From collecting data to becoming intelligent and from artificial to human, here are quick lessons for retailers to become smarter

Last Updated: Wed, Jun 13, 2018 19:29 hrs
Artificial Intelligence in shopping

Mumbai: In the age of the Facebook and Twitter, becoming smart may no more be an option, but a given. While the adage may sound highly cliched to the uninitiated, for the retail sector which prides itself for being the second largest employer opportunity, that statement is a pinching reality.

Be it the changing technology landscape or manouevering the terrains of business dynamics, retail businesses are expected to adapt quickly or risk getting extinct.

Ask yourself, did you not check for feedback from your friends and compare prices of that gadget that you so desperately wanted to buy during a visit to the local store? The answer for most would be a yes. A retailer may hate seeing the customer depart because a rival e-com website offers better margins, but ultimately it's the customer's call.

And customers are happy experiencing products at an offline store, but buy from an an online store at a cheaper price.

The retail industry in India is undergoing tectonic changes. While most of them can be customer oriented, it has becoming increasingly important on how they get their technologies in play to ultimately offer value to a departing customer. Offering value may not only stop a customer from leaving, but it would also open up newer opportunities for a retailer- positive reviews, cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

In the words of Kumar Rajagopalan, for retailers the concept of retailing maybe redundant, since customers were more inclined to "me-tailing".

Rajagopalan, the Chief at Retailers Association of India, was speaking around the sidelines of an event titled Retail Technology Conference (ReTechCon).

"Today, consumers expect to be recognised by retailers when they visit and be given specific offers, deals and services. It is not about retailing anymore, but about Me-tailing," he said.

Rajagopalan further adds, "this [me-tailing] is pushing retailers to give concepts that are much more technologically advanced and are focussed towards individuals."

ReTechCon, a congregation of the who's who from the retail industry with participation from leading retail brands, was deliberating the topic of 'Intelligent Retail: What is Smart'. In a fast changing digital milieu, involving digitally driven innovative ideas such as the Amazon powered Alexa and the Google Voice, smart is not an option, it is what brands are expected to be.

Kumar added "‘What is Smart?’ is a question that has been going through the minds of most retailers as it is also something that many consumers are embracing, many times intuitively. It is with the intention of helping retailers understand all that is latest that we have themed ReTechCon on the topic."

New age technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, the Internet of things may appear like mumbo-jumbo to the average customer.

But they have the power to shape conversations with customers in instances where there may be a limit to the normal human-interface. For instance an AI inspired chatbot need not limit itself to the application of delivering digital payments or daftly tackling irate customers. The use-case for AI in retail spans far- from how a burger chain interacts with its customers- maybe curiosly asking for additional toppings of Cheese- to an apparel company conversing about colors, shape in a product range.

Be rest assured that technologies such as Artificial intelligence are not rocket-science, but are as simple as "electricity", a metaphor that Ashish Chauhan, the Chief of Bombay Stock Exchange, used.

From Left to Right: Kumar Rajagopalan, Debjani Ghosh and BS Nagesh, the non-executive Vice Chairman of Shoppers Stop during the inaugural ceremony. Image Courtesy: RAI

Chouhan said, "Waves of technology will come. If you can ride them as retailers, you will be able to thrive. Focus on non-linearity it allows you to move fast. Artificial Intelligence is like electricity, it can be used in any situation. Learn how to use it and other smart technologies effectively."

"With smartness you can do many things. It's a deluge, if you do your bit, continue to evolve, you will thrive," he advised retailers.

Even as talks of crypto technologies, blockchain, CRM, ERP, Big Data blazed through the discussions, Debjani Ghosh, Nasscom's President said "We use tech words wrongly. We should really understand what they mean and what they do."

Sharing her vision of a technology based delivery to delight customers, she said, "Going forward, no single technology will have the biggest impact; It is going to be the orchestration of technologies. How do you transform the brick and mortar store with the application of data science, and how you integrate offline and online, that’s going to be the future... How do retail businesses survive the waves of disruption? Like Jeff Bezos said, keep the consumer in the centre of everything you do and you’ll be fine."

The deliberations transcended to customer intelligence, and also a roundtable on the future of technology that saw retail heads deliberate on customer privacy and managing customer data.

Besides participation from several retailers, the conference was also a hub for innovative companies such such as NetworkBay that has recently helped Croma, the retail store chain driven by the Tatas, come up with a 'Gadgets of Desire' store format.

Codenamed 'Gadgets of Desire', this Croma store allows customers to browse and shop for the entire Croma catalogue through multiple interactive screens strategically placed across the store.

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