How technology is helping India's fashion retailers fulfil their true potential?

Many retailers believe that connecting with customers via apps is an easy solution and that apps are cost-effective to build. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.
Retail Technology

There is no overstating the fact that technology is playing an important part in all aspects of our daily lives. Shoppers’ adoption of the same through the internet and mobile apps has sky rocketed. No wonder then that in this scenario every retailer is trying to figure outhow to be present on tech-backed platforms to stay relevant and connected with shoppers.

Look at one of the biggest disruptors in retail – e-commerce. E-commerce ventures across categories and business modelshave one thing in common: heavy investment in technology.They have established a strong connection with their shoppers using technology and now enjoy the ease of reaching out to them at any instant, regardless of where the customers may be. In this rapidly evolving and dynamic eco-system, therefore, how does a brick-and-mortar store respond to changing customer preferences with technology?

Misnomers and the reality
Many retailers believe that connecting with customers via apps is an easy solution and that apps are cost-effective to build. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The reality is that one needs to have a deep understanding of technology to build the right kind of product that fits the market. You need to hire the right tech folks and once the product is ready, it takes a lot of resources to market and make it popular with the consumers. Added to this are daily technology maintenance costs and the need for constant upgrades. Retailers also need to understand that not every player big and small can have their own app and expect it to be embraced by customers. Customers don’t feel the need to download so many apps on their devices and clutter the memory on their phones.

Additionally, many business owners believe that being so heavily tech-reliant is just a phase in the lives of consumers and like all other fads, this too shall pass. This is another misnomer that needs to be checked with alacrity. Technology is here to stay and now that the eco-system as a whole has begun to appreciate the benefits that it brings to all stakeholders, it will be an integral part of retail for all time to come.

As for the retailers who feel that they can set up stores online on various marketplaces and use their tech infrastructure, there are some words of caution. The biggest investment is setting up and running one’s own online store. Going online also takes a lot of effort to catalogue all products and manage a separate inventory. It is way better to have technology designed specifically to help increase footfalls and conversions into one’s own, existing retail store where all prior investment has already been made.

So how do brick-and-mortar stores adopt technology and continue to grow?
My primary advice to physical retail store owners is to keep their business fundamentals strong: Great products, perceived value of goods and corresponding pricing, customer service for loyal customers. These are the cornerstones on which any successful business venture is built and their importance cannot be undermined, no matter what the prevailing market trends may be.

Secondly, I would say, it is imperative today to embrace technology and be a part of the ecosystem rather than staying out of it. It’s not advisable toinvest in one’s own technology as it’s a very complicated and expensive game. Instead, retailers should look to finding a technology partner whom can help them solve the O2O (Online to Offline) puzzle.

O2O tech partners’ business models are a 100% focussed towards bringing in footfalls into stores and not away from them. They don’t coax brick-and-mortar players to sell online or catalogue products as this takes away footfalls from one’s retail store.O2O partners, instead, help to enhance the experience offered to store customers. They enable physical stores to be discovered on a mobile app and allow for shoppers to know of their existence, their collections and what the store really represents. Location-based discovery makes it critical for any brick-and-mortar store to be located online. This is because most shoppers first open their phones and then decide where to go shopping.

Leading O2O players also incentivise customers to visit physicaloutlets. Retail shopping will always have an edge thanks to its touch-and-feel advantage.However, it still requires physical exertion for a person to go to a store. The tech partner communicates to shoppers on their mobile phones about special offers, special deals and discounts and broadcasts new collectionson behalf of retail players. They also act as the channel which helps incentive and deliver cashbacks to shoppers so they stay loyal to a brand store.They are also able to offer the hyperlocal benefit to stores by broadcastingtheir offers and new collections to shoppers as they walk near the store onto their phones.Moreover, they help brick-and-mortar retailers better understand consumer behaviour through data and analytics solutions. Business owners can gauge what customers searched for and where they found it etc.It is also advisable for retailers to avoid solutions which make them do home deliveries. Home deliveries are a need for food orders,not for retail shopping. Customers should visit the store to experience the entire range of products and establish a first-hand connect with the brand.

In a nutshell, if you closely look at it, the customer buying behaviour is fast changing with technology. Within this rapidly evolving environment, brick-and-mortar stores need to adapt fast and make use of the right partner to unlock more opportunities. O2O partners can help attract more focused shoppers to retail stores, making them repeats and can ensure that shoppersare able to communicate with the brand and the store at their convenience viaa medium they are always holding in their hands – their mobile phones.Fashalot is one such enabler for fashion brick and mortar stores. 

Authored By: Amit Sharma, Co-Founder & CTO, Fashalot

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