A Prelude to ReTechCon 2013 – Using IT in Retail to Engage, Empower and Evolve

Imagine having to maintain account books, cash registers, customer registers, inventory registers, having to send written communication each time any bit of information has to be sent either in-house or to customers. In today’s day and age the very thought of not having the support of ‘Information Technology’ in our day to day activity sounds bizarre so you can well imagine what it would retail be without the much needed support of IT. We have Technology Committee members from The Retailers Association of India share their thoughts on the inter-mingling of IT with retail for the latter’s growth and survival in the market.

Ranjit Satyanath, CIO, Shoppers Stop Ltd. shares an interesting story citing the power and potential of IT to revive business without taxing the company’s budget.

A short story by Satyanath….
ReTechCon---IT-slugEngage, Empower, Evolve
Kavita Kapoor was one worried lady. These days she carried a perpetual frown wherever she went and the general mood rubbed off on all the people she interacted with – which was not insignificant if one considered that she was managing director and chief operating officer of KAY’s, a mid-sized chain of retail stores. KAY’s primarily catered to women between the ages of 18 to 35. But over the last few years KAY’s diversified its merchandise to cater to kids and a smattering of office wear for the bored men accompanying their significant other on their shopping binges. KAY’s also changed its branding and had become KAYs a couple of years ago. Mrs. Kapoor, as even her most senior management team addressed her was a widow from a well to do family. After her husband’s untimely demise she put her college education to good use and channelled all her grief and drive into the business which consisted of a factory manufacturing apparel as job work for some of the better known Indian brands. But a business set-back and a couple of worker strikes later, Mrs. Kapoor learnt that she didn’t have the wherewithal to run a factory operation. She quickly found a good buyer for her business and ploughed the money into a couple of women’s stores and called it KAY’s because like the brand she believed that there was nothing in a name if the customer service was great. Service was something Mrs. Kapoor enjoyed while shopping in Europe during the few visits she made to the continent along with her husband in the good old days. In the early days of retail since good customer service was as much of a rarity as a clean politician, the strategy quickly paid dividends and two decades later, Kay’s (now KAYs) was chain of 30 stores. Mrs. Kapoor achieved all this despite having to bring up her daughter Natasha who was only two when her father passed away. Today Natasha was a confident young adult of twenty four with a business degree in Management from Cornell. Natasha had done most of her education in the US where she initially stayed with an uncle moving to campus once the rigours of study increased and the watchful over protective eye of a family elder started interfering with social life.

The primary reason for Mrs. Kapoor’s current state of indifference was that business was stagnating and for the first time in the last twenty years, her gut instincts were not working. Like everyone she increased discounts and marketing spends. But beyond the temporary spike things were not working out. Her store managers said that customer entry had dipped slightly or even stagnated. Conversions were at an all time low. At the same time the wage bill, real estate rentals and power costs were going through the roof. Shrinkage was manageable but the trend in the last quarter indicated a slight increase. Increments to staff were low and mood was grim. Customer studies indicated that the brand image was positive and this quarter they had barely managed to stay in the black. The only bright spot was on the personal front and that was caused by Natasha’s decision to come back to India to help her mother with the business. At the thought of Natasha, Mrs. Kapoor mood brightened slightly. She was on her way to the airport to pick up Natasha whom she had last seen three years ago.

The next day by breakfast, the initial euphoria of seeing Natasha had abated and Mrs. Kapoor was back to her gloomy self. “Why the gloom and doom, Ma?” Natasha could not resist asking. Mrs. Kapoor tried to evade the direct question but Natasha was persistent and soon she poured out her troubles. “I think I know what the issue is. The business needs to evolve. Why aren’t you leveraging your technology for this?” Natasha remarked once her mother had finished outlining the situation. Mrs. Kapoor was surprised. Beyond the ubiquitous Point of Sale cum merchandising system, an accounting system and a custom Loyalty Management application, KAYs had not really invested in technology. “You could learn more about your customers and learn what they really want if you run some analytical models on your customer data. In fact you can learn precisely what styles customers are looking for and even which styles are likely to sell well in each store. You can keep customers engaged only if the merchandise is relevant to them” Mrs. Kapoor knew sound advice when she heard it. “Tell me more” she said. By now her mood had brightened somewhat. “Well we can go to the next level by studying individual customer preferences and sending targeted mailers instead of carpet bombing customers with generic messages. This will need considerably lower marketing budgets than you have now. You can take what you save and invest in technology which will stand you in good stead for several years” remarked Natasha. “Do you sell online?” Natasha had a question for her mother. “Not really. There are plenty of online retailers and web customers expect lots of freebies” replied Mrs. Kapoor. “Not really, Ma” said Natasha “Web is another great way to engage with the customers. Even if customers don’t buy online, they have the opportunity to engage more with your products. Do you know for every rupee spent online, customers spend five in the store?” This was news to Mrs. Kapoor and good one at that – after a long time. It was relatively easy to build a nice looking online presence but Mrs. Kapoor did not know that online presence in fact helped drive up store sales. Natasha was not finished yet “How do you empower your store staff to meet their targets?” queried the young woman. “Why I pay their salary on time and have great soft skills trainers” replied her mother. Natasha smiled indulgently at her mother. “Mobiles have arrived, Ma. Which age are you in?” Mrs. Kapoor sighed and stole a glance at her old Nokia. Inexpensive applications on mobiles can help empower your store staff to speak confidently about the merchandise they sell. They can also consistently be used for helping customers with their buying decisions like which top goes well with a pant they have bought. Coupled with the logistics of the online store, you can minimise lost sales by arranging to deliver merchandise temporarily not available at the store.” Mrs. Kapoor was seeing the possibilities now. Mentally she made a note to meet with her COO to discuss KAYs Technology strategy. Now she had found her direction.

