Welcome 2013!

– Vidya Damani, head – retail practice,
chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy

I believe trends are for clothes and fashion; sectors and businesses transition or evolve.

As this point would apply to retail as well, let’s look at how this sector is evolving in India today and how it will evolve through 2013.  To understand that, we need to first look at some factors that will influence this sector.

Factor One: the substantial increase in the cost of living. Everyone, regardless of economic strata or geography, is feeling the pinch of rising prices.

Factor Two: the rise in aspirations. Each person is trying to reach the next level of aspiration, move up to the next notch. The propensity to save seems to have taken a back seat to this mindset: “I want to upgrade my lifestyle today”.

Factor Three (certainly the most influential): Changing customer expectations. Today’s customers are more exposed, more ‘traveled’. They have more disposal income, they purchase online, they use social media.  With more than 50per cent of India’s population below the age of 25, we are not just dealing with Gen Y (18 to 24-year-olds) but also Millennials (12  to 17-year-olds).

What 2013 has ‘in store’ for us:

(1) Brand Experience Management will Gain Momentum One of the results of inflation is that it makes one’s relationship with money more ‘intimate’.

When incomes do not rise too much and outgoings increase,  money becomes more precious.  At this time, customers demand more value for money.  Which basically means picking up a good product is not enough – they want to be pampered. The simple truth is, they can probably get the same product for a competitive price someplace else (that also includes the online space).

That brings us to the intangible part of a retail format called the experience, which translates into tangible results! A good experience creates positive WOM which serves as the most effective ‘advertising tool’!

No wonder Zingerman’s (the food retailer) claims that more repeat clients are found when the service is good than if the product is high-quality but the service is poor.

I believe every brand has a story to tell: which it does through its experience (this could also be called brand behavior). This story is based on what the brand stands for.  Let’s  draw an analogy with a person. The way a person dresses, talks, behaves, what he or she believes in, gives us a sense of who the person really is. Similarly the way the brand behaves and communicates to its customers tells us what the brand stands for.

Continuing with the comparison to a human being, the more ‘self-aware’ you are,  the more    successful you will be. Similarly,  the more well-defined the brand is, the higher will be its brand equity.  A well-defined brand will be able to communicate its story consistently through its customer experience. Example: The Apple Store experience.

Even the culture of an organization should reflect the brand story.  In the ‘Manning Modern Retail’ conference, organized by RAI which I attended earlier this year, one of the panel discussions was on ‘Aligning Employee Behavior with Organizational Values.’ This supports my case in favor of the culture reflecting the Brand Story: because ideally the organizational values are incorporated into it.  An example of this would be Nike; the brand’s website describes its culture as “You will be changed because you will grow. You will grow because you will be challenged. You will be challenged because you will work with the best talent, the best athletes, and the best business partners in the industry.” It also ensures that it recruits people who are passionate about sports and are go-getters.

(2) Brand Experience will be Important Across Channels
Online buying is the next big thing….that’s old news! How retailers can prepare themselves for it… that’s work-in-progress.

The experience does count even though it is not a brick and mortar format. The ‘lowest prices wins’ is not always the case. How does the website look? Is it smartphone- compatible? The quality of the product shots, smooth payment experience and on-time delivery matter a great deal.  The way in which all these are designed and executed should reflect the brand story.

Just replicating an offline experience online is probably not a good idea. Use the advantages of the online space: community opinions, price comparisons, games and so on.  Another big thing in the west which will move eastwards is discount coupons or promotional codes.

(3) This Sector shall Attract Better Talent
When a sector evolves, the demand for a better quality of workforce is inevitable! The requirement will be at all levels. Especially front-end staff and middle management. Many of the multinationals brands that have come in, like Starbucks, will want English-speaking staff that can relate to a customer.

The point that came up in one of the discussions at the ‘Manning Modern Retail’ conference was the gap in education, exposure and lifestyle between the front-end staff and the customers they need to attend to. However, with increasing demand, companies will think of creative ways to narrow this gap.

In 2004, when I was a department manager at Shoppers Stop,  BPOs would lure our staff with a higher pay. However in 2013 to lure Gen Y, we will need to offer not just a higher pay but a better work-life balance.

The good news is retail will attract post graduates from well known B-schools. It’s no longer considered to be like working in a ‘dukaan’.

(4) More Innovative use of Technology to Enhance Brand Experience. I recently read about a ‘Pop-up’ store by a chocolate brand called Anthon Berg.  A ‘Generous Store’ was created in Denmark.  There were no money exchanges for the purchases; the price was –  a good deed one had to do. iPad devices were used to ensure that people’s generous promises were posted on the Facebook profiles of both the ‘doer’ and ‘receiver’ of the generous deed. Many people even provided evidence of their good deeds in the form of pictures on Anthon Berg’s Facebook page too. (as read on PSFK website)

Another example: Walmart Canada and Mattel have launched a ‘virtual pop-up’ toy store in Toronto (located in the underground walkway) to make it easy and convenient for shoppers to buy gifts during an often rushed holiday season. It features two walls of 3D toy images and QR codes that shoppers can scan with their smart-phone to purchase items.

Indian brands too will use technology to create innovative and interactive Brand Experiences.

I’m sure there are many more but in my opinion these are the four key areas that retail will see a visible evolution in. So don’t forget to give that intangible part called xexperience, its due attention.
Happy New Year!



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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.