Redefining Retail: Engaging Consumers in a Multi-Channel World | Article

Wipro Voice: A Discussion with Bhanumurthy B.M., Chief Business Operations Officer, Wipro Technologies.

Although retailers were not the first industry group to embrace the outsourcing or right shore models, they’re now engaging these options with all the gusto of a camped-out shopper on Black Friday. The driver? Technology. The great competitive advantage in the new retail frontier.

“The impact of technology has increased in criticality, moving from an enabler for cost reduction to a value-add that provides a competitive advantage and a vehicle for revenue generation,” explained Bhanumurthy B M, senior vice president and chief business operations officer for Wipro. “Retailers that have applied technology to all aspects of their business have done well, and that fact has not been lost on consumers.”

The truth is, consumers expect more from retailers these days. The proliferation of the smartphone, connectivity and the social media explosion has each played a role in how individuals shop and buy. Instead of settling for a one-size-fits-all retail world, consumers now demand more personalization, more information and more purchasing options. Instead of always having to go to their nearest retailer, today’s consumer expects the purchasing party to come to them.

“We are seeing a convergence of the traditional retail and mobile/online experience. Instead of treating these as standalone channels, everything has to become interactive, built to engage consumers in a new, more personalized way,” Bhanumurthy said. “For example, a customer creates a shopping list on her mobile device. When she walks into a store, those items pop up on her smartphone, with department, price and feature details.”

With the right technology, the consumer won’t even have to be near a store to research and purchase an item he or she likes.

“Imagine walking down the street and seeing an item you like – something another person is wearing; a handbag someone is carrying. Instead of stopping to ask where the item was purchased, you simply point your mobile phone at the shirt or handbag to retrieve product information, including brand, availability and pricing,” Bhanumurthy said. “You add the item to the shopping cart housed in the cloud to purchase, and then have it arrive on your doorstep the next day.  In this connected world, the barriers of time and distance are eliminated.”

This concept of “Shopping as a Destination” – seeing an object of desire, shopping for it when you want and paying for it how you want – will become more prevalent as technology becomes more consumerized. The whole dynamic of how individuals shop and acquire goods is changing.

Getting Personal with Each Customer

So how can a retailer compete in this point-and-buy, multi-channel world? According to Bhamumurthy, getting more granular with individual customer messaging is key to building loyalty.

“As consumers, we all are distracted by a multitude of messages. So how can a retailer get the customer’s attention when every competitor is trying to do the same?  The key is focusing the messaging on what is important to each individual customer,” he explained. “For example, retailers can enable consumers to track what they like online, so they only receive messaging that directly relates to them.”

In addition to giving customers what they ask for, retailers must now go beyond traditional segmentation to truly understand their customers.

“No longer can retailers rely on demographic information to gain a true understanding of their customers. They must now apply psychographics to understand the mindset of the consumer as well as the basics of who they are. At the same time, retailers should continually track interactions across multiple channels to build a clearer picture of who that customer is, what he or she wants and how to best meet those individual’s needs,” Bhanumurthy said.

Social media has also become key to customer interaction, growing brand awareness and more clearly understanding how a retailer is actually perceived by the buying public.

“The idea is not to stop any negative comments from being posted but to create a strategy to respond to these quickly. If a customer couldn’t complete an interaction on the website, monitoring social media will alert an organization to the problem more quickly than if they were to wait for customers to start calling,” Bhanumurthy said. “Quick response builds consumer confidence.”

It’s important to note that social media is no longer just the mouthpiece of the young.

“The whole demographic around social media has changed. It’s now used by a large variety of data groups,” Bhanumurthy said.”Social media is also part of the converged shopping experience. Whereas consumers can go into an electronics store and experience the service before they buy, shoppers can now go to an in-store kiosk, get opinions from online friends, and buy the product using the mobile device.”

As buying patterns and supporting technology continue to evolve, customer preferences and insight will be pushed directly to the sales personnel so they can suggest appropriate items at the point-of-sale.  Every channel becomes a part of a single, personalized sales continuum.

Technology as a Driver for Efficiency, Effective Merchandising and Sustainability

In addition to engaging outsourcing partners to ramp up online and mobile channels, and extract meaningful analytic data, retailers are looking for new operation improvements, applying technology to improve store layout, personnel management and to streamline the entire supply chain.

“All retailers and manufacturers have to work with constrained resources, like electricity and gasoline. There’s a whole category of sustainable living that is emerging as an industry focus. Retailers want to reduce their carbon footprints as well as their costs,” Bhanumurthy said.

For example, a retail grocer has coolers in the store to keep food cold or frozen, resulting in high energy costs. Using technology, the right outsourcing partner could help the grocer identify how the organization is consuming energy and how coolers can be arranged or food could be stocked to do it more efficiently.

“The second part of sustainability involves transportation costs – both for home delivery for consumers and the movement of goods through the supply chain,” Bhanumurthy said. “How do you optimize delivery to reduce fuel costs and environmental impact? How do you transport goods more efficiently to and from multiple places? All are important questions.”

Creating a Shoppers’ Paradise

Although these new, connected consumers have pricing and product information at their fingertips, Bhanumurthy believes that retail success will not be price driven. Instead, it’s the innovative retailer that will take home the prize.

“When a customer is comparison shopping, it will all come down to ‘how customized is this product or service to my needs,’” he said.

Imagine grocery shopping in a store laid out by specific dietary requirements, or having access to a mobile app that guides the user to products that meets his or her criteria – whether that person is a diabetic, is cutting down on sodium or is simply trying to lose a few pounds.

No question, the retail industry is dramatically changing, fueled by the new needs of an informed, connected consumer. By employing technology to understand consumer behavior, personalizing the shopping experience, conserving resources and providing new ways for people to shop and buy, retailers will ring up many good years to come.


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