Thursday 27 August 2015

3 Technologies That Are Impacting Omnichannel Evolution

Companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google continue to disrupt conventional approaches, driving up consumer expectations for ease and relevance. And increasingly, as customers hop their way through the purchase process, they expect a harmonized omnichannel experience. 

At its core, omnichannel is the fundamental practice of providing a seamless shopping experience across multiple channels.

Retailers today are in a much better position to take the leap towards a holistic omnichannel experience because much of the earlier conceptual and technological obstacles have been removed. Technologies of today are far more resilient and flexible as compared to yesterday and so retailers have a great opportunity to harness these advancements to their benefit. 

Here are three most important technologies whose evolution will likely power the development of the omnichannel format: 

As we all know, cloud is an extremely important way of sharing resources. It enables retailers to cut costs because it requires little upfront investment and is an on-demand resource that can be tailored to meet individual needs. The retailers are not compelled to run their own servers and can pay as they use. It also offers a unified repository of information that can be remotely accessed from anywhere in the world. 

Smart phone as a shopping device is particularly appealing to shoppers of all ages and tastes. Mobile and related software capabilities like mobile wallet, near-field communication, Mobile POS applications, etc. are acting as drivers of online sales. Modern shoppers like to have a choice of shopping online wherever they are and having the products delivered at their convenience. Mobile phones offer the best experience to such shoppers. 

Retailers are increasingly using big data analytics that will give them deeper insights into customer behaviour, touch points, drop offs etc. and will help them create better solutions using test and learn strategies. A lot of research is going into how you generate relevant consumer insights out of all the data and make the whole shopping experience better and more satisfying. 

For a deeper insight, join Philippe Nobile, MD of Javelin Group, one of the world's foremost retail strategy consulting companies, on the eve of IRF 2015 (September 14). Nobile will be conducting an exclusive Knowledge Series session on 'OMNI CHANNEL FULFILLMENT FOR DRIVING EXCELLENCE IN CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE'.

Philippe Nobile is the Managing Director of Javelin Group, France, and delivers strategy and omni-channel projects to some of France’s leading retailers and luxury brands. Prior to Javelin Group, Nobile ran the brand strategy and omni-channel practice at Kurt Salmon, advising retailers and brands on international development and omni-channel 2.0 retail. Prior to this, he spent 11 years at Unilever, where he held executive positions in finance, marketing and media. 

Paris-headquartered Javelin Group, part of Accenture Strategy, provides strategy consulting and digital transformation services to the world’s leading retailers and consumer brands. The organisation helps clients improve their competitiveness by anticipating and responding to the rapid changes in customer shopping habits and retail technologies. Among its clients worldwide are Carrefour, Walmart, Tesco, Sephora, John Lewis, Auchan, Waitrose, Harrods, Marks & Spencer, Selfridges, Debenhams, Metro AG, among a host of others.

AWL launches ePronto Express, to invest Rs 75 crore by 2020

Accelerated Warehousing Logistics (AWL) has announced the launch of its specialist logistics company for e-commerce – ePronto Express. The company said that it will invest Rs 75 crore in this venture over the five years.

The launch of ePronto Express comes on the back of immense market opportunity thrown up by India's booming e-commerce sector, AWL said in a statement. 

With more than 10 dedicated warehouses ,ePronto Express will allow e-tailers to deliver their products in 800 cities across India, it said adding that a state-of-the-art IT service will enable efficient tracking of each shipment and will be one of the decisive aspects for merchants across country. 

“E-tailing requires a more focused, meticulous and innovative approach towards order fulfillment, and the robust customers support, IT structure and a dedicated team. At present we are delivering to over 900 pin codes and aim to reach 2000 by 2016," Rahul Mehra, CEO, AWL, said.

"We are looking at an initial investment of Rs. 15 crore till 2016 fiscal and plan to invest Rs 75 crore by 2020,” Mehra added.   

The company will also provide specialised operations in the untapped segment of luxury fashion and fragile products like sanitaryware. A dedicated facilitation centre in Sohna, Gurgaon has also been set-up by the company to cater the growing needs of its clients.   

