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Samik Roy
Country Head
Microsoft Business Applications

Transforming Modern Retail Business From Mass Merchandizing to Personal Experience

Retail, one of the most dynamic and fast-paced industries in India accounts for more than 10 percent of country’s GDP. A lot of developments like 100 percent FDI in online retail of goods and services, the rise of digital retail channels supported by rising incomes, favorable demographics, entry of foreign players, knowledgeable buyers, and increasing urbanization are preparing the industry to witness a big revolution. And while every organization and every business has adopted technology in its own way, retail is one industry that has been impacted the most by the undercurrent of digital transformation.

Digital transformation is not simply about technology. It requires business leaders to re-envision existing business models and embrace a different way of bringing together people, data, and processes to create value for their customers. It is about leveraging huge amounts of data via machine learning and intelligence to open new opportunities for their organizations. The challenges facing businesses today are around:

  • Engaging customers
  • Empowering employees
  • Optimizing operations
  • Reinventing the value offered to customers

Businesses need to change and evolve to meet customer expectations and market demands to be successful. They need to develop new capabilities by transforming themselves into digital companies with systems of intelligence that leverage every person, process, and data asset across the organization. These systems of intelligence represent the ability to turn data and insight into intelligent action, thus making every human interaction impactful and drive optimal business outcomes. Intelligence-based systems shift the software solutions (e.g., CRM, retail automation) from a system of record to a system of meaningful interaction with the consumer.

Emergence of e-commerce as a major segment is only the beginning of how retail could be revolutionized with technology. India is expected to become the world’s fastest growing e-commerce market, driven by robust investment in the sector and rapid increase in the number of internet users. What this means for retail is that there is a growing appetite for technological capabilities for the industry. While people are increasingly opting for smaller screens, from computers, to laptops and now to mobiles for their shopping experiences, retailers are left with no choice but to innovate and adopt the rising digital landscape. Almost 250 million smartphone users are actively shopping from their mobiles and this is where the opportunity lies for technology to play a key role in transforming the way people sell and buy.

At the heart of all these innovations, is one key differentiator – the customer experience that every retail authority wants to champion. Today’s evolved digital customer is always looking for a unified experience across all channels. They are more informed, equipped, and connected which means that the traditional ways of selling seldom work. This means that the customers are looking for a more intelligent seller, and expect intuitive, engaging, and informative experiences when they shop. Consumers are looking for personalized service across all channels and brand representatives.

Ecommerce provides the following environment to the shopper – identifying the consumer, showing past purchases, search for the item the consumer is looking for, provide comparison of the selected product versus similar products, show feedback from existing users of the product, provide visibility into availability, stock, best promotion applicable, and time to delivery. All of this is 24×7×365 days of the year.

People say that Brick & Mortar is here to stay. The question to ask is whether the sales agent at the Brick & Mortar can provide all the pieces of information like a Click & Collect to the same consumer when he or she walks into a store instead of visiting a website.

Here comes the power of digital transformation.

From Data Abundance to Data Intelligence

Every person on the internet has his history and with him, comes the plethora of data that his activities generate while he spends time online. For all the billions of people, there is trillions of data being generated as we move by the clock. For a retail business, this data is the gold mine and the ultimate bible of his business strategy and operations. Managing this data well is a task that almost 90 percent of retailers strive to achieve in order to offer a unified customer experience to its prospective and existing customers. Once the data is being used efficiently, comes another need to make that data secure which again requires technological capabilities for the industry.

Bring the Business into Focus

With insights derived from customer shopping behavior, buying patterns, and social media activity, retailers can anticipate trends, capitalize on opportunities, and create offers that are relevant for customers. Usage of data about customers and products across channels can enable retailers to personalize the shopping experience by offering the right product at the right place (Channel) to the right consumer at the right time.

The absence of this intelligence makes you irrelevant. It is like an anonymous call landing and offering you a loan when you have huge deposits and are looking to make investments or it is like a person who is underweight being bombarded with several sms asking him to join a program for obesity and weight reduction.

From Advertising to Interactive Customer Experiences

Businesses today are looking for solutions that enable them to seamlessly interact with their customers through LIVE chats, chatbots, and other tools that are not only economically viable but also simplify the CRM function efficiently. Meaningful engagement and relevance is the key for businesses in the retail sector, as the attention span of a typical digital consumer is shortening with every passing day.

Empowering Employees with Technology

Going back to my previous point of how the sales agent of a Brick & Mortar can render the same service as a non-maned Click & Collect site. Once employees have the right data at the right time for the right audience, the employees are empowered to drive meaningful customer interactions, access expertise where needed, and enable transactions from anywhere. A customer walking to the store is a ready prospect and an effective engagement will make sure that he or she becomes a loyal customer. This needs intuitive tools that offer information readily. Arm the associate with relevant information through role centers – dashboards, devices that deliver sufficient set of information relevant to each individual customer, so they can make relevant conversation.

Solutions that enable above scenarios through a common product and technology, minimize the need of multiple integrations, and provide Omni channel workflows as native service can help retailers differentiate and enjoy brand loyalty.

Indian retail organizations have started investing on customer facing technology offerings. Many such investments are under-way. We see a lot of positive changes in coming years.

Retail Customer Experience Journey Map

Organizations must start mapping their customer’s journey across the lifecycle. Starting in social channel and closing the usage experience on the social channel is how today’s consumer connects with the brand/retailer. It is the journey from Anonymity (where a prospect is looking for a product or service) to Advocacy (where the same consumer becomes an advocate of the product or service after consuming it). If the experience is disconnected across stages of ATTRACT|ACQUIRE|GROW, then it is difficult to deliver the desired outcome for consumers and hence businesses.

Retailers are now looking at unifying various point solutions.

Taking the Business to Cloud

Cloud computing has enabled retail businesses to offer more personalized customer experience while cutting down on the IT costs and simplifying the processes. Cloud technologies help retailers improve the restocking capabilities, enterprise-wide supply chain visibility, real-time production cycle monitoring, and much more. Above all, the technology offers a scope for simplifying and automating most of the processes; thereby improving the turnaround time for almost every business unit within the organization.

All in all, the power of digital transformation is an extremely critical contributor to business continuity for retail businesses and while India is at the cusp of a big wave of digital revolution, it is only imperative to adopt while we innovate for the digital consumers. Retail business executives who take the opportunity now to evolve their business practices by bringing the power of the digital transformation to their companies will find themselves uniquely situated for a competitive advantage in an overtightening retail marketplace.

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