So what really is omni-channel retail? To put it simply, omni channel-retail gives consumers a single, holistic view of the retail business through different channels like – mobile, online and physical stores. But keeping this definition in mind, we often wonder if this is not what is happening any which way? Yes. Indeed it is. Any brand worth its salt today willingly or unwillingly has to be present across different formats and channels. If not on their own, then in a partnership or marketplace model, but it is imperative today to have an online and offline presence for any brand. The reason is not just to ensure that they do not miss on the constantly evolving and changing habits of their urban consumers but also not miss the opportunity of presenting themselves to consumers in semi-urban and rural locations, who otherwise would not be able to meet them at a physical store. Snapdeal hosts over 11 million products from 100,000 sellers across 500+ categories. Currently, it gets 75 per cent of the overall orders via mobile-based transactions. As much as 80 per cent of the orders for fashion categories come via this medium. With a physical store, would this
have been possible? Of course, not! Omni-channel retailing allows the click-and-collect option for consumers and this is expected to be the driving force for omni-channel retail in India, which without any exaggeration is poised to take over all forms of retailing in our country.
Images Group taking the lead
Needless to say, at the Images Group, it has been a constant endeavour to ensure that retail in India is always a step ahead of what might come next. Keeping this in mind, at the 12th edition of the India Retail Forum (IRF) 2015, the group shall also have the inaugural edition of India Omnichannel Forum (IOF 2015), which will focus on Customer-Centric Commerce – Engage, Experience, Enable. IOF 2015 is a tailored and one-of-its-kind technology forum for business owners, business leaders and technology teams to meet, engage and conceptualise the next-generation of consumer experiences. Enriching the quality and expanse of retail experiences across physical and digital worlds through intuitive consumer engagement and technology enablement is the vision of the IOF. Mirroring this vision, this inaugural year’s theme will be ‘Consumer-Centric Commerce’. What better could have accentuated this than the tag line for the event which reads – ‘Know Everything in Retail, Know Everyone in Retail’ – and what better way to boost the morale of the retailers who are technologically one step ahead and leading the way than to confer them with an award for the same.
At the IRF 2015, the first-ever IMAGES Retail Technology Awards (IRTA) will recognise excellence in concepts and formats leading the omni-channel revolution in India. The inaugural edition of IMAGES Retail Technology Awards on 15 September 2015 will honour retailers who have done exemplary work in the deployment of IT solutions in their organisations, leading to superior customer experience and enhanced business operations. The categories have been carefully designed to ensure no single out-of-the box idea goes unnoticed. The awards have been rolled out with a focus on the following key aspects: Customer Experience, Innovation, and Excellence in Operations. The awards will recognise excellence in concepts and formats leading the omni-channel revolution in India.
The award categories include: Most Admired Loyalty Program of the Year, Most Admired Payment Project of the Year, Most Admired Mobile Technology Implementation of the Year, Most Admired In-Store Technology, Most Admired Technology Innovation by an SME Retailer, Most Admired Digital Marketing Campaign of the Year, Most Admired Enterprise Solution Implementation, Most Admired Analytics Practice, Most Admired IT Security & Operations, Excellence in Supply Chain Management & Fulfilment, Most Admired Omni-Channel Retailer of the Year and Most Admired CIO of the Year.
Understanding omni-channel retail
Aptly setting the context of the story and accentuating the need of being present as an omni-channel retailer, Harish Bijoor, brand expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. states: “Omni-channel retail is the reality of the retail business model ahead. As models both real and virtual emerge, both traditional and modern retailers will vie to have a presence in the most profitable of these channels. Ignoring one at the cost of the other may be an expensive play for retailers ahead. The future is omni-commerce!”
Explaining the transition that retail channels have seen and what truly has led to the evolution of omni-channel retail, Harikat Singh, MD, Woodland says: “The Indian retail market is evolving at a fast pace and, in a way, shaping up into a definitive form. Gone are the days when omni-presence was the best known business model, giving easy reach to the consumers across all available points of sale. Now, with digitisation (especially of the mobile platform), the consumer wants easy access and convenience and thus the role of omni-channel. This model is basically a back-end integration of all possible point of sales ensuring convenience to the consumers and is certainly one of the most successful business models. Globally, and sooner or later, almost all retail brands would be implementing the same. Being one of the early movers of the Indian retail scenario, we take pride in understanding the Indian market well and thus, have already initiated the process. The model will be launched commercially in times to come.” Currently, Woodland has a well-structured omni-presence through their own retail chain of over 500 exclusive stores, presence in over 5000 multi-branded stores, distribution base, e-commerce platforms as well as their our e-tailing venture. Singh adds: “The market is now taking shape into omni-channel and we too are in the process of improving customer convenience through an early adoption of the model.”
