Authored By: Ganesh Kalyanaraman
In times of social distancing and lockdowns, it has become imperative for brands to rethink customer experience. The COVID-19 crisis has changed consumer behaviour considerably. According to a recent McKinsey survey, 91 percent of Indian consumers changed their shopping behaviour and tried different brands or shopped at different retailers, when their preferred brands and retailers were faced with supply chain disruptions. Value, availability, and quality became the main triggers for experimenting with brands. Across food and groceries, apparel, household, and entertainment, Indian consumers showed a significant shift towards online purchases, a change that may stay on beyond the pandemic.
Prior to COVID-19, brands could create personalised services and immersive interactions to deliver a unique buying experience to everyone who walked into their stores. For instance, companies such as Metro Cash and Carry built an app to bring Kirana stores under a digital platform and streamline their transactions; and Big Bazaar partnered with a start-up Perpule to enable quicker checkouts for customers using an app. Customers are not looking for just the product anymore. Factors such as hygiene, safety, and trust are playing a huge role in buying decisions. More than ever, brands need to merge the physical and digital worlds to create new forms of engagement with relevant experiences.
With consumers prioritising safety, brands should focus on creating a diverse landscape of online and offline touchpoints. By deploying cross-channel integrated solutions across multiple touchpoints, companies can not only create a seamless customer experience but also offer convenience and safety. The ‘buy-online-pick-up-in-store’ model is one such example. According to the 12th Annual Shopper APAC study in 2020, 55 percent customers are requesting more retailers to offer mobile ordering options.
To continuously enhance the consumer experience, brands should analyse data to get insights on shopping behaviour, requirements of various consumer groups, and the challenges they face. An agile omnichannel alteration will help brands measure the impact of the pandemic on sales and services, optimise digital marketing efforts, identify opportunities, and enhance e-commerce operations. The better use of technology can help streamline the supply chain, thereby ensuring the customer finds the right products. For instance, in order to facilitate hyperlocal deliveries, Paytm Mall and Amazon prime have been exploring newer avenues in the e-commerce landscape to fulfil requirements by partnering with Kiranas and small businesses. Amazon India’s ‘Local Shops’ initiative enables retailers from India to make use of Amazon’s delivery mechanisms. Similarly, Amazon has witnessed a 50 percent increase in new seller registrations in India since the easing of lockdown restrictions, providing a new sales channel to MSMEs and helping customers get what they want without stepping out of their homes.
Amazon and Flipkart have been focusing on customers from smaller cities with initiatives in the regional language to capture the growing e-commerce adoption in these markets. A recent Unicommerce report expects the total number of shoppers in small-town India to jump from 50 million in 2018 to 170 million in 2023. E-commerce transactions account for nearly 4.5 percent of the Indian retail market, minuscule compared to the global average of about 14 percent. Notably, it took years to reach 3 percent from 1.5 percent but only a few months to grow to 4.5 percent. The rapid shift was primarily due to customers adopting e-commerce channels during the pandemic.
In India, many traditional brands still believe in providing personal assistance to consumers through sales associates. Customers have always wanted associates to act as consultants with whom they can engage and receive information about products and services to make informed decisions.
To provide intelligent personal assistance, 24/7, brands can deploy AI-driven automation technology such as chatbots. Chatbots can process multiple queries simultaneously and reduce the workload on human teams, besides helping brands to ensure smooth purchase experiences across all digital channels and give credible, real-time responses to customers shopping from home. Amway has taken this to direct sellers with its chatbot Myra, designed to help sellers digitally transform their sales models.
The social distancing imperative is likely to increase demand for personal transport and therefore vehicles. To make the showroom experience contact-free and safe for prospective buyers, MG Motor allows customers to walk around vehicles guided by automated voice instructions detailing the features simply by scanning a QR code. Additionally, the company has enabled ‘Over the Air’ (OTA) updates for vehicle infotainment systems, reducing the need to visit service stations.
Augmented and virtual reality
To drive online store traffic and replicate an in-store experience, brands can use collaboration technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
From trying on clothes to testing beauty products, AR has swiftly made its way into the Indian retail industry. Indian fashion is ready to embrace virtual trial rooms with designers leveraging technology-led features to enable virtual fittings for clients. Indian beauty brands have launched e-commerce platforms with AR and VR technology, enabling virtual make up trials. This is a classic example of how a very traditional industry such as textile (fashion) is being transformed by digital technologies.
By including computer graphics and 360-degree videos, brands can create a computer-generated 3D environment that can respond to customers’ actions, either in-store or online, often through immersive head-mounted displays, handheld controllers, and via haptic or touch-sensitive smartphone devices.
Driven by customers becoming increasingly conscious about safety and product footprint, companies are looking to increase transparency and accountability across their supply chain. Internet of Things (IoT), with its immutable record-keeping and traceability, presents a new opportunity for brands to deliver on their safety promise.
IoT-based equipment and capital asset-tracking solutions can help brands know the location, status, and operating performance of their assets across operations in real-time. Traceability solutions, packaging innovations, and clear communication, along with redefining manufacturing and supply chain processes with an emphasis on safe handling, will be key to addressing safety concerns.
Brands need to understand behavioural changes in their customers. Understanding what they want, and responding to them quickly and aptly by improving processes and incorporating technology solutions is critical. By focusing on customer experiences, brands can convey that they are socially responsible and have the emotional intelligence to relate to their customers’ needs. This will help build brand loyalty in the long run.
—Ganesh Kalyanaraman, Global Delivery Head, Products & Resources, Cognizant. The views expressed are personal
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)