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Top problems in modern retail in India that are crying for a solution in technology

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At a high-level, all retailers today are looking for the best way for Omnichannel solutions – but what does that actually mean to the CIO or COO?

At the India Omnichannel Forum 2017 – held on September 19th and 20th in Mumbai, concurrently with the India Retail Forum – retail leaders met to debate ‘Top Problems in Modern Retail in India That Are Crying for a Solution in Technology’ powered by Honeywell.

The roundtable, was powered by Honeywell, discussed what this meant for companies – are they looking for very specific ways to enhance customer experience in the store? What are the technologies evaluated to be able to have a geospatial view of their inventory across warehouses and stores? Or to have suggestions for their planograms and replenishment based on their orders and consumptions? Or are there other “here and now” issues?

The session centered around practical roadmaps and real experiences, apart from focusing on the immediate future – over the next two to three years.

The esteemed panel included Abel Correa, Head IT Strategy & Governance, Arvind Limited; Anil Menon, Head IT, Trent Hypermarket (A TATA and TESCO Enterprise) Brand Name: Star; Kunal Mehta, GM IT – Lifestyle Business, Raymond; Piyush Gandhi, Regional Director, Project & Development Services, JLL India; Pooja Maheshwari Salwan, Category Head – Fashion Tech and Gadgets,; Shirish Kalamkar, GM IT, Major Brands; Sarvana C, Head Application, Max Hypermarket (SPAR); and Yakeen Gazi, Senior VP – IT, Hypercity Retail.

The roundtable discussion was moderated by Vanita Khetan, Strategic Marketing Leader – SPS India, Honeywell, who opened the floor to a discussion on specific initiatives and interventions in technology which can make a difference to business outcomes for retailers.

Yakeen Gazi said: “We have to re-look at the way technology platforms are structured today. If I have to identify my competition I would clearly say that it from the online space that I am facing the maximum amount of challenge. Looking ahead, we (traditional retailers) need to prepare ourselves for business for the next five years with technology that can take on the new-age tech solutions adopted by online retailers. This is my personal roadmap for my company.”

Pooja Maheshwari Salwan, however had a slightly different solution. She highlighted the fact that there can be a seamless process between both online and offline stores saying, “We have to make the inventory talk to each other. Right now, we are just building systems over the prevailing ones wherein the information flow is not clear. To ensure good sales, the inventory flow has to be unified between the physical store and its online counterpart.”

Talking about the other big challenge, Abel Correa said, “The recognition of the customer – online or offline – is a huge gap area. We have a disjoint in this architecture and systems available to us. Think about it – brick-and-mortar retail has been around for 20 years while online retail has come up only in the last 10 years but if we compare the technology between the two, one can see a huge gap there.”

“But where are the provisions and the investments which will be required to compete with e-commerce in India? That’s a big question. We need an eco-system which helps recognize the customer, understand his / her need and make sure that the fulfillment happens,” he added.

On how an organization can come together and solve the issues on investments vs. outcome, Piyush Gandhi, said, “Both ends of retail – brick-n-mortar and e-retail – are growing equally fast today. Over the years, it’s become obvious that e-commerce companies have been really innovative, and technology driven in comparison to brick-n-mortar which is still relying on outdated systems. Also, customers have evolved over the years, but brick-n-mortar formats haven’t – at least not for the last 10-15 years or so. Traditional retailers need to understand that buying software may not be the only solution. We have to think of ways to forward the business as a whole.”

Moving to the choices companies have made in the past to enhance customer experiences, Sarvana C said, “We noticed that there were a set of customers who were not able to reach our store or the reach to their destination was very low. For them we explored a kiosk model, which is implemented across societies and SEZs. This worked offline and did not require 24/7 support connectivity and was created to provide ease to SPAR customers. Another initiative that we undertook was for our vertical related to home & living. We set-up a 3D showroom which gave end-to-end solutions to consumers wherein they could take a look at the products and visualize how they would look in their homes.”

According to Kunal Mehta, companies need to realize that technology must be made in line with its business processes. “If one thinks to imitate the others in implementing new technologies, then the company needs to change its business perception also. What we at Raymond are doing is that we have started looking at new ways of functioning – we have moved to a cloud-based system wherein all the technology that we use, we have moved to the cloud, be it the loyalty program, or mobility initiative. This is then connected to our back-end systems.”

Shirish Kalamkar added, “In retail industry we are not as focused as the hotel or restaurant industries are, where they completely understand the consumer’s entire lifecycle. Engaging the consumer is very important, but the fun associated with shopping should not suffer with the implementation of technology.

The discussion was brought to a fruitful conclusion by Vanita Khetan, who said, “There are various ways in which technology can take away the pains across all departments of retail, which will in turn help in achieving the seamlessness that an organization craves for all its different modules. We need to take learnings from other, more mature industries and see how they engage with the customers.”

(With inputs from Gurbir Singh Gulati)

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