According to Rakesh Kalra, AVP – Human Resource (Corp. and Retail), IT, e-Com and Marketing – SSIPL Retail Ltd., it is beyond doubt imperative for brands to have an omni-channel presence. He explains: “It is a must-have model for all the brands, else it would be very difficult for retail, especially for brick-and-mortar to survive as a profit-making segment. Omni-channel is an opportunity to lower down the impact of circumstances produced by digital markets on traditional retail. Not only traditional retail but also e-retail will be benefitted from omni-channel approach by cutting down the cost of carrying inventory, warehousing and logistics. It would be a merger of offline and online retail to strengthen or complement each other. Self-service kiosks, call-in- shop, e-commerce, e-tailing, m-commerce, m-tailing, t-commerce, t-tailing, digital market places, e-tailing on digital market places and TV commerce are the different methods which will work in an integration and in 360-degree direction.”
Adidas Group is aggressively rolling out its omni-channel strategy in India to integrate 200 of its 750 stores with shopper-friendly technology by March 2016, and tap into the online shopping boom. Adidas has already integrated 50 stores in the north with the ‘endless aisle’ technology and will cover 200 stores in all by March 2016. Endless aisle technology equips Adidas and Reebok franchisee stores with iPads, where shoppers can browse and order for items that are not in stock at the physical stores.
By 2017, Adidas will cover all their existing stores, and will target a 10 to 15 per cent rise in revenues
from every store through this technology integration.
The company is now evolving into the second phase of its omni-channel strategy. Adidas Neo, a brand specifically targeted at the youth, has been launched ‘online-only’ in India.
The driving force
Omni-channel is a multi-channel approach to sales that seeks to provide the customer with a seamless shopping experience whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone or in a brick-and-mortar store.
Talking about omni-channel retailing and the driving factor for the same, Bhavik Jhaveri, CEO & Founder, Ambab Infotech says: “Retail ecosystem in the country is evolving at a dramatic pace. While consumers are becoming more and more sophisticated, tech savvy and are increasingly short on time, in comparison, retailers are struggling to keep up. Their out-of-date legacy systems, inefficient operations and rising competition from online giants is leading to reduced customer loyalty and badly impacting the profitability. I strongly believe consumers buy online not for its convenience factor but because the alternate is inconvenient. Offline retailers will have to keep consumer convenience at the centre of their omni-channel strategy.”
Sharing his opinion, Mahesh M., CEO, Ishanya and Housl!fe throws some light on this. Pioneering the concept of a specialty mall dedicating it to home interiors and furnishing, Ishanya has been there and seen it all – in terms of the changing buying habits of consumers and the selling habits of retailers – even when it comes to something as narrowing-down on hardcore furniture for home. Mahesh shares: “The retail market in India will primarily be driven by omni-channel as brick-and-mortar retailers enter e-commerce to support their stores. Both human and technological factors will enhance shopping experience. In the recent times, e-commerce is capturing a bulk of retail sales. However, brick-and-mortar stores will never go out of fashion.”
Rafique Malik from heritage footwear brand – Metro Shoes – shares: “Earlier, all human interactions were face to face; now they are increasingly turning digital. Technology has enabled retail to mimic human relationships. Hence, brands now have the opportunity and the incentive to meet customers on the platform they are most comfortable with. Omni-channel retail means that no matter where the customer would like to interact with a brand, be it through a brick-and-mortar store, on their desktop or on mobile, they will experience a seamless brand experience. ” Walking the talk here, the team at Metro has adopted a uniform selling system across all their stores and on their online platform as well. Malik adds: “At Metro, whether you buy a product in a showroom at Colaba, Mumbai or at Karol Bagh, Delhi, or for that matter on our own e-commerce portal, www.MetroShoes.net, you would end up getting the same product at the same price. In case of size or exchange issues, the same can be facilitated at multiple points – offline or online – and you would be treated as one unique customer within the company.”
How it helps?
Besides helping the brand reach across the country, omni-channel retail has a bag full, or rather a gunny bag full, of advantages. Not only does it allow you to win over the customer and get them hooked to you, thereby leading them to your online store from your offline and vice versa seamlessly, but also the omni-channel platform allows you to track their likes, dislikes and buying behaviour and tailor them to make customised offers.
“Retailers have to be online and mobile by default. They should be willing to take risks and experiment. They should leverage existing backend systems and create more integrated experience. A cardinal sin is to consider being online same as being omni-channel. Retailers need to redefine the role of physical stores and blur the difference between online and in-store experience. One should not consider physical and digital as two different business units. Be contextual, personalised and location aware. Do capture data at every touch point,” opines Jhaveri.
