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Perfecting the ‘Phygital’ Shopping Experience: Unifying the Complete Ecosystem for Engaging Hyper-Connected Customers

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Phygital, a perfect blend of Physical and Digital. The ‘Phygital’ is becoming a buzzword for all retailers, as it is a perfect combination for retail as well as for the digital commerce sector, which can bring a new dimension for every brand. It also offers customers a platform to shop all they want almost 24 hours a day, allowing them to access products and choose the delivery service that suits them best. We had a session revolving around the emergence of phygital in retail at the recently concluded Phygital Retail Convention held at Renaissance Mumbai on 10-11 Nov 202. This session Powered by GreenHonchos, a Full Stack D2C enabler, they wanted to dig deeper into the concept of phygital by giving us a chance to hear what the experts had to say. 

In the box:

  • Session Moderator: Navin Joshua, Founder/Director, GreenHonchos
  • Hariharan Iyer, Group CIO, Raymond Group
  • Kashyap Vadapalli, Chief Marketing Officer & Business Head, Pepperfry.com
  • Kunal Turukmane, Head – Strategy and Project Management, Being Human (FAFH)
  • Manoj Kansal, Director of Engineering, Myntra
  • Praveen Shrikhande, Chief Digital and Information Officer, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail
  • Priyanka Chauhan, Head-Key Accounts (E-commerce), Bestseller India
  • Jitender Joshi, CEO, Ambab

‘Learnings’ from the omnichannel approach 

COVID-19 has forced all the retailers and brands to dive into the digital universe, like never before. Retailers with a mass-focused customer base started to offer pickup solutions and delivery options to reach their customers quickly, at their time of need. Brands have started to use analytics, AR/VR, marketplace and virtual touchpoints to create a better shopping experience for the customers. Hariharan Iyer, Group, CIO, Raymond Group told us about his learnings when they adapted the omnichannel approach during the pandemic. He stated, “Physical, essentially, we talk about it, it’s been across two or three phases now. So the high phases are just boiling down and COVID somehow crystallizes the whole scenario. What has now happened is that we have stores, we have front-ends, we have different applications, we have websites, and all of them have a hyper convergence. So we have got tons and tons of data to understand how a customer walks across, what is this buying pattern, what kind of analysis the customer does. But ultimately, you know, what really happens is that, once you take it from the digital, you have to convert it down into a physical end. Otherwise, the convergence does not happen, the sale does not happen. And whatever happens, happens at different demarcations, different segmentation levels. So that’s where it stands, at least for the fashion industry. And it’s almost the same for all other industries, too, as far as I think.” 

Jitender Joshi, CEO, Ambab talking from the tech point of view shared “Our company enabled retailers and brands to go online and try to get maximum out of unlocking the potential till 2019. In 2020, there were two different approaches. Brands were thinking one of online business, and other of offline business. In March and April, Everybody was talking about getting into online mode after the first wave it was OtoO (offline to online) and reverse also online to offline. And everybody was thinking about the investment, they started putting a lot of money into it. So it started with the front-end engineering where they started looking at can somebody buy online, pick up offline. Click and Collect was something every brand wanted to do. And they wanted to do it overnight, without actually understanding that they don’t have the infrastructure. So we are kind of telling them to first build the infrastructure because it’s going to be a bad experience. That’s where what we have seen in the last six months, the people who are thinking about investment have actually started doing the investment and dived into going online to offline or offline to online. The brand also started to understand that they have to do the backend integration with the suppliers, because they wanted to ensure that the inventory which is lying in the store needs to be moved very fast to the consumer. So, the brand goes offline to online, but if the back end is not equipped with that, then it becomes a problem. So that was the experience for us. And that is going to continue what we feel in the next at least a couple of years, till the time it matures enough to have the next level of disruption.” 

Priyanka Chauhan, Head-Key Accounts (E-commerce), Bestseller India also added her experience from her brand “The omnichannel journey for our brand started much earlier than the pandemic happened. We started our Phygital journey a few years back, with our own websites and moving onwards we faced issues in terms of fulfillment and stores getting shut due to pandemic, that journey kind of restarted after the stores opened up for the marketplace. We started this journey last year in December”. Chauhan further added “The kind of customers that are coming to shop from our brands are looking for freshness, which they are getting through their omnichannel experience. So that is helping the brands to cater to customers who are looking for freshness from our brand and not looking for the old stock or sharply priced products.” She added that their brand is moving forward with aggressive plans as omnichannel is concerned for both the partner portals as well as the captive business.” Parveen ShriKande, Chief Digital and Information Officer, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail told us about omnichannel experiences of the offline retailers “As you know we are a traditional retailer from a long period of time. The pandemic was an inflation point where we pushed ourselves to make an entry into the online space. And, for brands like the immediate priority was to do the supply chain, we just enabled stores for omnichannel, being able to fulfill online from the store inventory. And that’s something which we ended up starting with and built about 1000 stores in a few months.”  Shrikande added, “The customer part of it is still evolving. The first step for a brand is to have a common loyalty across online/offline mode, having common order tracking your invoicing, and so on the backend systems gets done, but the front end customer experiences it when it comes to engaging with customers. We would see a lot of automation where the customer journey would be seamless across the online and offline modes. So the entire Phygital experience for the customer where it’s seamless experience. Getting into online/offline mode isn’t a journey that we are on. I would say that it’s something that will evolve over the next several months.” Manoj Kansal, Director of Engineering, Myntra further highlighted the omnichannel experience the e-commerce players like theirs was trying to build to cater to their customers. He says, “Customers can have a desire that when they are looking at an advertisement or movie then by the time they finish watching he/she can shop the product. Now, for me, Omnichannel basically means that how do we ensure that we’re present at every step of the customer’s journey.” Kansal also added that, “We’re touched upon logistics; the other part of omnichannel is also about empathy. That is how we as a brand empathize with the customers’ needs. How as a brand or e-commerce company we are being proactive, predictive, and connected. How as a brand we basically enable the same experience that a customer wants across all the channels, be it physical, be it D2C, and be its marketplace. I feel the marketplace is right at this spot to enable each of these to the brands. So that’s how I basically look at omnichannel.”

