Retail takes the technology route to improve services and drive growth

Prakash Balasubramanian, VP, Retail Consulting, Cognizant, explains the need for retail brands to embrace IT for accelerating growth and delivering superior consumer experience.
IT, a potential aspect for better retailing
With exponential increase in globalization of retailing in terms of variables such as supply chain management, point of sale (POS), administrative management, enterprise mobility and omni-channel gateways, it is important for retailers to deploy more advanced retail IT systems to gain competitive edge.
In a conversation with Retailer Media, Prakash Balasubramanian, VP, Retail Consulting, Cognizant, explains the need for retail brands to leverage IT for accelerating growth and delivering superior consumer experience. He says that IT has the potential to change the face of retail in India.
Explain the core services you provide?
Cognizant's Retail practice leverages its deep domain, consulting, and enterprise architecture expertise to deliver competitive advantage to supermarkets, department stores, specialty premium retailers, and large mass-merchandise discounters across the grocery, general merchandise, apparel, home and office, and consumer electronics segments. Our value proposition is to help retailers solve complex business challenges and find new opportunities through innovation, technology, and benchmarked processes. We provide comprehensive business solutions around supply chain and digital transformation, while simultaneously supporting retailers' business objectives in areas spanning merchandising, store operations, business initiatives (such as internationalization), M&A, and business change management. 
In addition to services in the areas of consulting (business, process, operations and IT consulting), technology (application development, systems integration, and testing) and outsourcing (application maintenance, IT infrastructure, and business process services), we also enable retailers to harness SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) and other disruptive digital technologies for business value. 
Why is it better for retailers to outsource technology department to a third-party solution provider?
We are in the midst of a once-in-a-decade shift in the technology landscape. More than ever, retailers are grappling with the dual mandate to drive not just better efficiencies, but also greater innovation for the needs of tomorrow. Retailers are increasingly moving from merely incremental levels of performance efficiency to building new digital business capabilities. 
In this context, clients recognize that they often do not have in-house capabilities in all emerging areas and are looking to deepen relationships with partners such as Cognizant who have a deep understanding of their business, operating model and technology landscape, and have invested in the digital opportunity.
There is a growing demand for our services, particularly in areas of modernizing supply chains as well as digital and ecommerce engagements. We are helping many other retailers around the world exceed customer expectations with the latest digital technologies. For example, for a large retailer in Southeast Asia, we are implementing a digital e-commerce platform to deliver a seamless omni channel shopping experience for their customers. This will allow more efficient retail management and a better understanding of customer preferences and purchasing history. We are partnering with a major U.S. clothing manufacturer to redesign their stores. And we are supporting a leading U.S. discount retailer in using the cloud to deliver superior services in its 8,000 stores.
What were the challenges your client(s) faced before you provided them solutions?
While cost and operational efficiencies have been the most common challenges, today, we increasingly observe retailers coming to us with specific business-driven challenges. For instance, a global general merchandise retailer approached us with a large transformation program to enable their omnichannel fulfillment vision across a network of more than 40 distribution centers and a large transportation network. Cognizant led the entire program for them with a business outcome-based model. Similarly, a leading UK retailer approached us with a vision to become the leading omnichannel retailer. What they needed was a partner who could spell out a roadmap and strategy to achieve that vision. Closer home, we have the example of a leading department store chain-among the first few to branch out into online and mobile channels-that came looking for a comprehensive omnichannel strategy and a roadmap for execution. In sum, clients today are looking for partners who help not only define strategy, but also drive business transformation.
How have their operations improved with your services and solutions?
For the general merchandise retailer, we enabled considerable increase in distribution center (DC) throughput and capacity to handle about 80% increase in SKUs. The program management model helped the retailer to introduce metric-based portfolio management for delivery, manage supply chain technology investments, and measure, govern and improve program outcomes and KPIs. For the UK retailer, we were able to define an aspirational customer digital experience through in-store, mobile, and social channels. We also helped them implement a set of systems and processes that provide an integrated view of customer, order, inventory, product and payments. In the case of the Indian retailer, we helped them formulate an omnichannel strategy and select commercial packages for the ecommerce, order management and warehouse management functions. This has enabled them to progress on their omnichannel journey with best-in-class technology and solutions to support their business objectives. 
What are the latest technology trends in the Indian retail market?
Globally, we find that digital technologies and omnichannel commerce are among the key trends in the retail market. Seamless shopping experience-across channels such as online, mobile and stores-is a key expectation of consumers in these markets. While omnichannel commerce has yet to gather momentum in India, we find ecommerce and mobile commerce at the heart of key shopper trends across urban and rural markets. Omnichannel tops the list when it comes to aspirational goals for Indian retailers. 
In terms of technology trends, mobile adoption leads the pack. Mobile internet usage and adoption of mobile commerce is showing a sharp upward trend, quite evident in the mcommerce strategies being adopted by online retailers. Mobile apps are posing a tough competition to mobile websites, and in some cases such as Myntra, even to desktop websites. Closely following this trend is the rise of digital wallets such as Paytm and Mobikwik for online and mobile payments. Another key technology trend is the use of customer relationship management (CRM) solutions to drive personalized and targeted marketing campaigns. Personalized, in-store marketing via mobile vouchers is also finding takers in the Indian retail market. Several brands such as Peter England, Nike and Raymond have been using this method of targeted marketing.
Who are your clients in India and globally?
In the U.S., we work with 6 of the top 10 retailers. In the UK, we work with 5 of the top 10 retailers. In India, we work with one of the largest general merchandise retailers, a leading apparel brand, and leading department store chains. We are also working with the India arms of global retail and consumer packaged goods companies.  
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