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IRF’14 Discusses How Technology Helps Build Uber Cool Customer Experience

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At the second day of IRF-2014, an enthralling session was held on the pertinent issue of ‘ How technology can help retailers in building an uber cool customer experience. The panelists of this insightful session were- Sandeep Kulhalli, Sr.VP-Retail & Marketing-Jewellery Division, Titan, Kabir Lumba, MD, Lifestyle International, Stephen Roberts, Chairman, Bentel Associates, Sandeep Ahuja, MD, VLCC, Gilles Moutounet, Country Head, L’Occitane, Chetan Patnaik, Director, Samsung Enterprise Business, James Hawkey, Managing Director – Retail, Asia Pacific, Cushman & Wakefield and Shivnath Thukral, Former Managing Editor, NDTV Profit.

As the distinction between online buying and physical stores is blurring and both channels are integrating into the total consumer buying experience, the physical store needs to be an embodiment of the brand and a destination for consumers where they can do much more than simply browse and transact. Stores are becoming an integral part of the multi-channel experience and need to evolve into experience-based destinations that drive brand loyalty and engage customers at a more emotional level, and not just storing an assortment of products and checkout lines.

Consumers expect the store to enable an experience which online cannot deliver, that is, providing the in-store theater and the “touch and feel” experience across the brand and product. But at the same time consumers expect to experience all the information in a store as they would do online – they want the ability to scan product bar codes and access detailed information walking around the store, similar to what they would be able to experience browsing online, and a majority would like to use their mobile device as a substitute for their credit card.
This is where the transformation of the retail store is a major imperative and begins with a deep understanding of the customer, the technologies available today on how to deliver the finest customer experience, and a integrated strategy to personalize the experience at every point of interaction.

The session began with a question to the forum that ‘Does technology have limited use in Retail?’. Answering this questions, Kabir Lumba, said: “Any idea can easily be commoditized and technology should provide only functional replacement. Eventually , the product remains the hero.”

Thenext big question was which are the areas in which technology plays a bigger role? To this Sandeep Kulhalli, explained, giving example of Titan jewellery and watches. He said that Titan uses technology to connect and communicate the brand message. It is used more in the youth oriented brands like Mia.

Sandeep Ahuja also spoke on the same topic and giving example of his own brand, he said: ” VLCC uses tablets in the waiting area and for consultation. Thus technology is the enabler for delivering enhanced customer experience successfully.

Gilles Moutounet agreed that within the beauty segment, technology can be used as an enabler for services like consultation, store design and display and signages.

Chetan Patnaik also reinstated that technology cannot be bigger than the product. Technology must be used to engage the customer’s senses and use it as a trigger.

Stephen Roberts said:  “Technology must be a combination of brick and mortar and digital. The touch and feel is still a vital factor and so is convenience.”

James Hawkey said: “Concepts like interactive displays, social medias, mass customization are gaining momentum. It is important to see which of these will sustain and deliver customer value in the long term.”

On discussing the ways in which technology can be disruptive, Stephen Roberts said:  “One cannot generalize the answer and it largely depends on the merchandise category. Even if banks are adopting more personalized ways of customer service.”

Piyush Agrawal, a member from the audience asked, will online shopping impact the actual stores? Kabir Lumba replied: ” What drives online shopping is the brands, however brands are created only in offline stores. Thus perfectly summing up the importance of online and offline retailers and technology as their enabler in the discussion.”

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