Krishnan Venkateswaran, Chief Digital and Information Officer, Titan Company Limited

Enterprises in the retail sector have started deploying various new-age technologies and solutions to streamline their operations and enhance business efficiency. New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and robotics are being used to provide a personalised experience to customers and offer customised products and services. Industry leaders share their views on how information and communication technology (ICT) is transforming the retail sector, the opportunities and challenges that it presents, and the way forward…

What are the key technology trends dominating the retail sector and how has the adoption of next-generation technologies such as AI, IoT, robotics and AR/VR been going?

Each generation of technology in the retail sector lasts probably for a few weeks or a few months and then the next round comes in and takes over. However, if an organisation has the right overall architecture in place, it becomes easier to incorporate the new technologies. As a retail organisation, we deploy technology in two broad areas – customer engagement and in­tegration of the digital and physical experience of a product.

We categorise our company as an omni-channel analytics-driven organisation with the goal of personalising products for customers. Therefore, AI plays a vital role in our ability to understand and predict customers’ liking, the most likely time that a con­sumer will be inclined to buy, and the kind of communication that would induce them to start engaging with us and ultimately make a purchase. In the digital spa­ce, there are even better ways of pre­senting a product. With AR, for ins­tan­ce, there are possibilities of presenting the merchandise in a way that is more charming than seeing the product in reality. We are adopting te­ch­nology in a big way. Moreover, we have im­plemented a leading customer relation management (CRM) solution, which en­a­b­les our sales team to know customer preferences by going through their past records. On the manufacturing side, technologies such as ro­bo­tics and IoT are at various stages of implementation maturity. The or­ga­nisation is moving ahead in all directions with the deployment of digital solutions.

What are the key technologies being adopted by your organisation? What are the challenges faced while deploying these solutions?

Since the commencement of the digital transformation phase, which started off in late 2017 and early 2018, we have been im­plementing-customer facing technologies to a great extent, which includes the website, the application, live chat, WhatsApp and video interactions. All these channels have been opened up at scale in the last four or five years. Companies usually face the challenge of integration. They need to ensure that the core systems, which carry the inventory of the supply chain, are not operating in a different world than the customer interaction technologies and CRM. This always leads to some form of friction internally, and often that friction is visible to the customer as well. We have been able to integrate the entire stack well enough to offer a continuous and se­am­less experience. The success of technology adoption basically lies in the ability of the digital team to stitch all the components together and ensure that the usage of the system by customers as well as team members is made as simple and convenient as possible.

What new opportunities have opened up with the digitalisation of the sector? How are you tapping them?

The ability to co-design the next product the consumer is likely to want is one of the greatest things that can be leveraged in the retail space. In fact, the designers knowing the consumer preferences will be able to create and co-create along with the customer and that interaction can be entirely digital. AI today is gradually coming into the space where expert designers can be helped by technology that suggests or bri­n­gs different ideas to the table. Therefore, AI is increasingly becoming an expert assi­stant to many experienced designers arou­nd the world including our company. An­other opportunity in this regard can be the ability to understand and remember a consumer as an individual and craft an offer for a particular individual.

Going forward, what technological trends are expected to shape the sector?

There are many future trends that can possibly shape the re­tail sector. The customer engagement se­g­ment can expect technologies to enable the merger of the digital and physical platforms into a pleasing combination for the customer. Mean­while, with AR and VR, customers can picture themselves with a product for better decision-making.

Titan is into wearables technology, fitness bands and smartwatches. The avatar in a smartwatch can become fit when an individual performs regular exercise. This encourages the user log in every day to the Titan fitness metaverse. There is an­other po­tential use case that we are examining at Titan, that is, to make the interaction of cu­s­tomers multi-dimensi­o­nal and pleasurable. For instance, the technology at Ey­eplus has reached a certain level of maturity wherein it can digitally let users know if they have to consult an ophthalmologist. Likewise, there are various technological trends that can possibly shape the retail sector.