Amit has been proudly leading Smollan’s business in India, while ensuring the company legacy stays intact. In his role as the CEO, he has been responsible for diversification of Smollan’s India profile into various retail domains like Beverage, Confectionery, Lubricants, FMCG, Healthcare, amongst others and Smollan now works with the category leaders of the all these segments. He believes there is a strong potential for the company to further grow and diversify at various touchpoints of the retail industry. Being a CFO as well, he has been responsible for maintaining a positive cash-flow, while also keeping the company loan-free in his tenure spanning over 12 years.
Evolution in retail has consistently been about enhancing shopper experience in-store. With the global pandemic acting as an accelerant, digital transformation across domains and verticals in the retail industry, is on the rise. Moving forward this sector will focus on multiple touchpoints from discovery to building personalized experiences and allowing for efficient last-mile delivery.
Technology is rewriting operating models across every sector of the economy with transformation in the digital space having completely reshaped shopping in general, from online experiences and even customer expectations in physical stores. The pandemic turned the industry upside-down and levelled the playing field with retail ecommerce and social commerce becoming prime sources for marketing brands. Innovations in the technology space have further enabled brands to market to the right set of audiences helping them narrow the purchase funnel. Further, the capabilities and innovations developed in retail execution and in-store marketing through tech-led retail solutions will enable retailers to enhance shopper experience and productivity through better assortment, engaging touch-points in-store and online, faster fulfilment and multiple fulfilment options.
How Can Brands & Retailers Use Technology to its Full Potential?
To thrive in a future of proliferating technology, retailers will need to reimagine the very nature and role of physical retail. Technology can enhance the customer experience and lower retailers’ costs however, the processes and activity chain will need to undergo changes. Rather than simply automating the current operating model, retailers should rethink their entire value proposition for brands, customers and employees alike.
The shift in consumer demand is quite evident in the retail space – understanding and predicting these trends by analyzing the shifting patterns, is a vital component for retailers to stay on top of their game and ahead of the competition. ML-based demand forecasting approaches are much more versatile and adaptive than their traditional counterparts. Since machine learning can be implemented faster and more efficiently, it allows for better tracking of customer trends.
One of the key aspects hampered by the pandemic, has been the commerce supply chain as technology disruption has now made it possible to find growth and uncover efficiencies. Retailers need solutions that allow them to sell products online at the same level of efficiency, with effortless system integration, and customer satisfaction as if in a physical store. This can only be made possible if the supply chain is running smoothly. Managing an ecommerce supply chain adds cost through complexity, and last-mile transport is more expensive than in-store fulfilment. Transport costs will begin to reduce as AI-enabled delivery algorithms optimize routes, and over time through the arrival of autonomous vehicles, but for now a cost difference remains.
Data is essential to the demand forecasting process. By using machine learning, forecasting customer demand becomes substantially more accurate. These innovations improve automatic demand forecasting, inventory planning, relationship management for both customers and suppliers, logistics, manufacturing, and marketing. Demand forecasting will remain relevant even after the pandemic becomes less of a focus. As customer behaviors and relationships with new shopping technologies changed dramatically throughout 2020, analysts believe that the retail landscape has shifted for the foreseeable future.
It’s important to consider where these innovations are moving by identifying the technological trends that have acted as a guide through 2020 and 2021 and will continue to pave the way going forward. Some key influencing trends in the retail technology space are positioned as follows:
Shifting Consumer Patterns
The longer the pandemic lasts, the deeper and more enduring the changes in consumer preferences and behavior will be. Consumers are spending more time at home, are more concerned about their health and wellbeing, insecure about their economic prospects and care about responsible consumption and purpose-driven business.
Consumers are purchasing more through ecommerce channels and smaller store formats. According to a study by Mckinsey[a1], the migration online is visible across all retail sectors, but has been faster in the general merchandise sector and more gradual in grocery where online sales were just 6% of total purchases in 2018. Retailers must respond to channel shifts against a backdrop of margin pressures as competition has intensified with the rise of digitally native firms that are inherently optimized for ecommerce.
By using consumer purchase data to develop shopping profiles for certain types of customers, machine learning can adapt to each user guiding their shopping experiences both in-store and online. Because of this, ecommerce stores have historically shown a greater degree of success around personalizing the shopping experience. In-store experiences may be enriched through tech inputs in visibility, digital shopper interaction platforms or digital ambassadors placed at relevant locations in the physical store and app-led, individualized consultations through brand ambassadors. Artificial intelligence will help retailers drive loyalty programs with better efficiencies and shopper delight through the insights gleaned through purchase data and information.
Gartner predicted the rise of augmented reality to reach 100 million consumers by 2020 and was proven correct. In 2020, the customer conversion rate for AR engaged users increased by 90%. The potential of augmented reality in the retail industry in 2021 cannot be ignored – [a2] with virtual fitting rooms one of the most intriguing innovations that deploys the power of this approach.
Click & Collect
Longer-term rapid delivery will create capability for retailers, which brand owners will need to support to defend relevance in a more convenience-driven world. As fulfilment expectations rise, retailers will continue to drive investment in micro-fulfilment centers and automated pick-up points. For retailers Click & Collect also presents a more affordable, scalable route to consumers. Retailers are likely to invest in promotional tactics to incentivize consumers to Click & Collect rather than order online for home deliveries and will only function if the fundamental infrastructure is up-to-date and technology advancements aligned.
Digital & Physical Retail Experience – Integration through Smartphones
Smartphones are becoming more embedded in the shopping journey enabling discovery, navigation, and selection. As smartphones influence store experiences scale, it will be increasingly important for brands to ensure effective digital shelf content is available and visible to support the in-store shopper journey. Gen Z accounts for 24% of the global population and is now entering its prime spending years. Data-driven engagement and personalization will help in linking to retailer loyalty programs and the introduction of new impulse touchpoints, coupled with enhanced search-ability and mobile product discovery will assist in designing an effective consumer experience.
These payment methods have emerged as great options for retailers due to the increased adoption by shoppers. They are safe, instant, and most importantly contact-less with UPI offering convenience to both online and offline customers and an uncomplicated digital payment solution for retailers. Post-pandemic retailers should continue to deliver ease of shopping by exploring multiple payment modes.
It is now up to brands and retailers to fast-track rapid technology adoption to provide a seamless consumer experience and scale potential. Tools like machine learning, data science, computer vision, augmented reality, and more have shown that the recent challenges have been an opportunity for improvement. However, with digital transformation claiming its time in the retail journey, retailers will need to be conscious and capable of relevant risk mitigation mechanisms, and of failsafe data security and protection of shopper privacy.