Omnichannel Strategy: Combining the best of online and offline

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Omnichannel strategy: Combining the best of online and offline
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Firms such as Big Basket, Grofers and Myntra are trying to create an ecosystem where customers can shop for almost anything without having to step out. But some startups are trying to develop technologies to alleviate brick-and-mortar firms’ most critical pain and friction points to fight off the online-only shopping model.

Myntra, Amazon and Grofers market their online platforms by saying that a customer’s time and effort is not wasted in waiting in line at the billing counter. Customers around the world have been complaining about long waiting lines at retail stores and the ability to avoid the checkout lines was online shopping’s biggest value proposition.

But retail giants and some startups feel that the physical activity of shopping is a fulfilling experience and many times essential, and hence do not believe in the notion that shopping will completely move online. For that reason, several retail giants such as Future Group and Ikea have announced the opening of new brick-and-mortar stores. Even online-fashion retailer Myntra is investing in offline stores.

But these new stores will entail a different kind of shopping experience than what has been status quo. And helping them in their quest are startups such as Perpule and Wagonfly.

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Perpule offers products to solve the pain points for grocery stores and supermarkets. It has designed a self-checkout system where a customer can discover, access offers and get other product information on an app. The customer can also scan the barcode and pay for the items through the app itself. Saketh BSV, co-founder of Perpule, said that by making products easier to find and removing the need to wait at the billing counter, the app significantly reduces the time spent doing groceries.

Wagonfly caters to the apparel market. Its version of self-checkout includes a kiosk where a customer has to place a shopping bag and then a display populates all the items in the bag. The customer then proceeds to choose a payment method, pays and then leaves. “Online shopping is good for consumer goods such as electronics or food but with clothes, it’s a very personalised experience,” said Raghavendra Prasad, co-founder of Wagonfly. Prasad believes that enhancing the physical experience of shopping will help phase out the desire to go online for every kind of shopping.

Both Perpule and Wagonfly also offer their retail clients real-time data and analysis on customer behaviour which retailers can use to personalise offers and experiences to improve upon their loyalty programmes. They say that understanding customer behaviour in stores can enhance a retailer’s overall omnichannel strategy.

Wagonfly and Perpule agreed that their and similar technologies will become widespread only through time. But they represent a new segment in omnichannel. Omnichannel initially entailed having a presence on the web and integrating that with offline stores or touch points. Now, for offline retailers, it also includes providing an enhanced experience at brick-and-mortar stores.

Kumar Rajagopalan, chief executive officer, Retailers Association of India, which is a lead trade association representing an entire gamut of retailers, said that technology has always shaped brick-and-mortar retail and retailers have understood the potential for newer technologies and their omnichannel strategies reflect the same.

However,online players have also been enhancing their platforms. Their approach is to use technology to bring in the benefits of offline shopping, online. Myntra, for example, introduced augmented reality on its platform through which customers can digitally try on clothes, makeup, and accessories. Online grocery stores, on the other hand, are promising deliveries in a few hours rather than days.

These developments in which online and offline are trying to emulate the salient benefits of each other by using technology will thin the lines between the two. However, Rajagopal says that while finally all companies will adopt an omnichannel strategy, a company may choose to focus more on online or offline depending on what kind of business models they have. In this scenario, companies would look at startups like Perpule and Wagonfly as being key to their omnichannel strategy. As Satish Meena, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said, sketchy implementation of an omnichannel strategy by some companies led to rejection by customers and ensured the strategy’s failure. But some companies have nonetheless decided to go ahead with their own approach. Notably, Decathlon and Mytntra introduced similar self-checkout systems, as offered by Perpule and Wagonfly, at their stores. But both companies said that they were still experimenting with the concept.

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