to cross $1.2 trillion – that is an undeniable growth trajectory!

This Indian retail mega theatre is witnessing an interesting battle between two great paradigms – the online and the offline.

Online retail has a digital inevitability to it – the world is going from bricks and mortar to bits and bytes, and the recent Walmart-Flipkart merger further underscores this. At the same time, offline remains 98 percent of retail in a country like India – still the lion’s share. In this context, the concept of omnichannel promises the best of both worlds – trust and comfort of the offline world, and the efficiency and convenience of online.

However, despite the positive rally around omnichannel, you will find that many enterprises still grapple to create a masterful omnichannel strategy and actually profit from it. Since there are so many different variables involved in omnichannel, finding the right fit for your product can be difficult. You are most likely to find that when the strategy fits in place, the execution becomes elusive. Here are some factors to perfect, so that your omnichannel strategy stays ahead in the changing game of retail:

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Customisation, localisation, and personalisation

Sounds heavy? Rightfully so, because this is what will carry the weight of your omnichannel to make it an integrated, seamless experience for your customer. You should be looking at every interaction as a touch point to localise and personalise – whether that is email, web, mobile app, or in-store. How do you do this?

Currently, most modern trade and e-commerce experiences are one-size-fits-all. In a large-format retail store, thousands of customers walk in every day, and each of those thousands of customers sees the same merchandise, displayed the same way, at the same price – even though their needs are often very varied. Similarly, in traditional e-commerce, the extent of localisation is rather limited – a customer logging in from New Delhi on a sweltering September morning can see the same sweatshirts as someone logging in from the far more congenial Bangalore. Commerce today is more or less one-size-fits-all.

Cracking the localization code means ensuring that every retailer gets a unique view of the merchandise. So, even though you may be present in 300 towns across South and West India, for example, your tech must ensure that a mid-sized kirana retailer in South Bangalore gets to see entirely different products and offers from a small-sized kirana store in Belgaum.

Only technology can aid this nature of mass localisation. It will make way for more informed and data-driven choices, which were traditionally made by category managers with inherently limited bandwidth. For example, even a small subset of 10,000 retailers carrying 1,000 FMCG SKUs each ends up involving 1 crore or 10 million individual decisions. No army of managers can make 10 million decisions a day. This scale of processing can only be achieved using algorithms and deep machine learning systems, and that’s where we can gain mileage on customer value and relevance.

Enhancing relationships with tech

A lot of omnichannel sceptics fondly remember the days of human relationships and also attribute this as one of the major reasons for its non-adoption. I do see the point in that argument. What has always worked in favour of traditional retail has been the reassuring essence of rich, intimate, and long-lasting relationships. A successful omnichannel enterprise works hard at digitising relationships, while still retaining its human core.

Let’s take the example of a customer who is not comfortable buying directly on an e-commerce website. In the new-age omnichannel world, they can walk into a digitally enabled store, look at a large app-based catalogue, talk to the store owner about various buying options, and pay in cash after the phone is delivered to the store. These kind of assisted e-commerce use-cases are a great example of blending human relationships and trust with digital marketplace models.

I believe that the small retailer is the centrepiece of the marketplace model, while at the same time digitising it. Consumers can still order from their familiar neighbourhood store, make payments there, get relationship-based credit, and return products if they need to – but all these processes are now aided and made tremendously more efficient using apps, technology components, and relevant digital communication.

Building a transitional bridge to digital habits

Modern trade constitutes 7 percent of India’s retail industry, and e-commerce merely 2 percent. That leaves the lion’s share of 91 percent to constitute for mom-and-pop stores, also called general trade.

Why do so many Indians choose kirana stores over any other form of retail? The answer lies around us. For decades we have been an assisted economy. Only in India would you see a ‘manned’ vending machine or a ‘lift man’ in an automatic lift, more or less beating the whole point of automation. Will the assisted culture change? Yes. However, the switch from assisted culture to digital habits cannot happen overnight and in a knee-jerk fashion.

Omnichannel solutions need to be structured around a model that builds bridges to digital habits. One way of doing this is through in-person and digital training modules, where teams visit retailers periodically for training and orientation. Starting with intensive training once a week, one can gradually phase it to once a month. This can be aided by app-based training using digital tools, videos, and self-help walkthroughs. However, now we have observed that most retailers are very comfortable using the app on their own and do not feel the need to troubleshoot problems with us, even on phone.

This example is further proof of the fact that India 2.0 needs to be initiated into this new way of functioning in a gradual, systematic, planned, and conscious way, so that people can journey from semi-digital to 90 percent digital, to all digital, with ease.

Amit Sharma is the Co-founder, CEO, and VP, Product at ShopX, a technology-led startup in Bangalore, India that enables digital commerce access India’s middle-income mass market.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)