Retail enterprises are fast adopting new-age technologies to meet consumer expectations that revolve around consistency in terms of pricing, product quality and their experience on an overall basis. At the recently held Delhi Retail Summit, technology heads of leading retail enterprises discussed the rise of the omnichannel business model, challenges that retail enterprises face and their future IT-related plans. Excerpts…

Pankaj More, CIO, Walmart India

Legacy retail businesses had walls around themselves that were difficult to penetrate. However, in the past few years, there has been an emergence of technologies that have democratised the way businesses operate. This has resulted in the emergence of omnichannel retailing. At Wal­mart, our focus is to run an omnichannel business-to-business organisation that ­services resellers, offices, institutions, hotels, restaurants and so on. We’ve been working on various initiatives in areas such as e-commerce, mobility and analytics.

It is important to understand that technology will always bring about a certain level of change and there will be resistance from legacy systems. Therefore, the key here is technology adoption and not just technology deployment. The fundamentals of retail don’t change even with technology adoption. Pricing, inventory and promotions are the three basic things that a retail enterprise must fix, irrespective of how many channels it is available on.

Inventory management is another area that requires attention. We have been working on building algorithms that can detect seasonal changes across categories and act accordingly. It is important to continuously look at it from a customer’s perspective and include various parameters in the algorithms in a way that it allows the company to attain the right level of productivity.

Going forward, we are focusing on improving both customer-side analytics that we have already implemented and business intelligence analytics. These are the two areas that we are already working on and trying to enhance, both at the same time. We are also looking at how the whole collaboration works because that is something which sounds easy but you can never get it right.

Sandeep Jabbal, Head, IT, Marks and Spencer

The combination of mobile and internet has been the biggest disrupter in recent times. There is immense customer expectation from a brand like Marks and Spencer (M&S), which is present all over the globe and has a legacy of more than 100 years. Therefore, having an omnichannel presence  generates a lot of expectations in terms of customer experience. To this end, we are trying to build an ecosystem through which a customer connected to M&S outside the brick-and-mortar store will be delivered the same experience.

There are a number of challenges associated with moving to multiple channels, the foremost being pricing. We are very clear about the fact that we have to maintain one pricing, be it an online market place, our own e-commerce site, or a physical store. Apart from pricing, having a single view of inventory is important. Having a real-time view of inventory across all channels is the most challenging piece of the entire strategy. We have done a fair bit of work in that direction. We will soon be launching an application for our store associates where you can look for your size if your size is not available at the store. The product can be booked for you from the same store, or you can go and collect it from another store. Third, customer relationship mana­ge­ment tools are also critical.  We have more-than-a-million strong customer base, which is increasingly approaching us through mobile. Therefore, ensuring good customer experience over the mobile is very critical for us.

Tarun Bali, Head, IT, Quest Retail Private Limited

“Anytime anywhere retail” is another name for digitisation. Earlier, the IT set-up of a company was a closed-loop system that was meant only for the employees and workforce. Now, enterprises need to extend it to include customers as well for incorporating their choice of shopping channels. While we are not omnichannel yet, we are providing multi-channel offerings through e-commerce channels and in-store. We are catering to about 150 cities, whereas physically, we are present in only 50 cities.

Currently, we are based on legacy IT systems and are facing operational and architectural challenges. As far as architectural challenges are concerned, the basic application programming interface is not readily available and we have to work hard for its customisation. On the operational front, our locations are spread across geographies that have inconsistent bandwidth. But we are first focusing on getting the omnichannel loyalty application right.

To become omnichannel, there are a lot of procedures and policies that need to be changed. Moreover, it should be cost effective. As a part of the omnichannel strategy, we are creating a digital ecosystem where every channel can be connected. Going forward, we will be launching a mobile app where loyalty customers can enjoy seamless experience across shopping points. We will be shortly launching a rating and review, and post-sales interaction platform that was missing earlier. There­after, we will be foraying into omnichannel marketing and delivery.

Mobile is fast becoming a first-point of engagement for a customer. In our case, 60 per cent engagement is happening through mobile only on the e-commerce side, but the conversion is only 40 per cent. This means that a lot of people are using social media and online channels for product research before buying it. In most cases, people are doing web roaming that is good for the brick-and-mortar retailer.

Vishal Kapil, Director, IT, Adidas India

As a global brand, our challenge is to maintain a consistent brand and product experience. To this end, we have deployed a single window for our inventory through franchise stores. We have a clear view of the products available in the warehouse, those in transit from factories as well as the ones that are imported.

The consumer for the category of products we represent is very well-informed. Therefore, we maintain a consistent brand image across all social media platforms.

Moreover, we have implemented endless aisles (the concept of using in-store kiosks to allow customers to order products that are no longer in stock or not sold in the store) across 200 franchise stores. Over the next one year, we will implement endless aisles in another 200 stores. Meanwhile, we are working hard to provide more and more information to our end-consumers so that they make well-informed purchase decisions.

Mobile is fast becoming the preferred touchpoint for retailers. We have launched the mobile point of sale (PoS) on a pilot mode at few of our stores and the results are astounding. At one of these stores, 100 per cent of the transactions are happening through mobile PoS. Thus, mobile can be used for reaching out to consumers in ways other than just mobile commerce.

One of the main challenges that we are facing is training our staff to deal with customer queries. To address this, we use cloud-based training and a centrally controlled system wherein we can train staff at multiple stores at the same time. This has also helped us control the look and feel of all our stores across the country.