According to a press release issued by Gartner on October 16, 2014, the Indian e-commerce industry is expected to rise by 70 per cent from US$ 3.5 billion in 2014 to US$ 6 billion in 2015. The report further hints at India being the fastest growing e-commerce market in the Asia-Pacific region. The Indian market is geared up for accommodating all models of digital shopping including web, mobile, and social media channels. Investors are bullish about the market and the top three players in the e-commerce space – Flipkart, Amazon, and Snapdeal – alone have attracted over US$ 3.6 billion to expand their operations.
Increasing Internet penetration, online shopping trends, changing lifestyles and spending habits of consumers have contributed to the massive growth of this industry. A Forrester Research report states that e-commerce sales in India is expected to touch the much envied figure of US$ 76 billion by 2021. The soaring business growth and optimistic market trend in e-commerce are forcing traditional retailers to foray into the online space along with brick-and-mortar stores. And while these traditional stores are stepping into e-commerce, one advantage that they are leveraging is direct contact with the customers and providing them smooth product return plan options. However, these companies have their own set to challenges to deal with when it comes to seamless online operations.
While e-commerce is taking giant leaps in turnover year-on-year, the ecosystem still presents various challenges. Fragmented supply chain, poor shopping experience, lapse in data security, logistics failure, lack of technology usage, and poor responsiveness and reliability pose significant threats to the sustained growth of the Indian e-commerce industry. In order to mitigate these roadblocks, the e-commerce companies need to make efforts to understand customers’ requirements, track their shopping behaviour, engage them with exciting shopping activities, measure their traction, and influence them to become loyal customers. Here are some challenges that e-commerce players face in their daily operations.
Poor shopping experience
While many players in the e-commerce industry understand the inherent problems in customer shopping experience, their inability to thwart the challenges upsets the growth targets. According to JDA Customer Pulse Report 2014, around 61 per cent of consumers surveyed responded that they would willingly switch retailer based upon unacceptable online shopping experience. Another 84 per cent of the respondents believe that the retailer should be held responsible for any problem that arises during online shopping.
The e-commerce business must be design to deliver products in a way much different from regular brick-and-mortar stores. Online consumers expect their products to be delivered to their doorstep fast and for free. Since India is a vast country, many places still face the problem of poor accessibility. Smaller towns and cities lack robust infrastructure logistics for smooth delivery of products. Due to lack of postal address standardisation, the delivery sometimes takes longer than usual. Hence, e-commerce companies must be prepared to manage difficult business scenarios such as order rescheduling, cancellation, returns and cash-on-delivery in an efficient manner.
Fragmented supply chain
Since the e-commerce business ecosystem is still in its infancy in India, various stakeholders in the e-commerce supply chain are not seamlessly integrated. Collaboration can bridge the information gap between different stakeholders. From demand forecasting to inventory to shipment, each segment has a significant role to play in the e-commerce business. As demand for e-commerce grows, it is just as critical to streamline the supply chain and enable collaboration among various stakeholders in real-time.
Low in analytics
The biggest challenge for e-commerce players is leveraging the information to analyse the customer experience. Although the data captured from various customer touch-points can be availed for analysis, a robust analytics tool is needed to get some sense out the data. While capturing customers’ retail experiences in online shopping can be easier, the same can pose a challenge since customers highly demand protection of their private information.
Lack of data security
According to Kasperky Lab’s survey, 50 per cent of e-commerce businesses have experienced some kind of data theft in the business process. The survey also reveals that 53 per cent of businesses lack a plan to address the issue immediately. Last year Visa issued an alert to retailers in the US about the possible intrusion into PoS data at grocery stores. Cyber security experts opine that once hackers get access to PoS device, it becomes highly impossible to stop them. Creating value for customers comprises not only making exciting product offerings and shopping experience, but also providing customers privacy and data security.
Frequent return of products
Many Indian online consumers are first-time buyers, and are driven by peer pressure to shop online. This sometimes results in consumer dissatisfaction when the product shipped is not up to the expectation of the consumer or when the product gets damaged during shipping. Product returns incur heavy losses to the online retailer and the shipping logistics do not comply with reverse transaction process.
While challenges are integral to the running of any business, the companies can build a technology strategy to mitigate them. Here is how e-commerce companies can rely upon technology solutions to optimise their operations and enhance profitability.
Integrated technology solutions
Technology plays a key role in driving an e-commerce business. A successful e-commerce company leverages technology to provide holistic customer experience. While the companies focus on providing seamless shopping experience to customers irrespective of channels, the technology should provision 360-degree shopping utilities starting from selection to buying to delivery to return. The e-commerce companies need to rely on an end-to-end technology solution that empowers them to become responsive and deliver reliable services, provide omni-channel experience to customers, leverage the power of social commerce, increase sales by banking on mobile commerce, and analyse and predict the purchasing behaviour of consumers using big data. Here is how the e-commerce industry can benefit from integrated technology solutions.
