Retailing in the ‘blended’ consumption era

Rupkatha Bhowmick

It is no secret that digital technologies are dramatically transforming the way businesses work and evolve, to be relevant to end customers.

The big question, however, is “Are we creating a point of differentiation by using data to our advantage,” asked Xavier Anglada, managing director – Accenture Digital lead for MENA and Turkey.

Citing findings from a survey conducted by Accenture Digital, he added, “Only 40% of retailers, globally, say that they are leveraging data to their best use. Out of this 40%, among retailers with annual revenues over $1 billion, only 20% have created specific analytics capabilities to make data-driven decisions.”

Are we using data to create micro-personalisation? Are we using data to innovate? These are some burning questions.

“We were sitting on a huge amount of customer data – from our brands The Face Shop and Springfield – on shopping habits and patterns. But we were struggling to customise this data to create personalised offers and experiences for our customers,” admitted Heer Lalwani, marketing manager for Al Ghurair Retail. “Some of our goals were to bring back a customer within 55, as opposed to 70 days, at The Face Shop to buy a beauty product that worked. On the other hand, we tried to make product recommendations at Springfield based on customer data.”

For the 64-year old luxury retailer Chalhoub Group, it has traditionally been a store building mindset focusing on CAPEX and investments. “Hence, putting technology at the heart of what we do wasn’t easy; the inflection point came around 2014-15 when we started seeing pure online players making a huge amount of investments in this region,” shared Charbel Lahoud, head of digital scouting for Chalhoub Group. “We took the cue and partnered with Farfetch and started making investments in technology. As a result, almost half of the transactions that we do now are loyalty driven. We are trying to make it as easy as possible for our data team to come in and take this journey to the next level with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics.”

Saudi Arabia-based BinDawood Group’s online arm Danube Online has changed the way grocery shopping in the Kingdom. “This has been driven by the way we have used data,” stressed Megha Kapoor, head of performance marketing, AYM Commerce. “We visualise data using a tool called Looker, which helps the brand to do necessary planning. Recently we understood that the majority of our customers are women, based on data that indicated most product types purchased by the users are female-centric. Using this insight, we are tailoring offerings centred on specific occasions of importance for women. Again, realising that customers were sceptical about buying perishable items online, we started placing tags mentioning the shelf life, while also training our pickers at the back-end to ensure the products are delivered fresh.”

“Today, every business is in the public domain. Customers are incredibly informed,” opined Amit Yadav, head of marketing for home-grown brand 2XL Furniture & Home Décor. “As retailers, we have to be a step ahead to curate the right experiences for them. Today e-commerce and social media are highly intertwined, which drove us to do more shoppable content on Instagram that positively impacts our revenues. We are also developing an app that will help our customers visualise how a piece of furniture will look in their home.”

Offering an e-commerce perspective, Sarah Jones, founder & CEO of an online destination for everything mother and baby, Sprii.com, said, “Online platforms like Sprii are highly agile and data-driven. Most of our team members are made up of business intelligence (BI) experts and data scientists. We don’t have to pay rent; we are working in the cloud. For us to offer great prices, faster delivery, wider choice and use analytical tools are easier. Thus, unless offline retailers can offer a high level of engagement and experience, it will be difficult for them to keep pace.”

Showcasing how a brick-and-mortar environment is innovating, Milat Sayra Berirmen, digital innovation director for Abu Dhabi-based Reem Mall shares his experience of taking a relook at the identity of a shopping mall. “To be able to connect consumers with retail brands, we adopted a consumer pain point centric approach. We are building a logistics hub within Reem Mall to support e-commerce. We are also building an aggregator app that will help in indoor navigation using augmented reality (AR), smart parking and even curate personalised promotions. We will create a data platform for every retailer present in the mall.”

“It is no longer online or offline; it is more about being the ‘live’ channel with the customer being at the centre of the live feed,” emphasised Amit Dhamani, managing director of Dhamani Jewels Group. “Creating micro-personal experiences will be pivotal, irrespective of the platform.”

“Right from discovery to checkout – irrespective of online or offline – the customer journey has to be mapped, to build solutions for each of these journeys,” suggested Vijay Talreja, co-founder & director, Adapty that offers digital commerce and customer experience solutions.

Turning focus on an interesting area, Anglada asked, “Are robots our new friends?”

“Robots feature at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds acting as an important touchpoint in creating an omnichannel experience,” responded Manoj Ganapathy, division manager – visitors’ management & robotics at Jacky’s Business Solutions. “It helps retail to cut down on mundane tasks and go beyond. When a customer walks into a store – in this age where online shopping is increasing – she has to feel engaged. Robots can not only engage with the customer but also do a part of sales. In the online domain, robots can also be deployed to handle click-and-collect and return-oriented functions.”

“What I see is a seasonality when it comes to technology adoption by the retail community,” observed Rajiv Prasad, chief innovation officer of technology company Xpandretail. “Five years ago, it was big data, followed by AI, blockchain and now robotics. Convergence, however, hasn’t happened in any particular category within retail.

In summation, some high-frequency words that will reshape retail today and in the next decade are experience, innovation, data, micro-personalisation, omnichannel, human-and-machine interaction and sustainability, among others.

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