CEO Special: ‘Live Chat & Video Assist Services Gamechangers for HomeTown’

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Leadership is an influence. One doesn’t lead by pointing at a place and asking people to go there. One leads by going to that place and making a case. Similarly, leaders from different brands had to lead from the front in this fight for survival.

The last one year was time for some serious strategic planning, decision making, investing in new areas, resuming business, implementing digitization, technology, innovations and also ensuring safety to the employees and consumers.

One such leader, who helped lead her brand out of the crisis and directed it on to the path to normalcy was Vaishali Thakkar, GM–Customer Service and Operations, HomeTown. In an exclusive chat with IMAGES Retail Bureau, she talked about how her brand faqred during the pandemic and how the company worked to bring back consumers and increase sales.

From your brand’s perspective, how did you fare during the lockdown and what was the consumer response in the initial Unlock phase? 

Although the lockdown days were challenging, the unlock saw a gradual month-on-month increase in the demand. People increasingly invested in items such as fitness equipment, home entertainment, and furniture. Our ‘Home Office’ section saw a 3X increase in demand.

What steps did you take to bring the brand firmly on the road to recovery?

Post unlock, our online sales saw a marginal increase as compared to the retail counter sales. This is because the heavy furniture category still commands more sales from offline channels due to customer preferences. We were prepared for the festive season uptick in demand, with our planning and inventory management in sync with expectations from the seasonal trends. We ensured that our deliveries are 100 percent compliant to the SOPs laid down by the government. With regards to multi-unit furniture delivery, we maintained highly efficient collaboration and interoperability between delivery and installation teams for a seamless customer experience.

Did you emphasise more on a digital presence in this time period or did you opt for the traditional retail model with minor adjustments?

We observed that the customer interaction on our digital channels increased drastically in this period. The customers wanted to interact online, offline or a combination of both. Customers preferred to do their purchase research online instead of making multiple visits to different outlets. We expanded our ‘Live chat and video assist services’ to personalise and share product information which eased out the product evaluation process and helped to complete the purchase. We also ensured seamless customer experience from online to store.

Have you launched any innovative consumer experiences over the pandemic period?

We provided our customers with flexible return options and virtual demos of the product that helped in increasing sales through our website. Besides, we partnered with ‘FarEye’ and leveraged their logistics orchestration platform to streamline processes such as assigning orders to delivery executives, tracking incomplete orders and return/replacement requests, and scheduling appointments for installation while keeping the customers informed at every step. Managers were able to track the delivery status in real-time with e-Pod and service completion pictures. We were able to improve the delivery turnaround time by 50 percent  and achieved a 60 percent  reduction in customer calls.

Does your brand have an Omnichannel / Phygital strategy? If yes, elaborate.

We have been moving towards omnichannel retailing since the last 3 years. We have enabled self-services for our customers which gives complete visibility of the order from booking till fitment for orders received from all the channels. Our CRM solution is designed to cater multiple journeys in a single thread. A customer can start selecting the products and building the cart on our website and then select to visit the store. Our store sales team has complete visibility of the product interests of this customer and can complete the transaction in the store. This is the way the entire phygital journey is designed.

Which are the new technologies – both in-store & online – that you have introduced in an effort to go contactless?

We leveraged FarEye to orchestrate last-mile deliveries, achieve real-time visibility and execute contactless deliveries. FarEye helped us scale up our product delivery and post-sale processes with new distribution models and logistics partners smoothly, to ensure a consistent customer experience. It has helped us in increasing the productivity of our field service engineers and technicians who are on the front lines of our business, and the face of the organization.  We were able to improve delivery turnaround time by 50 percent leveraging FarEye.

What are your future plans?

We are planning to expand our reach to many cities through our e-commerce platform and open new stores in stronger markets.

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