Responsive and reliable services
Online consumers are different from the traditional ones. They compare products online, look for the best offer price and then make a buying decision. Online consumers expect products shipped to them to meet their expectations. If a wrong product is shipped, the e-commerce companies should have a prompt customer response system to retrieve the product from the customer and replace it with the right product once the alert is raised by the customer. Responsiveness and reliability in service requires a technology solution that can help e-commerce companies track, address, and meet the customer’s expectations without risking the ecosystem.
Increase operational agility
Online shoppers expect prompt services from e-commerce companies. While products are available in different warehouses, e-commerce companies can leverage a technology solution to process orders to the local warehouse and the operations team should convert those orders into parcels and collaborate with logistics companies to pick up the parcel and deliver it to the destination. An enterprise-level business solution can help e-commerce companies to collaborate with various stakeholders in real-time and enable them to deliver the product to the customers with greater agility.
Integrated supply chain
Modern supply chain management system equips the e-commerce companies with actionable business intelligence to bring competitive advantage to the online retail operations. Given the complex nature of retail supply chain, it is imperative for e-commerce players to integrate their enterprise business systems such as ERP and CRM with advance analytics solution to leverage data across the supply chain touch-points. To reap full benefits of an optimised supply chain, the e-commerce companies should integrate data points of all stakeholders including manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and logistic companies. This will enhance the level of analytical capability and enable e-commerce companies de-risk their business from disruptions and gain competitive advantage.
Omni-channel shopping experience is the newest trend in e-commerce. The e-commerce players are leaving no stone unturned to provide seamless consumer experience via all possible channels, be it mobile internet devices, computers, television, radio, direct mail, or physical store experience. While provisioning omni-channel retail experience seems easy, it requires the integration of retail supply chain across all possible media to provide online retail consumers an opportunity to reach at a buying decision. Today, enterprise-level business solutions like ERP and CRM are offering e-commerce solutions that can deliver unique consumer buying experience.
Leveraging social commerce
Social media platforms are the latest tools that one can use to boost the e-commerce business. Since most of the online consumers have a social media account, the e-commerce companies can leverage social media platforms to engage with customers and analysing their buying behaviours, listen to their sentiments, and provide better customer service experience. Integration of social media tools with CRM can enable e-commerce players to monitor how consumers are influenced by peers, when they reach at a buying decision, and how to target the consumer groups by programmatic campaigns to boost sales. Microsoft Social Listening Tool is one such solution that helps e-commerce companies understand the social conversations effectively and gain deeper understanding of customers’ sentiments.
Bringing mobility into service
According to Forrester, India possessed 206 million online users in 2013 and 50 per cent constituted mobile internet users. Growing usage of smartphones in India has created immense opportunities for e-commerce and players in this segment can leverage mobility to empower consumers to shop anywhere, enable employees to increase their productivity by responding faster, and integrate stores with mobile PoS. Mobile commerce requires technology integration of existing business solutions with smart apps. Many e-commerce companies are targeting specific demography of buyers by retrieving their mobile data from the service providers. These companies can develop a comprehensive mobility strategy as part of their business strategy. To ride on the mobility trends, the e-commerce companies can develop smart apps, rich media content, and gaming apps to engage customers in a productive way.
Leveraging ‘Big Data’
Big Data is all about massive customer data available on various platforms for analysis. The key to arrive at a credible analysis largely depends upon the veracity of data. While historic data plays a significant role in extrapolating future events, live customer data helps online retailers plan an instant campaign to leverage the sentiments of customers. Big Data and analytics solutions empower the online retail industry significantly. They can help e-commerce companies improve inventory process, create programmatic marketing campaigns, define competitive pricing strategy, and manage the supply chain process efficiently. According to a McKinsey report, companies using Big Data to its full capability can increase their operating margin by more than 60 per cent.
Globally, the e-commerce industry is evolving at a rapid pace. The success of this industry however hinges upon how the e-commerce companies are leveraging technology to ensure a seamless shopping experience to consumers. While many brick-and-mortar retail companies are shifting to e-commerce business to tap the opportunities, leading technology solution providers like Tectura are playing a key role by providing them comprehensive e-commerce solutions. Tectura foresees a revolutionary shift in disruptive technologies – be it mobility, Big Data, or social commerce. In order to maintain a sustained business growth, the companies need to adopt a technology strategy to increase the responsiveness and reliability of services by delivering a seamless shopping experience to consumers.
About the author: Chetan Pathak is the Corporate Operations Director at Tectura India. He is committed to Tectura’s drive to deliver exceptional and sustained value to the clients.