The retail industry in India comprises of over 15 million retailers including small, medium and big; and both traditional and modern trade are feeling the heat. The retail sector has witnessed significant disruption over the past few months due to coronavirus induced lockdown. The preventive lockdown period caused an irreversible dent in the Indian retail sector when non-grocery/ food & beverage/ hospitality sector reported 80- 100% reduction in sales.
This shift caused in consumer behavior due to COVID-19 has accelerated the rate at which retailers are adapting technology to improve their sales. Brands are relying on cutting-edge technological innovations like conversational commerce, contactless sales and enhancing phygital shopping experiences to stay relevant in times of social distancing.
The general observation is that COVID-19 outbreak has led to a dramatic shift in mindsets of both retailers and customers. And from what it looks like, the trouble is likely to continue for some time to come.
Building capabilities to leverage the phygital resources (technologies, new ways of working, business model) furlough of in-store staff members, shift in consumer behavior and disrupted supply chains are observed to be some of the initial challenges that retailers are undergoing.
Customers are turning more price-sensitive and safety-focused when it comes to shopping in times of COVID. As per a survey conducted by Easyrewardz, 75% consumers said they would prefer shopping from home without visiting store.
The businesses are likely to continue to witness a significant impact in the upcoming 9-12 months. However, with more resilience, adaptation and agility, retailers, can survive this phase. Retailers are now stepping up their efforts to respond to the pandemic. To survive and alleviate the fallout the businesses must revisit their business strategies to reassure customers, manage constraints and create contingency plans for disruption. They need to turn to innovative technological solutions to drive business continuity. The most relevant and quickly adaptable enablers in the current times are:
Phygital Shopping Experiences
Considering the shift in consumer behavior, the retail industry is standing at a time where the Phygital ecosystem will be instrumental in shaping the future of retail. Phygital allows retail companies to explore, innovate and create a new successful business model. Adopters need to keep an open mind and focus on improving their respective businesses.
AI-Powered Conversational Commerce
Just like it happens in every crisis, the ones who are flexible and quickly adapt to the changing tides,survive!Brands can utilize this time and opportunity to become active on online chat-based and social platforms, and leverage technologies like conversational commerce and AI to stay connected with customers and drive profitable customer behavior.
Building holistic Phygital shopping experience
‘I believe that technologies that facilitate an easy convergence of both online and offline shopping can help retailers to deliver seamless phygital shopping experience. Phygital shopping experience would support the speed and ease of the digital world incorporated with the immersive-ness (the feel-factor) and interaction of the physical world, “Soumya Chatterjee, Co-Founder & CEO, EasyRewardz
Conversational Commerce through ChatBots, WebBots can be facilitatedby using easy to implement, plug-n-play retail toolkits that would assist brands in driving offline sales through Conversational Commerce.
WhatsApp and WebBot commerce permit the store staff to contact their target customers and assist them from product discovery to delivery at customers’ doorsteps at the right time, hence offering a seamless customer experience throughout. Customers could also schedule their store visits through appointments via WhatsApp and WebBot.Retailers could connect with customers through WhatsApp or WebBot to offer some unique features like scheduled appointments, pre-made shopping lists, in-store navigation map, and contactless payments.
In a post-COVID-19 era, I expect that consumers would look for a more engaged and enhanced experience, a personalized yet creative shopping excursion that will drive people to discover and feel the product, think and help them purchase the product.
I think the global crisis has significantly accelerated the adoption rate for conversational commerce in the country as most retail brands are operating in survival mode and seeking out business continuity solutions.
With Indian internet users spending at least an hour every day on social media and communication platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram and others, WhatsApp is evolving from a messaging platform to a more personalized space to conduct business. More than 40% of Indian entities have either adopted or are in the process of adopting conversational platforms, according to areport by Gartner. A market-survey done by Easyrewardz also reinstated the growing need for brands to adopt personalized experience through conversations, it was observed that 77% of consumers prefer to shop from a brand via a chat app. To successfully survive the crisis, retail brands requisite to efficiently reach the right consumers, engaging them to make conscious purchase decisions, send customized offers, and deliver faster service.
Retail brands like BATA and GAP have implemented Conversational Commerce retail tool kits at the stores and are experiencing increased sales already. Many more brands like ORRA, UCB, Pantaloons, Unlimited (Arvind), Jack & Jones, Vero Moda, Only. are also exploring the conversational commerce strategy to provide holistic phygital shopping experience.
Future of Phygital shopping experiences
The retail sector has been dealing with different challenges right now. The pandemic has led the businesses to rethink and reimagine the whole concept of retail to cope with the new normal. To adapt to the shifted consumer behavior, manyretail brands have gone phygital in the recent months. Owing to social isolation, consumers are warming up further towards online purchases. Interestingly, the consumer base has also gained momentum with the adoption of technology among senior citizens and citizens living in rural cities.
To reinstate consumer confidence and meet their preferences as buying patterns continue to evolve, retailers are working towards incorporating ‘Phygital’ retail model. The world of phygital shopping experience has charmed India’s fast-growing companies. Technology will play a vital role in providing conscious consumers with safe shopping means along with convenience. Keeping the implementation of Phygital shopping experience which is tech-enabled and personalized at the same time, brands are focusing on building a simple yet strong content for their consumers. The buying decision of shoppers would largely depend on the kind of content they are consuming and experience they would have under the changed circumstance. Phygital will be the new normal and its timely adoption would help businesses to survive and thrive.
( Above article is based on inputs received from Soumya Chatterjee, Co-Founder & CEO, EasyRewardz)