Retailing in India: “Teching” Shopping Seriously

Integrating technology to create experiential shopping for the new Indian consumer
By
|
Posted October 25, 2018

The tech-driven lifestyle in India has seen phenomenal growth in the past five years, with Internet users growing at a compounded annual rate of 13 percent to a staggering 720 million, according to Redseer Consulting (Bengaluru, India). At this rate, India will soon close in on China, which tops the global charts with a user base of 910 million people.

About 50 million Indians shop online every month, driving the surge in digital shopping, according to Redseer Consulting. Indian retail is dominated by traditional physical stores, which are estimated to account for about 76 percent, followed by corporate retail chains at 17 percent and pure online retail at 7 percent of the $1 trillion USD in sales projected for year 2020, according to research firm eMarketer (New York). Experts estimate that digitally enabled sales will surpass 10 percent of their total omnichannel sales, compared to the current average of 5 percent.

With online giants like Amazon (Seattle) and Walmart-backed Flipkart (Bengaluru) disrupting the boundaries of discount retail, the pressure to stay relevant has become heavier for traditional retailers. This has urged them to focus on technology to achieve three key deliverables: an immersive brand experience, stress-free engagement and a frictionless shopping journey. Data science has added impetus to this effort by enabling measured ROI for the investment in technology.

Here are a few of my favorite examples from India that have captured the imagination of millennials across different economic segments:

 

SAMSUNG – Immersive brand experience

Samsung (Seoul) recently launched its largest mobile experience center in the world in Bengaluru. Spread across 33,000 square feet in the iconic Opera House on Brigade Road, the retailer has restored this historic building to its architectural glory. The store allows customers to experience Samsung’s philosophy of ‘Discover Tomorrow Today’ in its lifestyle-enhancing technology and innovation across its product portfolio.

The store features transformative tech such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to educate and engage visitors and enable them to get the most out of their devices. Digital engagement with VR-enabled games entertain customers with virtual rides or measure their fitness on an exercise cycle. The opera stage features a giant digital screen suited to host live community events and TED talks in an effort to connect the brand’s innovations with its customers’ passions.

 

ROADSTER – Stress-free engagement

Roadster, the leading private label of online fashion giant Mynta (Bengaluru), is designed for those who love the experiences of leisure road travel. The brand has witnessed more than 80 percent year-on-year growth and is on its way to becoming a $135 million USD brand in the coming year, reports Indian news source Brand Equity.

The store design features distinct visual cues that tell the story of memories on the road. Recently the brand unveiled an undated concept that addresses two key stress points observed from shopper feedback– the need for real-time online and offline pricing and the time taken for checkout at the cash wrap. The first was addressed using 100-percent RFID tagging and a smart digital ‘price-check’ table where customers can place any product and instantly get the online price on the screen.

Self-check-out stations were also added to allow customers to dump their entire bag of merchandise to be scanned for payment and deactivated when paid for in the blink of an eye. My chat with the Myntra team revealed that they were clocking three times the expected sales in this store.

 

WHATASALE- Frictionless shopping journey

Whatasale, essentially an unmanned convenience store launched last month in Kochi, India, is the result of three years of experimentation by five Indian friends with tech and engineering backgrounds. Similar to the Amazon Go store, shoppers have to download the store’s app, then scan a QR code that allows them past the entry gates into the store.

Computer vision (not facial recognition) and AI give detailed insight into inventory and consumer buying patterns for predictive customer service in the future. The technology allows customers to select products from and walk out without checkout, leaving the app to scan the basket and bill on the go. The brand now plans to open these c-stores in apartment and housing complexes, workplaces and transit areas to sell groceries and daily essentials. Though the focus has been more on the experience of the technology than the store design, the stores have been received well by India’s connected consumers, opening the doors for this disruptive retail model in India.

With customers widely accepting the digitization wave in shopping ecosystems, brands and retailers are now investing heavily in technology to seamlessly integrate key retail functions to deliver an experiential, stress-free and frictionless last mile for the evolving Indian shopper.

Surender has more than two decades of experience in the Indian retail industry in retail strategy, store design, planning and development, retail marketing, visual merchandising, writing and academia. He’s held senior positions at leading retailers like Shoppers Stop, Reliance Retail, Mahindra Retail and as a senior retail consultant working with leading retailers and brands in India. Reach him at surenderg.retail@gmail.com.