Croma is one of the leading and most loved retail company in the Consumer Electronics & Appliances segment.
Here is the detailed version of the conversation:
Q1: Croma being one of the largest players in Consumer Electronics & Appliances retail, what IT strategy do you think works best to make Croma the most loved?
Any strategy that puts our customers at the centre of everything we do is bound to work. So from the very beginning, we have focussed on making the journeys smooth for them – whether by adopting Omni-channel practices ahead of the curve or setting benchmarks in CX. A couple of years ago the industry faced business challenges from unexpected quarters and we started off by reacting to them like others. But then we quickly realised that merely responding to market situations would not make the cut. Across the organisation we adopted Power of 3 – picking just 3 areas and focusing sharply on them. The Customer was on the top of that list for almost all functions of the organisation including IT. Our Customer Net Promoter Scores (NPS) are at benchmark levels and business has also been hitting new highs while several competing businesses have floundered and closed shop
Q2: Patience is a virtue your customers don’t possess. Your digital customer experience is your great weapon and the application your great differentiator. Is Digital Transformation a key to improve the customer experience? Why is it necessary to place the customer and the countless buyer journeys at the centre of your digital commerce strategy?
I would disagree that customers are not patient. They are. However, the device in their hands has opened up a realm of possibilities previously thought impossible. You can actually track where your taxi driver is on the mobile? Really? Then why do I have to call a number and speak to an IVR to track my delivery?
New customer journeys have started to happen and Digital is at the centre of that. Brick and Mortar retailers like us have to marry our physical processes with Digital making for “Phygital” journeys. The challenge for retail now is to figure out how customers would like to engage and craft journeys that delight them.
Q3: One of the words that NRF 2018 panelists and attendees repeated over and over at the conference was Personalization. How can retailers make their digital solutions personalized and deliver customized user experiences to shoppers?
The key driver for personalisation is customer data. The paradigm itself is not new to the industry. Retailers have always been endeavouring to deliver personalised offers to customers using Loyalty data. But knowledgeable customers are resisting explicitly providing more data in return for deals. Also, consumers are also not likely to be very impressed when targeted with re-marketing offers based on their product searches. So retailers are moving away from customer loyalty data and resorting to other means to gather them. Added to this is the fact that personalisation has taken on a completely different meaning. Customers look for different kinds of customisation based on where they are, their current state of mind, weather etc. For example, some customers may want to be assisted by their favourite salesperson whereas others may want to help themselves. Fortunately technology like beacons, store wi-fi, clickstream analysis, visual analytics, AI, ML etc. provide retailers with the tools to tackle such expectations. Genuine use cases are still rare but work is in progress and we should see some real wins in this area soon.
Q4: Knowing the key techniques to improve your conversion rates is vital to any eCommerce strategy. What techniques and strategies will influence eCommerce trends in 2018?
We look at our eCommerce channel differently from pure-play online players. Physical stores are at the centre of our story and we will continuously leverage the power of digital to increase our engagement with customers. We continue to see a large percentage of customers research products online but come to our stores to experience the product and the instant gratification that physical retail offers. Added to this, we also use our online channel to convert customers who may be in store for a product which may not have stock by delivering the said merchandise to them from our Distribution Centre. Having said that we use all the tools and techniques that the pure plays employ to increase conversion and we will continue to invest in the online channel to enable smoother customer journeys there.
Q5: Retailers are starting to adopt a more data-driven approach to technology. What is your take on the use of #BigData in #RetailTech?
Like any retail business, Big Data and its implications are critical to growth. We rely on Big Data for dynamically structuring our prices, understanding customer behaviour on our site, measuring sentiment on social media etc. Going forward I see visual analytics and image search as areas of high potential in retail.
Q6: Data analytics is a must have for understanding the forces driving for Retail & eCommerce business. Do you think Supply Chain Optimization improves with Data?
Definitely. The more data one has about the different elements of the supply chain, the better optimised it will be. For example data about what is selling in each store will sharpen Supply Chain’s ability to ship relevant merchandise to the store thus reducing costs pertaining to inventory holding, interest, reverse logistics, shrinkage etc. Logistics teams use data-driven algorithms to plan the most efficient routes for their deliveries. Technologies like RFID make it possible to generate and assimilate large amounts of data, if implemented correctly can significantly boost supply chain efficiencies.
Q7: Artificial intelligence (AI) is a growing trend across most industries at the moment. It can process data far more efficiently than any human ever could, and when this is combined with machine learning and other emerging technologies, it can allow us to access much deeper insights than were previously possible. Do you think this is Retail’s Adapt-or-Die moment? How is AI reshaping #RetailTech?
AI is certainly the “next big thing” or the “current big thing” depending upon your evolution cycle in the area.
Intelligent Chat BoTs that learn and respond to customer queries are the quickest way to leverage the power of AI. It has applications in everything retail from understanding customers, personalisation, better merchandising mechanisms, optimising supply chain and so on.
Q8: Robots have arrived in retail, and it turns out they’re pretty useful. Take Bossanova’s shelf-scanning robots, they circulate throughout stores and scan shelves continuously using Intel-powered computer vision technology integrated with RFID. Retailers can benefit significantly from tech like this because it frees up store associates to focus on customer service. It also makes it possible to gather inventory data all the time, not just when employees have time for it. Do you plan to invest in this kind of automation and technology in the near future?
This kind of technology works best in Hypermarkets. In our business, the fixtures on which the merchandise is kept are created keeping the customer journeys in mind – for example, TVs are hung at around 6-7 feet above ground level on a wall. Even in our Distribution Centre, the merchandise is stocked high. Finally, the technology works only with Digimarc packing which will take some more time to reach critical mass.
Q9: There are advantages to working with the same vendor over time, but too often IT fails to invite other vendors to the table to keep pricing, terms, and performance competitive. How locked in are you with your vendors?
Pretty flexible. We believe in the “horses for courses” approach. We’ll prefer to work with an existing vendor if we believe that they have the right skillsets. At the same time, we are open to working with others if they come through the right channels and can demonstrate that they have what it takes to add value to our business. My team’s schedule does not permit us to meet and hear out every vendor representative who connects on Linkedin or cold calls.
Q10: Which new tech trend do you think will not yield the kind of value it is expected from it?
Any technology that has become a trend inherently has value – however, what the organisation finally derives from it depends upon its internal culture. Often times individual departments fall for the hype, sidestep the IT policies and directly invest in “digital” solutions for their area of operations. Having a good CIO/CTO at the helm is a great way to drive value for technology investments.
Q11: Any advice or key learning that you may want to share with the fellow CIO/CDOs to achieve #DigitalSuccess in their business?
My learning has been that every technology has a time, needs to solve an actual problem and needs a certain amount of hype before it will be adopted in large numbers.
Q12: What should the “I” in “CIO” signify?
I profusely thank Ranjit, for his time and insights. Leadership in times today is about sharing information to build a better world.
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