Some of the start-ups that are riding on this ecommerce revolution are Dehlivery, Ecomm express, Nuvo Ex and Unicommerce, among others. Big logistics companies such as Blue Dart, Indian Post, etc have also extended their services to e-commerce companies.

According to a report by Singhi Advisors, an investment banking firm, the fast growing e-commerce sector is expected to drive the USD 167-billion domestic logistics industry in India. The third party logistics (3PL) segment, which stood at USD 17.4 billion in 2013 and accounts for 7% of the logistics industry’s revenue, is expected to witness a compounded annual growth rate of 21% from 2013-18.

Amazon India launches household supplies category

Amazon India has announced the launch of household supplies as a new category. Products offered include include dishwashing detergents, household cleaners, laundry detergents, paper, plastic wraps as well as puja supplies, the company said.
“Customers in general spend a lot of time each month, mostly during the weekend, driving to and fro to purchase household supplies and then carrying these bulky items to their homes. Often, they get limited by choice,” Saurabh Srivastava, Category Leader – FMCG, Amazon India, said.

“Further, customers in Tier II and III cities are not only limited by choice but also access to imported brands and have to purchase whatever is available. With the launch of the new Household Supplies store, adding to the already existing wide range of general merchandise product, on, customers across India can now enjoy a hassle free shopping experience for all these products and also enjoy fast and reliable doorstep delivery,” he added.

More than 40 household supplies brands, including Vim, Surf, Ariel, Comfort, Downy, Domex, Harpic, Origami, Scotch Brite, Freshwrapp, and others will now sell on Amazon.The Household Supplies store is housed in the Health & Personal Care department on The Health & Personal Care department on was launched in April 2014 offering nutrition, healthcare, body supports, mobility aids and personal care products.

With the launch of the Household Supplies store, the total offering now stands at 40,000 products from 5000 Indian & international brands, the company said.

Household supplies is a category companies like Bigbasket, Grofers, Localbanya and others already operate in, but big ecommerce players like Flipkart and Snapdeal are yet to enter.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Norms a remedy to rein in errant online pharmacies

 In the past two years, many companies have begun selling medicines through the e-commerce route. Many e-pharmacies connect the customer to the physical outlets and get the medicines home delivered, working on the 'marketplace' model, where they have sellers on board.

With no uniformity in the checks and balances by firms already in the business, guidelines are necessary as proposed by the national drug regulator that has formed a committee to look into the matter.

Many like Pankaj Gupta of Mera Medicare said there is immense potential in the online medicine sale sector and it is high time laws governing pharmacies are revised.

"There are certain rules that are very old, which need to be replaced with rules and regulations that are more aligned with the new, digital India," he said.

Online pharmacies have started gaining popularity due to the discounts they offer.

"Patients are able to save up to 60% on generic medicines and we have seen traction in other products such as bodycare items and baby products on our website," said Gupta.

The most medicines bought online are those required for chronic diseases such as blood pressure, cancer and diabetes. Other than these, contraceptives are also popularly sought online because of the facility of delivery options.

Most firms said they were aware of the Drug & Cosmetics Act 1948, and they did demand a prescription from buyers.

However, the interpretation of the IT Act and the Drug & Cosmetics Act differs among the players in this business. Customers seeking to buy medicines online are asked to send soft copies of their prescription, through email or Whatsapp.

"We cannot sign the prescriptions while dispensing medicines online as it is not possible as of now. Otherwise, we follow checks at two levels - at the seller's side and then at our side. But we do feel that guidelines are essential so that all online pharmacies follow one standard," says Rajkumar Popat, co-founder of Mera Pharmacy.

"Guidelines would enhance customer confidence and lead to more standardized operations by the players that are coming up," he added.

The prescription in most cases, is stored in their database and can be seen in the customer's account. Popat's firm is among those who also take care that every customer's personal data including prescriptions are encrypted and protected from being leaked.

Niranjan Reddy, cyber security expert, founder and chief technology officer of NetConclave Systems, says that section 4 of the IT Act legally recognizes electronic records, thus validating authenticity of a scanned document. But, in case of a legal dispute, an electronic copy cannot be presented in the court, as per the rules laid down in the Evidence Act.

