Why consumer-centric commerce is the future of retailing

Digital and physical spaces have to complement each other to reduce costs, increase sales and deliver high degrees of personalisation.

 |  7-minute read |   14-12-2015
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E-commerce is redefining online shopping to Indian consumers. How many of you reading this have not purchased anything online in the last 12 months? Brick and mortar retailers are bearing the brunt of this seismic change in the way you shop today. So what does 2016 and beyond look like? Well, it will be “click and mortar” in the new era of what I call “C2 Commerce” – yes, “Consumer-Centric Commerce”. Technology, the biggest disruptor of retail today, will become the biggest enabler of retail tomorrow!

What is consumer-centric commerce?

Imagine shopping just the day before proceeding for a long vacation. You browse through the internet on various websites, check trends on Facebook sitting in your office the previous evening and zero in on a few dresses. You then launch a videoconference with the sales person from the shop where you bought a dress last time. He shows you your chosen dresses superimposing them on your image in 3D using augmented realty and you choose a few dresses. You now toggle across to research customer reviews, send your photos in the new dress to a few friends over social media and get their views and check prices. You find the same dress cheaper in another store and order them for pickup not from the store your ordered just now but a pick up option from a branch of the same store en route back home.

As you enter this pickup store en route home, the sales associate armed with an iPad greets you by name and walks you to the dressing room stocked with your online purchases. The sales associate has your purchase history from another branch store where you shopped one year back and has got an idea of your preferences from your social media and shows you some matching additional accessories, you send videos to a few friends and select two of these items. You scan the bar codes on your mobile and find that one of them is available at a cheaper price in another store. The other one you would prefer a size smaller. The sales associate quickly matches price for the first item and promises home delivery for the second item in correct size in two hours. 

You reach home and decide one of the items out of the five you picked up is not good enough; you have changed your mind. You drop in at one of the 5,000 drop-off points set up by this retailer in local stores next day early morning while proceeding on your holiday and within hours your get the refund on your digital wallet.

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Click and mortar: the future 

Sounds too futuristic? May not be too far away. Yes, in the world of “C2 Commerce”, brick and mortar and e-commerce of today will become click and mortar. Retailers will realise that to stay ahead, the digital and physical spaces have to complement each other to reduce costs, increase sales and deliver the kind of personalisation unheard of today.

Retailers of tomorrow will have to catch you (prospective customers), follow you as you move from one channel to another and from one device to another across all five stages (Research, Selection, Transaction, Delivery and Customer Care) of your purchase cycle, to give you a seamless shopping experience. Retailers will have to continuously measure your online and offline movement behaviour and enable you to purchase, offering lots of localised information. Is this going to be easy? Absolutely not! But retailers who understand this disruptive innovation early enough, prepare for this frequently enough and implement these innovations broadly enough will stay ahead of the race. 

Some international examples

Would you like to know what’s happening around the world in the retail space? Let us first look at some international examples. 

Crate and Barrel, a US retail chain specialising in houseware, furniture and homeware, has understood cross device behaviour and has enabled saving information of your purchase in their app across web, smartphone and tablet devices so that you can access information across multiple platforms/devices and browsers and pick up from wherever you left in your purchase process on the previous device. 

Oasis, a UK fashion retailer, has enabled its sales staff across showrooms with iPads to give the customer instant information on product and availability, and when an item is out of stock, place online orders on your behalf there and then. Similarly, if you are purchasing online from your home and find an item out of stock, you can use the Oasis “seek and send” service. The retailer searches all its physical stores and ships your product from the store where it is available and gives you option for pick up as well. They have also set up a network of over 6,000 drop-off points in local stores, including grocery and convenience stores, where you can return items you purchased but no longer want.

Nordstrom, the US fashion retailer, allows you to instantly buy items featured in Instagram. Their store staff constantly monitors social media trends and items popular there are constantly given more prominence in their showrooms. Their “kerb side collect” feature allows you to remotely order any product online and is available for you to collect outside the store one hour later and with mobile checkout, you don’t need to stand in queues.

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What is happening in India?

There can be many more examples of global developments but let us look at some in India. 

Snapdeal has tied up with The Mobile Store (TMS) and when you order a mobile phone using this service, the mobile gets delivered to your home from the nearest TMS store within two hours with the person delivering it doing the installation, demonstration and activation. You can even return at the nearest TMS store. They are in the process of tying up with many more chains like Michelin for automobile tyres, Luminous for inverters and batteries, Shoppers Stop for fashion products as well as brands like Nike, Fab India and Metro. They recently launched a platform called “Janus” which will allow you to discover products online and order with faster local fulfillment executed by offline retailers.

Many online retailers have rolled out offline stores to provide seamless customer experience. Lenskart has over 110 stores and plans to increase this to 1,000 stores in next five years. Firstcry has 100+ stores and plans to increase to 400 by 2017. CarTrade has 50 stores and plans to increase to over 100 in next one year. BharatMatrimony has rolled out 180 stores. CaratLane has rolled out 10 “experiential lounges”. Flipkart has tied up with Spice Hotspot centres and has rolled out over 30 offline stores and the list goes on with many more online players tying up with offline retail chains as you read this. 

Similarly, most of the big players in the tradition “brick and mortar” have realised the future is C2 commerce and have planned huge investments to facilitate the “Omni channel experience” for the customer centric commerce. Future Group is enabling you to have a single view of its many brands across physical and digital channels and has recently announced a tie-up with Hybris technology for Omni channel experience. Croma has started delivering orders placed online up to 2pm on the same day through its nearest Croma outlet across 16 cities. Madura Garments is enabling store pickup and return for orders placed online at its e-commerce site trendin.com. Shopper’s Stop is gearing up for C2 commerce, and enabling you for a seamless experience across neighbourhood Shoppers Stop stores, online purchase through its e-commerce site, seeing trends through the Facebook page, viewing tutorials through its YouTube channel, as well as shopping at the airport outlets, etc.

Personally, I think with this digital wave all around us, we are not far away from the C2 commerce, when Omni channel experience is available in some form across all brands and store sizes. Even the smallest of companies will be able to engage with customers directly, no matter where you are, what you are doing or which device you are using.

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Future is all about “Engage, Experience and Enable”. I would like to leave you with a few questions which will enable you to initiate some deliberations in your circles on this issue and hopefully enable solutions before it is too late.

1. How quickly will traditional retailers be able to change their thinking to suit the radical customer experience of “Always Open”, “Right Now” and “Everywhere”?

2. How quickly will leaders and HR experts be able to evolve innovative organisational structures that deliver Omni channel experience to consumers from current silos around sales, marketing, customer service, logistics etc.?

3. How quickly organisations will realise that investments to deliver Omni channel experience are no longer a matter of choice but a demand for survival? 

Writer

Rupak Agarwal Rupak Agarwal @rupakagarwal

The author is an alumnus of IIM Bangalore and currently works as a Business Head with Godrej Properties Ltd. He is a turnaround specialist with multi-industry expertise across technology, consumer, media, telecom and real estate.

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