Why the upcoming festive season is going to be diverse for retailers?

Online commerce has inherent advantage of know your customer, analytics and personalisation whereas offline retail has advantages of curation, advisory, entertainment and experience.
Online Shopping

One of the most remarkable disruption because of internet, data & analytics has happened in media industry is the way we consume content. Any media company's role is to create, host, curate, distribute and monetize content. Old bundles & aggregation systems (read newspapers, magazines and television channels) have been disrupted by platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. But, for creation of content these platforms are doing all the other tasks disrupting these media companies many of them struggling with reduced traffic / falling subscriptions. A similar un-bundling is about to happen in retail, where not only will lines between online vs. offline blur but also become Destination-less & Discovery led. 

Dissolve online vs. offline debate 
There has been a lot of heated debate off late in India about the future of retail this festive season. Will online retailers GMV surpass billion dollars? Will offline retail finally see footfalls this Diwali?  I find this debate silly as the consumer doesn’t care as she is doing both ‘Show-rooming‘ (checking and researching for products offline but buying online; typically for categories like gadgets, apparel etc.) and ‘Web-rooming’ (Researching online but buying offline specially for categories like automobiles, furniture & homes).  Both channels of commerce have their strengths. Online commerce has inherent advantage of know your customer, analytics and personalization whereas offline retail has advantages of curation, advisory, entertainment and experience. Hence the future of retail is hybrid of online and offline (omni-channel). Such hybrid models not only increase the market by serving both internet savvy & dark customers and also help business create multiple touch-point for superior consumer insights to make shopping experience much more engaging, hyper personalized and price / time convenient.  

Omni-Channel commerce has already made a mark in India with e-commerce companies like Pepperfry, Zivame, FirstCry, Lenskart opening brick-and-mortar stores at one end to traditional retailers like Reliance, Tata, Aditya Birla etc. expanding to online/ omni-channel platform. Technology will further blur the lines between the two worlds. At one end consumers in physical stores using mobile scans do prices comparison, find out relevant deals and coupons and use augmented reality make-up mirrors, fitting kiosks and talking mirror to try multiple collection of cosmetics, apparels, jewellery etc. On the other end shoppers using virtual reality will be able to experience walk-in in big mega retail shops at the comfort of their couch. 

Discovery a.k.a. Facebook for Commerce
Five years ago when e-commerce started in India consumers used to distinguish between ‘high-touch’ & ‘low-touch’ products. Hence low-touch stuff like books, mobile phones, consumer durables was the first to be bought online. With improvement in trust, same day delivery and easy returns now even high-touch products like apparel, shoes, furniture, grocery, cosmetics have started to be bought online. The real barrier now is not touch but NOT knowing about it. eCommerce companies (Amazon, Flipkart, BigBasket etc.) are ‘Google’ for products. It's good at giving you the best-seller (head) you've heard of or one copy of a really obscure title (long tail). It's not so good at selling the mid-list - things that you didn't know existed, or didn't know you wanted, before you saw them. So, someone needs to do the demand generation - to tell you there's something you might want. Shopping needs a ‘Facebook’ for products. Like the machine driven algorithm of Facebook that curates today what I read online, I need an artificial Intelligence-like personal assistant that will guide me through the maze of product choices and options to curate product and services for me. While limited shelf space of a physical retail did the same in offline world, in the digital world this can happen at scale powered by social recommendations, curation and discovery. However, algorithms alone can’t do an emotional task. You will also need a human touch to make the experience of shopping engaging & rewarding.

Destination-less serendipity shopping
Shopping till now has been driven by ‘intent’ and ‘destination led’. You always go to particular destination anchored around products/ brands/ category whether on the aisles of a physical store or even a virtual store (desktop or mobile) to buy something. The next wave of shopping will be anchored around ‘User Interests & Persona’ & will be ‘Destination-Less’. Products & services of any category (physical / virtual) will align itself to a particular persona it can appeal. Say If I am lazy and postpone my decisions to last minute, my recommendations / product catalogue will change to my situation. Perhaps at that moment, any product or service that requires minimum effort shall appeal to me. For example, instant food or ready-to-eat meals, a food delivery app, a recommendation for a quick weekend getaway or even tax saving mutual funds in case I am lazily pondering over my future. Alternatively, my wife who loves ethnic and rustic stuff will not only like ethnic wear but also antique furniture, Ayurveda, Shiva Trilogy of Amish Tripathi or digital folk music. Of course we are an amalgamation of several interests & persona nuanced by culture, age and context etc. adding layers of multi -dimensional complexity with irrational behaviour. However, intersection of ‘social, mobility & big data’ will be able to gradually solve this complexity.

Also consumers will NOT go with a particular intention to shop. ‘Serendipity Shopping’ can happen on any destination (a movie theatre, a music/news app, an office setup etc.) In the digital world this can happen at scale powered by social recommendations, curation and discovery. Say you are reading a fitness article you discover not only similar articles (as the case today)  but also a fitness app like Run Keeper, a health band like Fitbit or Goqii or a Nike shoe & a gym membership. In an action thriller movie you watching you may discover the a hard core game like 'Game of War', an article on history of the Cold War or the place to buy the leather jacket the protagonist is wearing. The line between the point of inspiration and transaction will be blurred in the destination less world.

Authored By: Ankit Rawal, VP- Revenue, GreedyGame

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