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CEO Thinkpad: Consumers want experiences not products

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A CEO Thinkpad on leveraging technology and innovation to drive revenue and transform margins yielded some interesting results. Held recently, the Thinkpad kick-started with Chandan Chowdhury’s presentation on the same in which he expounded the role of technology and innovation in the future of the fashion industry. Chowdhury said consumers no longer buy products alone, but rather experiences, making it a major challenge for retailers. The application of technology in every aspect of the business, from product innovation, design, development, B2B, and communications is a must to transform consumer experiences.
A combination of the physical and the digital would not only bring up businesses to a new level of efficiency, but also transform in-store experiences and consumer experiences as well. Chowdhury drives this point by citing a Hugo Boss case study, explaining their success with virtualization and digital innovations in various spheres of their business ranging from product development to sales.
Sharad Mehra was asked about the fashion industry’s requirement in terms of skill and talent. Mehra went on to explain that the aspiration level to get into the retail industry amongst undergrads is decreasing. Anything involving operations, manufacturing, retailing and other back-end areas seem to be off -putting to students despite the number of opportunities available. With respect to the fashion industry, the key area of interest for students lies in the front-end. Asked about the feasibility of skilling programs, Mehra mentioned that premier institutions like Pearl Academy are already offering training in this area. However, online education in this field is an option to further ponder upon. Mehra also mentioned that the skill requirement of the hour is the ability to deal with ambiguity, collaborations and communication. Given the rapidly evolving nature of the industry, adaptive skills are being given more weightage than technical skills.
Vinay Nadkarni of Globus was asked about the evolution, if any, that he has seen in consumers, and the impact of the said evolution on the scalability of brands. He replied that consumers had definitely evolved in the recent years. “Today’s consumers are smarter, better informed and more demanding, which has a direct impact on brands. Despite the earlier mind-set that traditional retailers were more connected to customers than organized retailers, technology has helped organized retailers to know their customers more intimately, allowing for customized services and pampering,” he said. Another change that Nadkarni said he noted in consumer behaviour was their increasing impatience. “High speed of service is in demand, and meeting consumer’s needs as soon as possible is where the key to relevance of a brand lies,” he revealed.
Next on the agenda was Sanjay Roy’s opinion on the effectiveness of multichannel retailing and the application of technology there. Roy firmly believes that in today’s scenario, multichannel retailing is an absolute necessity to grow. “Single channel retailing cannot garner the same depth in terms of market penetration. Technology has to be applied to every aspect of the business, without which there can be no expansion,” he said. Roy predicts that in the coming years, at least 5-8 per cent of his sales will be from online retailing.
Hidesign’s Dilip Kapur was asked about the impact of technology on products and consumer’s reactions to the same.
Kapur started by talking about the impact of technology on his own products. Technology has undeniably influenced lifestyle, and therefore products. “Every bag,” he said, “must have a designated compartment for laptops or computer tablets these days, making for a challenging situation as far as innovation is concerned. Even to connect to consumers, the brand relies heavily on technology. The ironic part is, however, that the more one steers towards technology, the more appealing anti-technology becomes.”
Taking the example of Hidesign’s handcrafted notebooks, Kapur said that the product was surprisingly popular; owing to the role that technology plays in our lives today. Even more surprising was the demographics amongst which the notebooks found success. Young, college-going students who would otherwise be expected to lean towards smartphones and tablets were the ones who felt the greatest connect to the notebooks.
Chandan Chowdhury confidently expressed the role that technology will play in the sustainability of brands in the near future. “For brands that want to become major players in the market, stay relevant and provide something of value to shareholders, leveraging on technology and digital continuity,” he said.
Bhavik Jhaveri made an interesting point about digitalization being a cultural move, as opposed to a technological move. Citing example of Nordstrom, where certain items in one of their stores were marked with an Instagram Logo or a Pinterest Logo to indicate what merchandise was trending on the aforementioned social networks to boost sales, Jhaveri went on to explain that it is the cultural aspect of digitalization that appeals to consumers and not the technological aspect. And it is this cultural aspect of digitalisation that must be captured and cashed upon.
Rajiv Nair echoed this sentiment when he talked about increasing the allure of brick and mortar stores. He believes that there is an emotional angle to shopping and stores, and noted that the Indian fixation with profitability had retailers cutting costs in their stores. To restore their appeal amongst consumers, reinvestment will be required. One must integrate technological interactivity with consumers with the emotional connect of consumers.  The belief that technology will obviate the need for stores is incorrect. Rather, technology works well in driving customers to stores, and should be used further to facilitate customer interactivity within the store.
Kenny Si Yeol Shin spoke about the SHOP CJ story when asked about the role of home shopping and its global success factors which are applicable in India. Despite being a relatively young company, they have been hugely successful and already boast of high profile customers such as Puma. Shin spoke of the power of regional television channels when it comes to home shopping and noted that he had seen great success since he ventured into regional channels.
There was time for only one question from the audience before the discussion wrapped up – do customers really want this technology that’s being thrust upon them by brands and retailers? Doesn’t he want to choose his products without being pushed into a space of hyper-innovation?
Chowdhury maintained that retailers and brands will have to fi nd a way to integrate the said technology into their businesses to keep customer experiences fresh. As he mentioned before, it is not the product that the consumer is interested in but the experience. Dilip Kapur added that the application of technology in driving revenue is imperative, but as a consumer, one wouldn’t want to see technology in his products. “As we hurtle towards digitalisation, we are developing a nostalgic taste for all things pre-digital such as the popular handcrafted notebooks Hidesign launched,” he concluded.

Authored by:

  • Rajan Verma, Images Business of Fashion
  • Shinjini Saha & Niharika Dahake, NIFT, Mumbai
  • Gunjari Muherjee & Amrutha Madhusudanan, Pearl Academy, Mumbai

For full details on the India Fashion Forum 2016 and the Images Fashion Awards 2016, read the April issue of our magazine, Images Business of Fashion

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