He added that the online pharmacies should ensure that proper process is followed and customers are not cheated.

"Section 39 of the IT Act mandates that the intermediary observes due diligence while discharging his duties under this Act and also observes such other guidelines as the Union government may prescribe," he said.

As of now, the websites selling medicines online do not follow any standard protocol and include only what they feel is essential. additional director Narendra Pathak said their website "does not have any separate security for prescriptions. But, they are quite secure as only pharmacists can access a customer's details and prescriptions."

Flipkart goes social, launches 'ping' on its app

Flipkart has announced a new service called ‘Ping’ on its mobile app. Ping will allow users to shop for products on it app along with their friends. 

The objective behind Flipkart's Ping is to allows users to have real-time conversations with friends in order to get feedback about a product they plan on buying, or help friends get in on the decision of what to buy. The feature will allow users to drag and drop products directly into conversations, lets users share their screen so that they can browse products together with friends.

"Right now, shopping on a mobile is a very isolated experience and complicated. Ping is a fun new way to shop with friends. It is social shopping experience integrated in Flipkart," Punit Soni, Flipkart's chief product officer, said in the announcement.

For now Ping is available to a few Flipkart users on an invite basis. Gradually, it will be rolled out to all users. Every person who has an invite will also get another 10 invites to share with friends.

Also Read: Social Shopping: Taking e-commerce up close and personal

In terms of the design and look, including even the chatheads, it looks quite similar to Facebook Messenger. Keeping in mind the slow networks in India and the fact that a majority of users own a low-cost smartphone, Ping is only 2MB in size, and has been developed to consume low data, low battery and is compatible with any smartphone running on Android 2.1 and above.

Soni further said that Flipkart's future roadmap includes ways of connecting its users to the sellers, customer service executives and Flipkart itself. This sounds similar to what Snapdeal is doing with its Shopo app, which was unveiled a couple of months ago. The platform enables seamless communication and exchange of information, including about location, images, etc between sellers and buyers.

From discounts to curation, online fashion gets a makeover

As e-commerce continues to grow and consumers increasingly turn to the web or an app to find products they need, e-tailing is slowly but gradually witnessing a shift  from a plain-vanilla listing of products towards personalisation for consumers, through curated platforms.

The trend is more visible in fashion and lifestyle category where shopping through these sites became an exercise rather than an experience; searching page after page for a specific product simply got tiresome after a point.

“The e-commerce industry has completely been discount driven, which is a high cash burn and not a sustainable strategy. Fashion curation platforms, on the other hand, have tried to shift the trend. They not only increase a brand’s customer reach but also boost the consumer stickiness to the platform,” believes Arjun Zacharia, CEO of Wooplr, a fashion discovery platform. 

Started in 2011, Wooplr helps consumers discover and buy products from stores around them through recommendations drawn from a combination of three tools. “The first is Social Recommendation from people you follow on our application. Then, a taste graph, which is developed on the basis of data collected according to the action/purchases done in the past and lastly, a trend chart that is  created using computer data science and recommendations,” Zacharia explains.

Wooplr is present in more than 100 cities and has close to 100 million users on its app. 

Red Polka, another fashion curation startup, also sees curation, personalisation and socialisation as the next step in online fashion retail.

"Today, 30-35% of our visitors are repeat audiences. We are working with 85-odd designer brands and a large number of those brands have seen the impact of Red Polka on their sales and order books. By this month-end, we are expecting to cross 100 designer brands. This was the target for the entire year, which we have achieved in just seven months," says Vishakha Singh, founder, Red Polka.

"Consumers have evolved over the years. They want much more than bumper discounts. Our team of fashion curators showcases niche, crafted products under a weekly theme. This not only help shoppers, but also gives retailers a new ways to connect with customers, build a distinctive brand, and increase online sales," she adds.

The future of fashion curation portals and interest of shoppers and brands in them can be further measured through Myntra's plan to use its  tons of data  to build a fashion platform which will showcase customer-loving products with the help of data science and artificial intelligence (AI). Myntra has reportedly developed a smart bot -- a web application that uses an artificial intelligence algorithm to have conversations with humans -- which accumulates fashion-related information from across the online world, and can be further used as a base to design products. 