Customer behavior changed during the pandemic 

The pandemic has made us believe that the customer can use AR/VR experiences and virtual points before making a purchase. Earlier, the customers only used to make big purchases by going to physical stores, but now the trends have changed and they are leveraging technology and tools to buy a product. Kashyap Vadapalli, Chief Marketing Officer & Business Head, Pepperfry.com the company which started digitally and then moved further by opening physical stores added “When we started, the first 2, 3 years we were not really selling large items by seeing analytics. Then we opened a couple of stores and realized that once we opened those stores, we are able to influence people a lot more, in terms of them buying the items worth 50,000 -80,000. We were 100% online initially. Today, we are 65% online and 35-40% from the store. So both are very important channels. This is not something that the pandemic made us do. We want to give experience to customers by using AR and VR, chat-bots, Conversational commerce and want to execute it because that is part of the future.  It’s about learning and we’re figuring out solutions as we go around. But we make sure that the fulfillment experience across all of the modes are common, we control it end to end, customers can expect the same thing whether they buy online or offline. The other elements we’re working on is –if the customer is using our app or website, the single page will show that we have a studio nearby within 20 kilometers based on your geo, the address of the studio will flash on your on that item page.” Vadapalli further added, that how their brand understands the customer behavior “When people are looking for multiple items, they’re maybe potentially in the process of moving into a new house. We capture the information for logged-in users and pass the information by tele calling video-based sales support process, and we use the digital signals to understand the extensive problem solving just in terms of consumer behavior terms.” 

Kunal Turukmane, Head-Strategy and Project management- Being Human (FAFH) told us “The kind of target audience we’re catering to knows about the ease of purchase, one is having a platform, which is a fulfillment platform. And a customer can interact between the various channels as we are not only looking to limit ourselves to the D2C platform. So whether it’s a large-format store, or the marketplace, all those are put together to create a touchpoint that the consumer can look at, and interact with us.”  Priyanka Chauhan from Bestseller further highlighted “I think the entire pandemic changed the customer behavior and it was a learning for us, the customers moved from offline to online channel for fulfilling the demand and they wanted the products on time. Hence the products from the brand should be available to the customer. That could only happen if we have an omnichannel in place. So we identified this and solved it. I think it’s a win-win for both the brands as well as the customers, customers, were able to get a better experience. And from the brand perspective, we are able to cut our cost.”

How brands are adapting to the new customer trends?

Parveen ShriKande, Chief Digital and Information Officer, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retai

“It’s a big change for our store. Staff, who used to deal with walking customers, moving them to fulfill the online orders was hard. We went through it during the pandemic, And that’s something that evolved in terms of technology which is now available in the stores, in the hands of the store staff, in the supply chain within the store. Those are the areas where I think the development of omnichannel will go further to make this completely seamless, both for the customer and for the staff that service from the store cart.”

Manoj Kansal, Director of Engineering, Myntra 

“In the case of Omni, how do brands basically represent a store as a warehouse. And how the brand basically fulfills it seamlessly and brings technology along with it, we basically provide technology to enable the store to ensure that they are able to handle the package, the way brands would basically handle it as a marketplace. And there comes uniformity. And hence, we basically also provide a lot of technology. And we empower our partners along with us. But then if we talk about empathy, we are speaking of customer experience, and like it’s a core value of mantra also. And what we need to understand the customer’s needs and be able to solve it. We need to provide the offline experience to the customer when they are shopping online.”

Hariharan Iyer, Group CIO, Raymond Group 

“The whole logic is to understand the data, customize it and give a unique experience to the customer, so the next set of technology is not omnichannel. It’s wearable technology. That’s where the brand needs to personalize your information more and more, instead of pushing it via mobile visiting or a site. The brand needs to understand the psyche of the customers, understand the body dimensions.So that’s the next stage. And that’s hope.”