Himanshu Chakrawarti is the CEO of The MobileStore Limited (TMS) since April 2011. The MobileStore, promoted by the Essar Group, is a one stop mobile solution shop which offers telecom products like Mobiles, Mobile Accessories, Mobile Connections & Recharges, Mobile Bill Payments, Value Added Services, Mobile Repairs, Mobile Exchange, DTH, all under one roof, in a world class shopping ambience.
The MobileStore, India’s largest multi-brand telecom retailer, has over 700 stores, spread across over 90 cities. The chain is a pioneer in innovative solutions customised for the Indian market with concepts such as the experiential Lounge format, making smartphones affordable through multi-bank EMIs, the impending launch of EMI on debit cards, innovative accessories centred on the internet of things and an industry best in class ecommerce site.
Prior to his current assignment, Chakrawarti worked with Trent Limited for over ten years. His last assignment was as the COO of Landmark, the book & music retailer. Prior to that, he was the Marketing Head of Trent and handled all aspects related to brand/image building, brand strategy, market research and loyalty program.
A graduate from IIT Kanpur, and subsequently armed with a PGDM from IIM Bangalore, Chakrawarti began his career in the FMCG sector, with Lakme, where he encountered what he calls ‘perhaps the purest form of marketing’. “FMCG businesses typically have an ingrained culture of consumer research and marketing — segmentation, profiling, SWOT analyses, defining the 4Ps, that sort of thing,” he says.
[“As retailers, you go where where the customer is, right? All retailers set up stores where customers are. So we decided to make them (online retailers) work for us, instead of against us.”]
“The difference in retail is that the retailer is much closer to the consumer; in addition to transactional relationships, there are real-time interactions, which are not easy to quantify and tabulate as a kind of white paper,” he points out.
And that is what drives his enduring fascination with the sector, he says. “The beauty of retail is that it is the only place where you have a fantastic, real-life connection with the consumer — on a daily basis. And those exchanges constantly challenge and energise me.”
Chakrawarti voluntarily jumps into the next, now-predictable question all business journalists ask brick-and-mortar retailers in India these days: How much damage from ecommerce, especially given the immense online traffic for his products?
He felt threatened at first, he admits. “But the flip side of threat is opportunity. As retailers, you go where where the customer is, right? All retailers set up stores where customers are. So we decided to make online retailers work for us, instead of against us.”
TMS has, therefore simply decided to go where the customer is — online. But not in a standard omnichannel fashion. “For mobiles and other CDITs, consumers typically now go to comparison sites, not manufacturer sites; because they are looking at price differentials.” And that is why Chakrawarti took TMS to mysmartprice.com. “You see, one advantage of a physical store is immediate delivery of the product. We decided to marry the benefits of online and offline retail.”
Here’s how: TMS products sold on mysmartprice are delivered within four hours of purchase and delivered by TMS employees, who then help the customer set up the phone, transfer data, laminate the screen, et al on site. “The exact same experience and services you would expect in a physical store,” Chakrawarti points out.
“Consumers come to physical stores for two reasons: the look-touch-feel experience, and for immediate delivery of product. We are finding a way to get the convenience of online channels to deliver a physical store service experience.”
Chakrawarti and his team may have also found a way to bypass the — annoying to a retailer — phenomenon of consumers checking out products in offline stores, but subsequently purchasing them online. “TMS customers now have access to the comparison sites within our stores. We pull up the sites for them; they can compare right there and then.”
“It’s a case of physical stores making online shopping choices convenient,” Chakrawarti chuckles.
TMS is currently rolling out a pilot project in Mumbai to further flip the e-commerce story on its head, he reveals. “We are leveraging, not fighting, the consumer space transformation, and it’s working very well for us. Every threat is an opportunity, and I think we are proving that.”
By Nupur Chakraborty