By Brij Bhushan
ALL THIS WHILE, the mantra for a successful retail shop was “Location, Location, and Location”. Find the right location and a big part of the proposition is solved. This was largely true six months back. There was, no doubt, an organic shift towards online-led by e-commerce giants Amazon and Flipkart but it was a given that customers would go out, experience, and shop. However, this trend towards online has inflected in the last six months ever since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Neeraj, who runs Park Super Mart in Old Gurgaon, is now seeing nearly 50% of his sales coming from home delivery. This used to be less than 10% before Covid. Sunny, the owner of the seven-year-old kirana store Jain Consumer Store in Vikaspuri, Delhi, has seen more than 50% growth since he started online (delivery) as an option. Neeraj and Sunny are not alone in how they are seeing their offline business reshaped by Covid and the associated lockdown. It is happening across the board and the categories.
There have been discussions, reports, and a lot of noise about omnichannel (retail with both online and offline presence working in tandem). Now, retail will be omnichannel by default. Fear of the virus and lockdown has forced customers to stay at home and generally be more paranoid about safety. This has led to sharp inflection in delivery at home instead of consumption in the store. Thus, online is now a critical channel and not peripheral and technology is helping the retail economy in this journey. The playbook is being built in real-time as both small and large retailers learn to adapt.
Tech-driven mediums: Newer mediums need to be explored with greater emphasis on digital (Google, Facebook, Instagram) and demand generation aggregators. Many retailers have also started using WhatsApp to communicate with their customers and share their catalog.
Tech-savviness: You now need more tech-savvy staff to operate CRM/online store. Handling a one-off order for home delivery by pen/paper was easy for the kirana store. Not now with multiple orders coming at odd times. Hygiene and cleanliness are critical, adding to the cost and complexity.
Augmenting reality: Physical store now needs to be augmented with an online store. Websites had become common. However, most legacy websites lack a functioning order management system. Shopify has extended this to online sellers and the same is now being extended to offline stores by the Facebook shop, magicStore, and others.
Customer relationship: CRM is now a necessity and it needs to be cross-channel. Customers can place an order online and pick up, a customer may visit the store but you want to remind them about getting home delivery next time. Solutions in the market such as Xeno are more optimised for online. For the omnichannel world, you need to store who came, which channel (online, offline, hybrid), when, what all was bought, and then re-market to get better ROI.
We see that amongst large retailers, whether it be Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle or Decathalon, they have doubled down on their online web stores to tide over the drop in offline footfall. There are, however, more than 12 million retail shops in India. Moving these SMEs online, while preserving their independence and identity, will be critical for the health of our retail sector. This means providing all of the technology tools and interventions talked about earlier. What demonetisation did to digital payments and Jio did to data consumption, Covid is doing to the adoption of technology by retailers of all shapes and sizes. The omnichannel transformation has just begun.
The writer is COO & co-founder, magicpin