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Channel Play: From silos to seamless

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A look at the evolution of different channels from functioning independently to becoming unified

New Delhi: The lines between offline and online have blurred and the channels once seen as cannibalising each other today have become complementary. Just like offline businesses have gone online, e-commerce-first companies have opened physical retail stores.

The evolution of e-commerce reflects consumer behaviour and brands are adapting themselves to suit this. “The customer is always omnichannel in terms of the way they do. The way we have adapted our strategy for India is we are looking at an omnichannel expansion plan for us. And India is one of the few markets to do that,” Bhavana Jaiswal, country e-commerce head, of Ikea said speaking about how the Swedish furniture retailer is aligning itself with the Indian customer.

“We do not wait for stores to open. We opened e-commerce in Mumbai and Bengaluru before the stores. Next year, we will do it in Delhi as well. So inherently, our overall expansion plan for India is focused on omnichannel,” added Jaiswal.

Ikea is just one example of how companies are modifying their strategies to meet the demands of retailing in the new era. Here’s how else retail has changed

From ancillary to core

“In the pre-pandemic era, e-commerce was largely seen as a platform to liquidate old, discounted stock and was dominated by categories like fashion and electronics. It was perceived as a cheaper alternative for consumers,” said Kapil Makhija, chief executive officer, of Unicommerce, a Gurugram-based software as a service (SaaS) platform, speaking about the evolution of e-commerce.

During the pandemic, e-commerce became the lifeline not just for consumers but for businesses as well. Categories that shifted online like beauty and personal care, health and nutrition, and FMCG, stayed there, said experts. Other categories that rapidly proliferated online were sports fitness and pet care.

Quick commerce gained significant traction, building customer expectations about faster deliveries.

How brands had to adapt

Omnichannel is now a critical business strategy. Brands face potential sales losses if they fail to embrace omnichannel solutions. Customer expectations are driving this transformation, with immediate delivery and seamless experiences being key factors.

Brands are responding to the changed dynamics by adopting a unified omnichannel strategy across all categories, ensuring consistency in customer experience across online and offline channels. They are hiring the right people, processes, and technology to implement. Adoption varies by industry, with fashion being the most advanced, but other sectors are catching up.

They are focusing on seamless catalogue and pricing strategies to avoid disjointed customer experiences.

A unified experience is crucial due to the plethora of choices available to consumers. Brands therefore must provide a similar experience across all points of sale to retain customers, with quick and efficient delivery services becoming a standard expectation.

There is an increasing use of technology like AI and VR in retail. Implementation of ship-from-store models and flexible return policies (online purchases returned offline) are becoming common. Assisted buying and advanced in-store technologies enhance customer engagement and upsell opportunities.

Online too is evolving to provide an in-store-like experience. Retailers like Ikea use digital solutions to present over 7,000 products online, from small items to customizable wardrobes. Their website features room sets, similar to Pinterest, providing an inspirational feed to help customers visualize their rooms.

Omnichannel is today an organisational culture, not a function. This mindset ensures a unified approach to enhancing profitability and competitive advantage.

Based on a panel discussion held at the Phygital Retail Convention (PRC) held in Mumbai.

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