Omni-channel to be the next big play in retail

The fast emerging e-commerce sector in India has been talked about in the business world as the next big thing to be in...
Omni-channel to be the next big play in retail
The fast emerging e-commerce sector in India has been talked about in the business world as the next big thing to be in. However, according to Krish Iyer, president and CEO, Walmart India, one thing that has hit him in the last year and half isthe whole craze about building valuations while not really looking at the bottomline. “I haven’t seen such a behaviour in other South East Asian markets. While businesses in countries like Taiwan, Thailand and Philippineshave adopted e-commerce in a big way, there is a clear focus on bottomline. Money is being made on every transaction and majority of the companies there are gross margin positive,” said Iyer at the inaugural session of a retail summit in Mumbai. 
Defending the valuations game being played in the e-commerce sector in India, Alok Goel, managing director, SAIF Partners, said that India is the only country that offers an opportunity for growth investment in the global scheme of things. “Lot of money is flowing into India looking for opportunities and return on investment. And when lot of money is chasing fewer products out therein the market, the price of that product increases. 
This roughly explains the rapid price-valuation situation that’s come up in the market,” said Goel, adding that from a valuations point of view, businesses need to be looked at in terms of growth they will register over the next five to 10-year horizon. Stressing on the need for Indian retail (online / offline) players to seek profitable growth, Anurag Mathur, retail and consumer goods practice leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers India, said, currently mom-n-pop stores are enjoying operating margins of between 6% and 8%over gross margins of 16% and 18%, while the organised retailers had high gross margins of 20% and 22% though operating margins were as low as 2% and 4%. “The online / e-commerce players are still ages away from getting into the positive space with gross margins anywhere between -3% and -8% and operating margins between -15% and -22%,” he said. 
While the recent past has seen the Indian retail fraternity debate aggressively about retail and omni-channel, Iyer pointed out that a few years ago, it was about retail and ecommerce. “And from what I see on the ground, I can tell you that omni-channel will be the key focus of discussion next year. The brick-n-mortar players will continue to learn from the pure-play e-commerce players and then will be able to drive profitable growth while providing omni-channel experience to the customers. And that to my mind, is the only way to go,” he said adding that retail players, particularly those in the brick-n-mortar space, are clearly focused on profitable growth. Iyer stressed that ongoing economic adjustments around the world offered businesses in India a brilliant opportunity to lead global growth. And the fact that India has been a domestic consumption-driven economy has come handy. “We are not an export-driven economy and that’s one of the primary reasons why the economic turmoil and global events haven’t had as much impact on India as we have seen in other BRIC countries viz. Brazil, Russia and China,” he said. The next phase of retail revolution, retailers and experts said, will be driven by India and China unlike the past phases that were driven by the West. 
However, Indian retailers lagged in retaining a black bottomline when compared with their foreign counterparts. “Operating margins (ebitda) of Indian retailers have dropped to 2% in 2014 from8% in 2011. During the same period, ebitda of select international retail chains like Walmart, Target, Tesco and Home Depot have maintained 7-11% during the same period,” said Mathur. In fact, according to a survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers India, over 65% of Indian retailers are focusing on improving profitability through improvement in revenue throughput as fast-changing consumer behaviour is driving many retailers to rethink their business model. 
As per the survey, 53% retailers are considering a change in their operating model driven by changing consumer behaviour. With the emergence of new formats, distinct paths to sustainable profitability will need to be crafted as retailers in India face a herculean task of reaching out to the customer through a combination of mobile, social and human connect, experts said. According to Abheek Singhi, senior partner and director, Asia Pacific leader –consumer and retail practice, The Boston Consulting Group, online and e-commerce with varying digital density along with omni-channel are straining traditional business models in retailing. “Moreover, with consumer companies selling directly via offline and online tools, value chains are also getting disrupted,” he said.
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