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    Changing face of retail

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    With the omni-retail strategy gaining ground in India, the retail business sector can look forward to good times ahead by keeping abreast with pro-customer strategies.

    According to the assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford Graduate School of Business, , and one of three authors on a research about God and risk-taking, “The idea of God makes people feel safe or protected. The word in and of itself is sufficient to put the idea in the back of your mind — and make people feel like they’re not vulnerable to the dangers of risks.”

    Risk. It curbs people from moving ahead in making decisions confidently but simultaneously, pushes a few to identify opportunities waiting to be explored and take advantage of. Yet, there is a thin line that differentiates success from failure. Omni-retail is arguably one such line that many retailers need to venture into by merging vendor management and online approach aptly, to keep businesses afloat.

    Gartner predicts that by year-end 2016 more than US$2 billion in online shopping will be performed exclusively by mobile digital assistants worldwide. That is certainly a cue to march forward. That said, there are many challenges and opportunities which need to be looked into in omni-retail. It will encapsulate many key segments to establish a successful ecosystem consisting of retailers, vendors, payment processors, mobile developers, data providers, advertisers, agencies and investors.

    Scope ahead

    Consumers are the essence of any business and their changing perceptions in today’s dynamic environment is a challenge. It will be more so apparent when going for a omni-retail strategy. It is definitely the way forward to address the ever-changing customer expectations with a short time span to satiate their desire. Modern retail will be a 24×7 proposition. Gone will be the days of 24-hour delivery commitment. Time frame will be curtailed to within 30-min or as per customers’ convenience, may be even faster than ordering pizza (at present)! May be by a robot! has been testing 30-minute drone delivery. Believe it.

    Every information on the Internet is getting scrutinised these days and will shape the future of retail. It will be extremely flexible and retailers will have to gear up to reach customers with a 360-degree approach, if not directly, indirectly through vendors, online and offline mode. The line between offline and online shopping is waiting to get diminished giving advantage to both sellers and buyers. In fact, there will be infinitely different opportunities to reach your loyal and prospective customers.

    Curtailing speed breakers
    India will have more than 200 million smartphone users in 2016, as per a forecast made by eMarketer. Also, this smartphone generation is communicating more than ever, but virtually. This will spur the need for adoption of omni-retail strategy tapping brick and mortar outlets, e- and m-commerce altogether. According to a study by Deloitte, no interaction with sales associates is now a preferred choice among consumers when it comes to shopping experience (i.e., looking up prices, item availability, product information and in-store item location). Additionally, the report says, they would also prefer to use unmanned in-store devices such as kiosks and digital displays. For example, self-checkout systems or McDonald’s stores with touchsceen applications. Needless to say, omni-channel will bring about newer concepts to fore based on cultural outlook and technology penetration.

    Apps above the world
    Days are in where each and everything is so closely interlinked. In future, expect the vast deposits of personal information that sit in our mobile databases, or computers, across the world will be linked in a manner that brings customers to retailers.

    For example, all information, actitivity, motion of customers inside a store, etc., will be data and data analytics will play a critical role. While passing a retail store (on my regular office route), I will get an SMS informing me that the size of the T-shirt I was searching online a day before (of the same brand) is available in this outlet. And, I get lured and purchase it. The very next day, I am asked to give my feedback and receive discount coupon for the purchase I made only eligible by downloading their in-store app. And, I am lured again to make my second purchase! The moment I enter the store, the in-store app guides me to all corners where I can find a matching pair of bottoms for the T-shirt. Thus, digitised retail stores will be a reality soon to take consumerism to a new high.

    Dynamic pricing
    .com and .com have changed the way we purchased our tickets for travel (online) in the last decade. ‘Best available rate’ is going to be the order of future retail too. It is quite possible that a customer visits a store to get his shoe exchanged due to fitting reason that was purchased online on a 20% discount. But while exchanging the shoe, he gets a 35% discount instead  as per the discount rate applicable for the day. We know how prices change on shopping portals each day. Believe me, the future will be the time for shoppers to be pampered! Dynamic pricing will rule and real-time automated technology will prove boon for consumers as competition becomes stiffer.

    Managing customers

    Consumer ‘mood’ is definitely helping retailers in identifying their  desires through social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and even Linkedin will offer retailers information about the mindset consumerse are in and accordingly pitch them to buy products to match their mindsets for a high response ratio. Hence, online retailers like , Amazon, , Myntra, etc., can look forward to high success rates. Needless to say, these sites are doing their bit by offering numerous attractive offers. It is just that they need to add that ‘mindset’ element.

    If a retailer can get so much information about its customers, imagine what each of its customers can do to enlarge the business scope. The other day, my friend – who is about to get married – realised he had forgotten to buy a gift for his fiancee on her birthday. With no time on hand,  he scrutinsed her gift wish list on Facebook and even contacted her friends to find out if her wish is still intact. And then, he ordered the gift through a digital marketing agency to get it delivered the next day. But I think, in future, this would be easier for him to do. In fact, through a virtual retailing platform, my friend can easily go to the nearest store to collect it personally, if he wishes to, or get it delivered to a specified address. Moreover, if the gift happens to be one that doesn’t lure his wife anymore, he can get it exchanged easily.

    Can’t visit a store and missing the shopping experience?No problem. The store will come to you. Yes, merging the offline deliverables with online shopping aptly would be an interesting option, or may be called app-shopping. Here, customer will use in-store app to visit the store, just like the 3D video games played on smartphones, to go through the various counters, checking new arrivals, picking up the size and colour by using check-boxes, and then an additional tab might help you figure out how you will appear in the purchased items. Buying would be so much real even on the virtual platform giving a holistic view. It will be child’s play.

    Merging online-offline relationship

    By bringing traditional brick and mortar retail outlets, some companies with only products available online are expected to channelise their energies on omni-channel presence. So, there is a shift expected from online cos., to offline side as well. Hence, physical stores will be critical with a redefined approach to cater online consumer traffic for omni-retail strategy.

    Expect hotels to come in, in a big way. Or, for that matter restaurant outlets, malls and other traditional market with warehouse facilities. These will additionally act as distribution centres, either to distribute order to nearby places or for customers to pick their products from.
    On the other hand, imagine customers visiting a mall find out interactive windows – digital storefronts. A ‘shoppable window’ attracts their attention to make a purchase with selected products by paying through PayPal or option. eBay did just that last year in San Francisco and New York. Also, a ‘Virtual Shopping Wall’ called ‘Scan N Shop’ at the Indira Gandhi International Airport is definite an eye-catcher. It would not be a strange case anymore when online options will be lured offline and vice-versa. That is how the omni-retail approach will change the world of shopping experience.

    Going asset light
    While the emphasis will be on creating a good network of warehouses / retail outlets in various locations of a city to make omni-channel work, it doesn’t imply that one should invest heavily from the word go. Actually, the scope has to be weighed diligently as many retailers would prefer to go with a light asset strategy by having franchise outlets. An omni-channel strategy will demand more thoughtful approach by keeping a tab on customers’ priorities and action, and cash in on every possible chance when they think of buying something. More importantly, the aim of omni-retail would be to provide a seamless shopping experience. eCRM will be the order of new seller-buyer relationship. Are retailers up for it? Only time will tell.