Malik further explains: “Omni-channel presence enables us to leverage our nation-wide inventory to offer our guests the widest possible range at the touch of their fingertips, either with the service available in our stores, or in the comfort of their own homes. It will eventually allow us to recognise a customer whether they enter a store in Jammu or access our mobile site. Based on their purchase history, it will allow us to tailor an offering exclusively for them.” At Metro, the team is in the process of currently streamlining offline and online marketing and loyalty programmes. Malik adds: “Marketing automation will enable consistent messaging across various demographics and integrated loyalty will empower customers to earn and burn points regardless of online or offline modes of purchase – whether the customer would like to book an order online and try on the pair in the store, or have it delivered home; whether a customer would like to access our Chennai-specific product range from Jalandhar, all of these options will be available through an omni-channel model.”
Leveraging business with omni-channel retailing
The advantages of omni-channel are not restricted to offering a feel-good factor to the consumers, but they spill down within the organisation as well for the in-house staff. For instance, when technologically connected, it becomes easy for the staff to find out about the inventory condition most accurately and also guide the customer on the best possible way to procure merchandise if it is not available at the store at that point of time. On how omni-channel has been helping Metro, Malik shares: “For any unavailable size or colour in a showroom, the showroom staff looks up for the inventory in nearby locations and ensures these pairs are delivered in the next 2–3 hours. A store’s storage capacity is limited; technology and logistics integration enables our store staff to access nation-wide inventory and deliver it to the customer’s home and via cash-on-delivery. This allows stores to reduce a significant percentage of lost sales.”
A similar approach is seen at Suditi Industries, which has the brand Riot under its portfolio. Animesh Maheshwari, VP, Riot – Retail Venture of Suditi Industries Ltd. shares: “To get hands-on in this approach, we have installed software that unifies the e-commerce, online and store inventory. This helps our representatives to operate without facing any inventory shortcoming.”
Chalking out the best possible plan of action for an omni-channel presence, Shree Narayan Sabharwal, CEO and Business Head – Simba Toys adds: “To engage omni-channel shoppers, you first need to understand who they are. At a basic level, this means knowing important factors about the customer such as gender, demographic, location, website browsing habits, search habits, and where they shop – in store or online. But that is not enough. Top retailers understand their customer in even greater detail. They measure the influence of all touch-points on a customer’s journey to purchase – online, offline, and across devices – using sophisticated measurement systems. These attribution platforms track the customer’s journey through each channel – TV, display, search, email, and direct mail – providing a holistic view of how a valuable customer makes a purchase.” He makes a valid point when he says that going omni-present is a tedious and time-taking process as it is quite challenging to track and tailor across all the channels for the best experience – retail, web, mobile, text and phone.
Omni-channel retail and India
Hitting the nail right on the target, Malik says that online retail has definitely levelled the playing field in the retail universe. The larger e-commerce companies eliminated the three major concerns Indian consumers had with purchasing online. The first was credit card security, which online payment gateways and RBI policy have mitigated entirely. The second was ‘what if I don’t like it?’ factor. This was mitigated by free returns. The third was internet penetration which, through the widespread nature of smartphone penetration, shows a huge population of Indians who have access to the internet. Severe discounting sweetened the pot to lure customers out of their comfort zone and into the online environment.
Sabharwal feels that Indian retailers are still just reacting to online retailers. They are far from ready to unleash the power of analytics, the internet or to use their physical locations as an added advantage over the e-commerce portals. Considering the pace at which e-commerce portals are growing, the organised retailers need to tighten their buckles and start working on giving exceptional level of customer service.
Shares Jhaveri from: “If you ask me where we stand today, I would say consumers went omni-channel at least a decade back. Consumers have been omni-channel in various verticals right from banks and pizzas to hotels and movies. For instance, using ATM, bank websites or going to physical banks for them is a seamless omni-channel experience. The biggest challenge in India is retailers, essentially brick-and-mortar players, have been rather reluctant in opting for an omni-channel presence. There is not even a single retail company in India that is omni-channel in the real sense. Retailers who adopt to omni-channel have to understand that it is not online vs. offline but rather online with offline that makes you omni-channel in the real sense.”
Where in India shopping trends seem to be changing, the same cannot be said about the payment preferences. It is still largely about having the product in hand and then paying for the same. Worldwide plastic money is widely used but the trend is yet to catch up in India. This also dominates when it comes to omni-channel retailing. Sabharwal talks about the comfort level as shown by Indian consumers: “Click-and-collect service is something that customers would be comfortable with. This is widely used by international brand John Lewis. It allows the customer to select and pay for the product online and arrange collection from the nearby store. This reduces the ‘wait time’ and the customer enjoys the immediate delivery.”