Technology was the key to Evolve the business by Engaging with Customers and Empowering Operations.

 

Sharing his thoughts on what makes attending ReTechCon 2013 imperative this season, Ajay Aggarwal, chief customer experience officer, Klisma shares…

ReTechCon--v-IT-slugThis was few years ago at an international retail conference, I remember Linda Dillman, CIO – Wal-Mart, saying that Wal-Mart is not a retail company but an IT company! The message was very clear that it is the strong belief in IT which drives the overall growth needs of the organization to fulfill the growing demands of their customers, vendors, partners and associates.

In India modern retail is at a point of inflection wherein on one hand a retail brand has to start becoming profitable through a stronger engagement with their consumers and suppliers for a long term partnership and on the other hand fulfil growth needs by widening the market penetration. This means efficient and cost effective operations supported by a most efficient supply chain management to deliver highest returns on investments.

On the other hand more than 80 per cent of modern consumers are living connected life. They are living a real time life and this is not only raising their expectations all the time but also making them impatient on their consumption patterns. They are ready to fulfil their consumption needs through multiple channels. Their buying decisions are highly influenced by in-store as well as e-commerce experiences of their family and friends. And, not just the quality of service but also the pricing and availability of the merchandise in time!

Modern consumers can no longer be lured by basic loyalty program; they want to see real value before sign up for the loyalty program! Deeper insight on consumer buying patterns and needs can help design targeted pricing and merchandise planning and allocation to build real loyalty. If promotions are designed based on consumer needs they will not just be more effective but also go a long way in building the trust between the consumer and the retailer.

ReTechCon 2013 is no longer a technology conclave but a platform wherein business and technology leaders from modern retail come together to deliberate, share and exchange views on strategies on how to improve the engagement with the consumers, vendors, and associates, how to empower their associates to deliver what is demanded by these consumers and make their business flexible to keep evolving from time to time to meet these challenges. I attend this conclave to learn from my peers and other leaders on every occasion.

 

The role of  IT in retail is inseparable. At RAI, the aim has always been to undertake initiatives to boost the industry in any given way possible. In its 9th Edition, ReTechCon has grown from strength to strength. Veneeth Purushotaman, business head – technology and supply chain- HyperCity Retail (India) Ltd elucidates the contribution of IT in retail and decodes the theme behind ReTecCon this season…

2Retail is about Detail is an old saying, Retail is also about continuous change and of being nimble enough to adapt to the customers changing expectations. Technology as an enabler to the Retailer has a much larger role to play today.  The E-tailing has definitely changed the way a customer now shops and therefore it is all the more important for the Retailer to find ways and means to Engage with the Customer Differently. The conventional ways may not be effective in today’s times. Technology will help the retailer to engage with the customer and offer him with offers and promotions that is closer to his preferences instead of bombarding mass offers.

Another changing aspect is that the customer has loads of ammunition in the form of information about the product, offers and promotions in the outside world even before he enters your store. Therefore it is imperative to Empower your associates with equal amount of information, training on the services and products offered and also the ability to take a decision on the floor should he think the customer will go elsewhere to make his purchase. Technology plays a role in creating solutions on the mobile which can help the associates on the floor take these informed decisions under a controlled and authorized environment.

Change is the only constant everywhere and Retail is no exception. You can’t be a spectator while the world changes around you therefore every Retailer better be nimble enough and be on their toes to sprint. Technology will help the retailers Evolve well to this change. Whether each of us decide to play a part in the Click, Brick or a combination of Click and Brick formats, technology will be the key to this Evolution.

 

Sharing the credibility built by ReTechCon over the years and what makes the summit a special for each of the members from the retail community  to attend, Meheriar Patel, CTO & Head – eCommerce, Globus Stores Pvt. Ltd., shares…

02Technology today is a backbone to any industry to outperform the ever changing economies of the world. What lies ahead is unknown but what exists is our present. Information Technology is also going through a lot of changes and evolving in terms of usage, platforms, cloud, big data and social media are some leading direction creators.

ReTechCon since 9 years is doing just this – bringing the partners and users together in two days of interlacing of discussions, panels, showcase and an event not to be missed. Get this Change to your environment and corporate and make the difference!

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RAI
Retailers Association of India (RAI) is the unified voice of Indian retailers. RAI is a not for profit organization (registered under section 25 of Companies Act, 1956), works with all the stakeholders for creating the right environment for the growth of the modern retail industry in India. RAI is the body that encourages, develops, facilitates and supports retailers to become modern and adopt best practices that will delight customers. RAI has a three charter aim of Retail Development, Facilitation and Propagation.