Table of contents
Digitization isn’t new, consumer behaviour is not changing, it’s adapting. Everyone still wants to consider products, compare prices, and/or get offers and recommendations and ultimately buy.
We’ve been hearing about the tech-savvy consumer who wants hyper-personalization and a seamless experience across channels since way before the pandemic. What’s new then?
We’ve reached the next retail frontier - where online penetration of retail is expected to reach 10.7% by 2024 compared with 4.7% in 2019. In the first half of 2021, e-commerce accounted for nearly a third of several electronic categories, almost half of smartphones sold, and about a fifth of all apparel sales in India.
The digital retail frontier is not uniform. The Indian retail market is largely unorganized. However, the organized Indian retail market has increased by 50% between 2012 and 2020 to its current value of nearly 12% of total retail volume.
The digitization of the unorganized retail space is still a few years ahead but organised retail is moving leaps and bounds in the race to digitize every part of the value chain.
Sure, digitization was accelerated thanks to the pandemic. But now that we’re reaching an endemic stage, traditional brick-and-mortar is picking up pace too. Footfalls in Indian malls, for instance, are at 80-85% of pre-COVID-19 levels, and sales are already at pre-pandemic levels and will witness a 10-12% growth in footfalls in the coming quarters.
The consumer experience imperative
The savviest retailers have spent years creating omnichannel strategies that blend physical and online to engage consumers in the channel of their choosing. Covid-19’s impact on consumer behaviour has reshuffled the deck - in-person interaction has dramatically been altered and superseded by digital engagement.
A few years ago, it was theorized that omnichannel customers were going to be much more valuable than single-channel customers; the last two years of the pandemic have given enough data and insight to confirm that theory. Omnichannel customers shop 1.7 times more than single-channel shoppers.
As channels blur, retailers need to rethink traditional measures of productivity and what a good consumer experience looks like. With one in three shoppers expecting same-day delivery, retailers need to compete with the giants and nimble start-ups in the realm of consumer experience.
The modern shopper isn't just browsing anymore - she’s picking sides. In a paradigm where loyalty is short-lived and experience trumps cost, retailers will be on their toes to keep innovating.
Building futuristic in-store experiences
How can brick-and-mortar stores lure shoppers back over their thresholds?
Online shopping websites and apps often present a range of recommendations based on the shoppers’ personal preferences. This can be replicated in-store with a little help from the core fintech capabilities - using artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret real-time and historical data to optimize messaging to ensure it is highly relevant.
Target, one of the largest discount retailers in the US, has been using AI to offer contextual products. For instance, the AI noticed that women in their second trimester of pregnancy purchased unscented lotion - Target gained this insight and used it to personalize messaging and create relevant offers.
The global Mobile Point-of-Sale (mPOS) market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.99% between 2021 and 2031, poised to be worth around 293.1 bn USD by the end of that period. The rise in the adoption of mPOS terminals will mean that biometrics and other ways of seamless authentication will become commonplace. And this fits, right into the idea of building a frictionless in-store customer experience.
Amazon Go, for example, utilizes cameras, image recognition, and sensors to scan the purchased items by a customer and automatically charge it to their Amazon account.
That also brings to the fore the slow but steady rise in the adoption of self-service and checkout-free stores. More retailers are likely to embrace this as it addresses a customer pain point - long queues. Additionally, reducing the check-out floor space provides larger square footage for merchandising.
Self-checkout and Buy-Online-Pick up-In-Store (BOPIS) might indicate a zero reliance on assistance. And while that type of consumer behaviour is sticky and one could say the tides have turned, it’s not entirely the case just yet.
Shopping in-store is still an activity; something people want to do as a way to kill time during the weekend. However, instead of browsing rails and shelves, imagine if shoppers can pre-book an appointment with their personal shopper. These personal shoppers will be able to use technology to improve the experience with assistance from smart shopping devices - this intersection of technology and human touch can build the phygital (physical+digital) bridge and provide a unique experience that offers the best of both worlds.
Additionally, retailers can provide instant access to essential details about the customer’s purchase history and preferences at their fingertips. This means the ability to mimic the online purchase experience, in-store - creating upselling opportunities and increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The customer journey
One of the only advantages of a brick-and-mortar store over online shopping is the tangible experiences. Shoppers want to see, touch and take away items, and that’s something only physical stores can offer.
How can we contextualize customer journeys then? Stores need to be set up for an enjoyable experience - carefully curated signage and information, creative in-store marketing visuals, open and spacious layouts and so on. Online shopping is convenient because you can filter exactly for your needs. In a brick-and-mortar store, setting up a kiosk, for instance, where shoppers can see the full product offering, the location of the item, and any out-of-stock items, can bring the online experience in-store.
Payments - not just the last frontier
Retailers need to quickly adapt to changing payments behaviour. We’ve been spoiled for choice by a plethora of Buy-Now-Pay-Later (BNPL) options at checkout. More often than not, consumers prefer to shop online because of the convenience of various payment options including no-cost EMIs, pay later, credit lines and of course, a plethora of BNPL.
Retailers need to ensure that they’re able to offer the same, if not more diverse set of payment options at the checkout counter:
Retail counter: Store assistants or managers can help customers apply for financing at this point.
In-store kiosks or tablets. In-store kiosks or tablets enable customers to apply for financing in a semi-private manner, with assistance.
On their mobile. The most private way to apply for financing and possibly the most convenient.
Many traditional retailers are actively embracing the idea of connected commerce. Making stores more experiential, innovative, and reinventive is at the heart of competing with online stores to be first-in-line for consumer loyalty. And a large part of the overall stickiness is the secret sauce of acquiring, delighting and retaining shoppers.
Think about it - there could be numerous unprecedented economic, social, and climate crises the world will witness. And consumers will continue to adapt to changing times, but the only thing that remains constant? People will always gravitate toward the cheapest and the most convenient option.
As a retailer, you want to ensure that you’re either the most economical or the one that’s giving aspirational customers the benefit of frictionless credit. And this is where BNPL shines.
What’s better? Retailers needn’t turn to banks to handle complex compliances to offer new credit products. Instead, they can simply partner with FinTechs that offer an end-to-end lending stack. Be it compliances, capital, or underwriting, leaving it all to a third party leaves the retail brands with the time and resources to focus on their core business offerings.
At FinBox, for instance, our lending stack brings together workflows, compliance integrations, risk management, and lender integrations in the form of a simple drop-in widget. In essence, we’ve done the work that goes behind the scenes when offering a financial product. The brands of the future will do well to be more like banks and we’re doing our bit to make that happen - one technology innovation at a time.