The company is currently running a pilot and is in the process to launch this by next month with an aim to disrupt the current way of expert-based fashion forecasting through its 100% tech-backed solution.

"With big players joining the league, our stand has further validated. However, every company has its own DNA. Ours is curation and discovery, while for them its product-listing. Executing this innovation may perhaps be challenging for Myntra, but will definitely make the segment more exciting and competitve," Zacharia concludes.

FirstCry goes gaga with offers for new mothers

As a part of its micro-marketing strategy, online retailer of babycare FirstCry has presented one million gift boxes to new mothers in hospitals across the country. It also gave coupon codes to mothers for further shopping on its online site, app or the 120 physical outlets across the country.

The Pune-based company plans to continue the campaign perpetually and targets to reach 1,25,000 new mothers per month. "The free-of-cost gift box presented to new mothers contained essentials required in the first few days of pregnancy and we called the box as 'celebrating the first cry'," said Supam Maheshwari, CEO of FirstCry.

The company, which first conducted a pilot with around 200 hospitals in Pune, has so far partnered with more than 7,500 hospitals across the country.

It has spent around Rs 20 crore on this initiative along with its brand partners. "With marketing costs increasing exponentially today, this was an innovative means for us to connect with new customers at a reduced marketing cost and build a potent relationship with new mothers who can become our regular customers," said Maheshwari.

He said the company has seen a conversion rate of 8%-10% to actual customers through this campaign. "Traditional campaigns typically see a 1% to 2%, whereas we achieved conversions four times that," Maheshwari said.

First-Cry, owned by Brainbees Solutions, had raised $36 million, or about Rs 220 crore, from New Enterprise Associates, Valiant Capital and existing investors in its fourth round of funding earlier this year. It plans to increase its physical store count to 200 by March 2016.

The Indian babycare (age 0-9) market is estimated at around $10 billion, or about Rs 62,000 crore. Every year about 25 million babies are born in the country.

The market is fragmented today with as many as 4,000 specialised baby shops across the country. "There is a huge opportunity for organised retail chains," Maheshwari said. In the online space, First-Cry competes with players such as BabyOye.

Flipkart has put its ‘app-only’ dreams on hold! Know why

Flipkart, the eCommerce portal biggie, which was planning to go 'app only' from September this year, has now put its plans on hold. As per a report published in Economic Times, the move came because the company is yet to assess the impact this move will have on sales in big-ticket categories like large appliances and furniture.

According to company insiders, "Major sellers who retail white goods, electronics and large appliances are not convinced about the move. Flipkart might pick up the project (to go app-only) soon but as of now things have been stalled and September looks unlikely."

We haven't received any conformation from the company on this front yet. When an email was sent to company's Chief Product Officer Punit Soni, who leads the firm's 'Project Shaw' initiative to go mobile-first, to seek some clarification, he opted to stay mum on the queries.

The company is constantly experimenting with various aspects of their services to create the best shopping experience for users on their app, and will continue to offer both desktop as well as mobile options, a company spokesperson confirmed.

Flipkart's mobile app accounts for 70-75% of the total traffic. Besides the fact that a majority of Indians use smartphones to access the Internet, eCommerce players push mobile applications because apps provide more data on each user, and hence, allow firms to personalize user experiences based on interests and requirements gathered from users' buying and browsing history.

The sellers of high-value goods on Flipkart also seemed dubious on the company's move to go app-only. According to industry insiders and sellers, such a move would cripple auser's ability to research products effectively before deciding to buy.

"Some categories are better viewed on a bigger screen," said Sujayath Ali, CEO and cofounder of mobile app based fashion retailer Voonik. "Also, going app-only will affect people browsing from office as well as price or value comparison," he said. 

Flipkart-owned fashion retailer Myntra went app-only in May. Nearly 95% of Myntra's traffic and 70% of its sales were already coming from mobile by then. Bansal, who founded Myntra, was not available for comment. Ali of Voonik said the market is much larger for mobile than desktop and it's growing faster.

According to Internet & Mobile Association of India and KPMG, India is projected to have 236 million mobile Internet users by 2016.