Where each online market place platform today has an active section for kids’ toys, individual retailers and brands too are making their presence felt online and across channels. One such brand is Toonz Retail, which has managed to set up not just an active offline presence but has a strong online presence as well, which is well integrated with the stores. On how the company has used omni-channel retail to reach out to its customers, Sharad Venkta, MD & CEO, Toonz Retail says: “We have omni-channel presence through our network of 70+ stores spread across the country with existing stores and Toonz.in website catering to more than 6000 pin codes across the country. We provide options for same-day delivery in selected pin codes. We focus sharply on efficient processes and serve the customers profitably – be it online or offline channel.” At Toonz, it took the team 2 months to completely understand their requirement, 2 months to build the same and another 1 month to improvise on the assumptions on which the platform was built.
On the shopping dynamics as seen and preferred in India, Venkta elaborates: “Shopping online is trending in India as a novelty factor. Offline is the channel where Indian customers have been shopping for all kinds of requirements since a considerable length of time. While most of the people are still more comfortable shopping in a store, the new age or tech-savvy shopper is really getting comfortable shopping online. E-commerce players are putting in some serious efforts to improve trust and customer service levels and making the customer more comfortable.”
Omni-channel retail in a way has come in to play the role of Patch Adams between offline and online retail. The tug of war between the two channels before the entry of omni-channel was getting murkier, surpassing even the debates that were on during the advent of organised retail, which was seen as a threat to traditional retail. Malik explains: “Most offline retailers who are unable to have the flexibility and agility of online retailers view online retail as a major threat. Online systems have been tracking customer behaviour and purchases, which is extremely challenging for offline retailers to do to the same extent. However, customers are seen to be the most comfortable buying brands that they know and recognise online as if they have an issue they have a physical channel through which to resolve their difficulty.Having the insurance and the service levels of offline stores married to the ease, convenience and variety of online retail is a balance that offers them the best value. For retailers, the largest cost factor of e-commerce is logistics, especially with Cash on Delivery and returns. It is omni-channel that will push down these costs allowing businesses to facilitate these returns and exchanges at multiple points.”
Combating the challenges and roadblocks
Just having an omni-channel presence is not enough. According to Kalpit Jain, CEO, netCORE: “For an omni-channel experience, each of the channels need to be aware of the other. The PC website needs to be aware of the experience that a customer has on the mobile app and vice versa. Customers expect a seamless transition and continuity between channels nowadays and a common order and inventory management coupled with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) are pre-requisites for providing a seamless experience.” According to him, the biggest challenge that Indian retailers face today is that of unifying all siloed online and offline store systems. A Master Data Management (MDM) strategy to manage multiple and fragmented views of the customer by standardising customer data and removing duplicates is also a pre-requisite to deliver a consistent customer experience across channels, devices and locations. Another challenge is of training store salesforce, contact centre staff and online help desk to deal with omni-channel technology backend and resulting customer behaviour
Kalra lists the challenges as follows: “There are some challenges in doing omni-channel, like Common Inventory Management, Data Collaboration/Synchronisation, Replenishment Planning, Delays in Inventory Updating, Area-Specific Discounts, and Data Reconciliation. No brand or retailer should do it without proper planning. There must be proper planning, IT infrastructure in place, all technical and functional integrations among all different interfaces of omni-channel.”
Social media and reaching out
Venkta rightly reads the importance of social media: “Social media is the feed for healthy development of omni-channel presence. The credibility and visibility of brands these days largely depends upon the social media presence of a brand. Just like people connect or get influenced with an advertisement or a movie, buyers relate to or follow any brand through their social media activities that engage consumers. Search strategies help to understand online behaviour of the buyer that enables re-targeting to existing customers for new products that helps in penetration of new products. Mobile search and browsing data helps to connect the dots and have a clearer picture of the brand salience.”
In line with an omni-channel experience, according to Jain, e-mail marketing can prove to be highly effective if it is data-driven and thus personalised for every customer. He explains: “For example, based on a customer’s website browsing activity, a personalised e-mail catalogue can be sent, for the customer to sample a newly launched product at the local store over the weekend.”
According to a recent study conducted by Hansa Cequity and the Retailers Association of India, it is estimated that nearly 74 per cent of Indian consumers shop across all channels – local retailers, modern trade outlets and online. The omni-channel shopper study shows that a large chunk of Indian consumers still prefers to touch and feel a product before buying despite the fact that e-commerce has made shopping so convenient. This is the reason why e-commerce companies are looking at establishing physical stores while brick-and-mortar retailers look to leverage the fast growing e-commerce channel.
On a concluding note, to hear it from Mahesh: “Omni-channel is no longer a buzz word; it is a reality that every retailer needs to embrace for several reasons. Growth and sustainability, visibility and effectiveness of engagement depend on being intelligently present in multiple channels. If borderless retail is the road ahead, omni-channel is the strategic start-point.”