Sandeep Jabbal, Chief Digital Transformation and Information Officer, at Shoppers Stop, speaks about the company’s technology strategy, areas of investment and focus and key challenges
New Delhi: With almost two decades of experience in the realms of technology and digital transformation, Jabbal stepped into the retail industry as Head of IT at Marks and Spencer Reliance India Ltd. Since then, Jabbal has been using his tech expertise and knowledge to help major retailers like Jubilant FoodWorks Ltd. and Shoppers Stop, a department store chain part of the K. Raheja Corporation to successfully navigate the tricky and ever-evolving technology landscape.
Shoppers Stop, which commenced its journey in 1991 with its inaugural store in Andheri, Mumbai, initially focused on men’s wear. Since then, it has burgeoned into a retail powerhouse, boasting around 105 department stores, around 88 beauty stores, and around seven home-stop stores across 56 cities.
With a total area of 4.1 million square feet (sq. ft.), it caters to an extensive customer base, handling over 49 million walk-ins annually. The workforce comprises over 18,600 employees, which the retailer calls customer care associates. Shoppers Stop’s influence extends beyond mere scale, offering a diverse range of products from over 800 brands, a mix of national, regional and owned and international.
With iconic brands like Kashish, Haute Curry, Fratini, and Life, Shoppers Stop aims to provide diverse fashion choices while streamlining the shopping experience through consistent store designs across all brands. The company’s evolution underscores its commitment to seamless customer experiences. By integrating offline and online channels, the company ensures real-time visibility of merchandise across platforms, synchronized marketing campaigns, and pricing parity. Additionally, with plans to expand its beauty segment through SS Beauty and other mono brands, Shoppers Stop continues to innovate and adapt to the evolving retail landscape.
The company’s revenue from operations was up 8.83% to Rs 1,237.52 crore during the third quarter of the financial year (FY) 2023-24. During the quarter, it added 13 stores, which include four department stores, four beauty, four Intune and one airport store.
Jabbal, who is Shoppers Stop’s Chief Digital Transformation and Information Officer sheds light on the role of technology in enhancing customer experience, working on an omnichannel model and the relevance of cloud technologies in an exclusive interaction with IndiaRetailing.
What role has technology played in enabling the growth?
Technology has significantly contributed to Shoppers Stop’s expansion by enhancing customer interactions, personalising experiences, and increasing operational effectiveness. Benefiting greatly from a unified view of customers, it has facilitated customised shopping experiences through the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) for precise and personalised marketing campaigns. Furthermore, existing technological capabilities have enabled Shoppers Stop to rapidly scale up, streamlining and reducing the time taken to launch new stores.
It has also enabled the organisation to expand beyond retail and diversify—exclusive distributorship for multiple luxury international beauty brands. Integrations with key business partners are done to create business agility and shorten the supply time from a vendor’s warehouse to Shoppers Stop’s store.
What is the company’s approach towards technology and how does it manifest in its implementation?
Our approach towards technology is characterised by a proactive and forward-thinking approach. This is evident in our strategic investments and initiatives aimed at simplifying processes for both customers and operations. This is manifested in our commitment to adopting advanced technologies and leveraging digital tools to streamline operations and expansions.
In addition, the cloud transformation journey forms the key to our technology strategy and major applications and infrastructure changes were undertaken this year. The trend will continue next year with the target to build a resilient technology platform to minimize operational disruptions.
Can you identify a few areas in which technology has helped Shoppers Stop change the game?
Areas, where Shoppers Stop has leveraged technology, are notably through virtual try-on features that include skin analysers and makeup simulations. The recent introduction of a fragrance finder solution at airport stores simplifies fragrance discovery for travellers. Shoppers Stop has also released a personal shopper app designed for employees, facilitating personalised service.
Additionally, by partnering with leading cloud original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to delve into AI and investing in low-code no-code (LCNC) solutions to overhaul legacy systems, we have enriched customer engagement. Strengthening the core retail processes for supply chain and finance, we maintain a best-in-class warehouse solution. Our mobile-first strategy has enabled store teams to be more productive on the move.
Tell us about the cutting-edge technologies you work with.
We are leveraging large language models (LLMs) and AI to develop Conversational AI. We are experimenting with the metaverse as a novel avenue for customer engagement, in addition to already existing solutions, such as virtual try-ons, immersive brand experiences, and interactive shopping environments.
Can you shed light on your omnichannel strategy?
Shoppers Stop has effectively harnessed technology to enhance its omnichannel strategy, notably through the endless aisle feature. This service enables customers to order products online from within the store if their desired size or style is unavailable on the shelves, effectively merging in-store and online shopping experiences.
This service, along with other digital initiatives like personal shopper services and a robust online presence, underscores the company’s commitment to a seamless, omnichannel experience for customers.
How much of your business comes from offline versus other channels?
Approximately 96% of Shoppers Stop’s revenue is generated through its offline channels, highlighting its strong presence in physical retail. The online channel accounts for about 4% of the business, serving as a digital complement to its offline operations.
Name three challenges you face in implementing technology across such a large business.
Challenges in technology implementation include managing change and ensuring business adoption, which requires careful coordination and support across all levels of the organisation. Scalability and seamless integration of new technologies with existing systems present complex obstacles.
The last major challenge is maintaining the highest standards of data security and privacy in an era of increasing cyber threats. Technology transition is always the most difficult phase when a fine balance needs to be maintained between keeping the lights on and at the same time creating a robust transformation journey.
How does Shoppers Stop use AI/ML?
We started with deploying traditional ML models like K-means, logistic regression, and decision trees for developing models for persona, propensity, Recency, Frequency and Monetary (RFM) and Market Basket Analysis.
We have also started work for adopting advanced AI models leveraging recent developments in LLMs for in-depth customer insights and improved customer interactions. ML is also applied in many areas of network security with traffic pattern recognition and intelligent pack filtering.
How do you aim to enhance the customer experience using technology?
We aim to enhance customer experience by leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as cloud technologies, generative AI and conversational AI, with a focus on enabling personalised product recommendations and interactive engagements, real-time assistance and, ensuring a seamless and engaging shopping journey for our customers. Recognizing the customer as a single entity irrespective of the multiple channels on which our customers shop, is a key goal for us in customer satisfaction.
Which technologies are you investing in for the future?
We are strategically investing in cloud technologies and areas to eliminate single points of failure to ensure future readiness. Similarly, on the infrastructure side, we are investing in building network redundancies and other business continuity solutions.
Which retail technology will redefine the shopping experience in the future?
Generative AI and Large Language Models (LLMs) will revolutionise retail by offering highly personalised shopping experiences. These technologies will enable tailored product recommendations and enhanced customer service through conversational agents, improving engagement and setting new standards for customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Meet Sandeep Jabbal
Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology and an MBA in Marketing and Finance from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune, Jabbal began his career as a project manager at Birlasoft, an IT services and consulting firm.
In 2010, Jabbal stepped into the retail industry as Head of IT at Marks and Spencer Reliance India Ltd. where he further used his leadership skills in the IT initiatives of the fashion retail company. Jabbal then put his tech expertise and knowledge to use as vice president (VP) of Information Technology at Jubilant FoodWorks Ltd., a Noida-based food service company and then later at Shoppers Stop, a department store chain part of the K. Raheja Corporation.
In his current capacity as the Chief Digital Transformation and Information Officer at Shoppers Stop, Jabbal brings a wealth of experience to the table. Leading the charge in digital transformation, he is instrumental in crafting strategies that seamlessly integrate technology into the retail landscape, enhancing customer experience and driving business growth.