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Technology – Enabling Retailers to Live up to Customer Expectations

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Retailers in India have always believed in technology to not only give them the edge over competition but also to drive efficiency and to bring down cost. Every organised retail player in India today has invested extensively in core technology applications and moved on to implement some of the niche solutions as well, like advanced replenishment, digital signage and assortment planning. It is therefore time for the retailers to first ensure the investments already made are put to good use and then look at new ways to adapt these to the omni-channel way of retailing which combines the powers of mobility and social media.

From the time a customer enters a retail store to the time s/he reaches the checkout, there are at least a dozen technology solutions that would have played a part in his journey. Yes, the customer is oblivious of these except for the billing system, which the customer expects to always work without any glitches and so does the retailer.

Retailers over the years have made huge investments in technology, investments which were to give the retailer and edge over competition. With the changing time it is not only important to review the current usage of these solutions deployed but also find newer ways of using the technology. In order to ensure the usage the users will have to be trained not just once but periodically.

With the high rate of attrition, employees who transition from one store location to another and from one category to another on the shop floor and due to the rapidly changing products and services rendered by a retailer, training the staff is imperative.  Exactly why an investment in E-Learning tool is critical and a perfect fit. Interactive Training contents developed by the business experts can be published online for the staff to train at leisure and to keep abreast with the latest in the product space.

Empowering the sales team or the floor staff has never been more important as today. Every customer who walks into a store has done enough home work on the product or services therefore the slightest of perception or impression of ignorance on the part of the associate or his inability to take a decision on a price, promotion or freebies can lead to a lost sale. This is typical to the consumer durables segment but also applies to food and fashion.

Retailers will have to therefore invest in mobile based applications which extend the information available in the back end ERP on stock levels, price promotions etc to the floor staff.

Every Retailer has a Facebook and a Twitter page to boast about. The number of Likes on a social networking page has become a parameter to measure the social presence for several retailers. However it’s time now to take the engagement beyond just ‘Likes’. There are several successful and interesting case studies from International retailers which show how well they have used this media to engage customers.

Store associates have all the tools they need to best serve the customer right on the spot and help him make the buying decision. With a mobile computer in hand, the sales associate can receive notification when an important member of the loyalty program enters the store, enabling a personal greeting, check the stores and warehouse in the vicinity for stocks should his store be out of stock on a specific product, call for an item from the back store, check price, promotions and offers and more; all this without ever leaving the customer’s side.

Retailers have customer applications available for download on all the platforms which help the customer know the latest price changes, promotions and even product availability. These mobile applications also allow the retailer to send across Mobile barcode based coupons (Mcoupons) and targeting discounts and promotions.

Mobile applications like Mwallet and Personal shopping systems for groceries have not done well in India so far but it is too early to write them off.

With every retailer having a mobile application for the customer it will be interesting to see if a customer keeps all these apps on his mobile or decides to go for a consolidator who works with all the retailers. It will be therefore critical for the retailer to identify the stickiness and to ensure the features on the mobile app are good enough for a customer to retain it on his high-end smart phone.
Every click, every Like or Comment, every chat online, every query on the website, every phone call at the call centre and every transaction at the store is a valuable data element for a retailer and no secret it is BIG.

Business Intelligence in not about creating reports and then giving it to the users to fire and print; it’s all about training the users and empowering them to analyse the data by looking at the data from all the angles. It is therefore important to not have a BI implementation which has 400 reports but to create multi-dimensional data cubes (OLAP cubes) which can be sliced and diced by the business users to drive insights.

Technology will play a very silent role as it will be difficult to differentiate any of the tools mentioned above as a technology but will be identified by the business as a solution.

About the Author:

Veneeth Purushotaman is the Business Head – Technology & Supply Chain, HyperCity Retail (India) Ltd