Can tech help retailers thrive in this competitive market? Industry Stalwarts share interesting insights

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The pace of digitisation combined with the changing consumer behaviour has had a significant impact on the retail sector in the world. And the COVID-19 pandemic only added to the woes of the retailers. As they strive to get back in the business game, there is a need to relook at the strategy while keeping in mind the changing consumer needs. Airtel Business Insights with the help of its customer advisory board launched a report on the ‘Future of Retail’ at a virtual webinar which included eminent speakers from the retail industry. The in-depth report will help retailers with insights and learnings to positively respond to industry trends and overcome challenges for the future.

Moderated by Shipra Malhortra, Executive Editor for Special Initiatives at ETCIO, panelists for the webinar titled ‘The Future of retail in India, is both in-store and online’ included Suparna Mitra, CEO, Watches and Wearables, Titan Company; Amuleek Singh Bijral, Co-founder and CEO, Chai Point; Aditya Rath, Partner, Business Consulting, KPMG India; and Ganesh Lakshminarayanan, CEO - Enterprise Business, Airtel Business. Each of them offered their perspective and learnings from the report.

The webinar started off with Ganesh Lakshminarayanan sharing his thoughts on the bounce back strategy of the Indian Retail Industry post pandemic.

“Fundamentally, we have a young demographic with jobs who are going to spend the money. So the current scenario is a short-term blip. Offering good quality is the key,” Ganesh said, while sharing a few anecdotes from his visit to a restaurant in Chennai and to a Titan store in Gurugram, where there was a waiting queue at both of these visits . “From something as basic as food to luxury jewellery, if you are a good brand, you are going to get a V shaped recovery,” he added.

Technology is the tipping point

Retail mainly consists of consumers shopping for needs and wants. Ganesh predicts, “Digitization will play a huge role in creating a differentiated service experience catering to every consumer. The ‘Needs category’ like grocery and other essentials promises convenience as a key offering with digitization but will remain largely hyperlocal. The ‘Wants category’ such as the luxury segment is set to become Phygital (both online and instore) and differentiated by high-end service and personalized experience.”

Thereafter, the report on the Future of Retail under the aegis of Airtel Business Customer Advisory Board was launched.

The bar has been raised

Expectations for walk-in experience have been raised, according to Chai Point’s Amuleek Singh Bijral. “The new expectations are a blend of design, digital experience and even more important than the in-person experience. So, if a customer walks into your store, the whole experience has to be seamless in terms of accessibility, in-store transactions etc,” he explained.

Discussing the changing customer behaviour, Suparna of Titan points out that if a shopper gets the kind of personalised recommendations in an offline store like he does on an online store, the raised expectations can be met. “For example, in the watches store, we are now keeping the QR code next to the product, you scan it and you have all the information about the product. Of course, there are sales executives as well,” she shared. The consumer gets to choose the shopping experience.

Furthering the discussion, Ganesh feels that the consumer behaviour is changed forever post-pandemic. “Today, everything is available with a tap on your screen. There is no going back to old behaviour. It is now for retailers to adapt to tech solutions to keep up with the pace of change,” he said.

Aditya Rath of KPMG India in discussion with Amuleek, puts the focus on the fact that not every consumer is expecting a digital integration. So, there is a need to find the right balance. “I believe that a customer is looking for a smooth, low-friction transaction. Also, customers now want a personalised experience. In a category like ours, customers have tastes, dietary preferences etc. With the help of digital, we can get access to information like their preferences, so it is convenient the next time they come to us,” he said.

“It is all about making the transactions online more importantly offline as smooth as possible, a lot of this is only possible by digital,” added Amuleek.

The digital transformation problem

The panelists also discussed the effects of the pandemic on the retail businesses in the country. For business deep-rooted in the offline sector, Suparna said, “The simplest formula is to focus on the customer. We, at Titan, are fortunate that our digital transformation journey started before the pandemic. By August 2020, all our stores were omni- channel enabled. Some of the features like ‘ship from store’ and ‘endless aisle’ use tech solutions like AI/ML to offer the best experience to the customer.”

So, if the customer is expecting a convenient digital experience, offline retailers must work on building an infrastructure for the same.

Future of retail

Aditya and Ganesh further discuss aspects imperative to make an ideal future retail store. Ganesh believes that the focus should be on three most important factors - connectivity, technology and sales. Retail stores must ensure that they are connected with good bandwidth to process offline-online orders, reduce latency etc. Tech-solutions like QR code, AI will further simplify the shopping experience for consumers. Moreover, for sales executives to connect with customers is equally important.

Speaking on the subject, Suparna said, “As a consumer, I would want tech to help me ease my shopping experience. Otherwise, a brand can do all they want with tech but unless it helps the consumer-it may not work well.”

You can watch the full webinar here:

Airtel business report on 'Future of Retail’ delves into interesting insights on the current retail-tech landscape, redefining consumer engagement, future solutions and more. You can download the full report here.

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