Rupak Agarwal

C2 COMMERCE – FUTURE OF RETAILING

Brick and mortar retailing and today’s e-commerce will become click and mortar in ‘C2 commerce,’ writes Rupak Agarwal*, an alumnus of IIM Bangalore, who is the business head at Godrej Properties Ltd.

E-commerce is redefining online shopping for Indian consumers. Brick and mortar retailers are bearing the brunt of this seismic change in the way you shop today. So what does 2016 and beyond look like? Well, it will be click and mortar in the new era of what I would call ‘C2 commerce,’ or consumer-centric commerce. Technology, the biggest disruptor of retail today, will become the biggest enabler of retail tomorrow.

Imagine shopping just the day before proceeding for a long vacation. You browse various websites, check trends on Facebook and zero in on a few dresses. You then launch a video conference with the sales person from the shop where you bought a dress the last time. He shows you your chosen dresses superimposing them on your image in 3D using augmented realty and you choose a few dresses. You now toggle across to research customer reviews, send your photos in the new dress to a few friends over social media and get their views and check prices. You find the same dress cheaper in another store and order them for pick-up, not from the store you ordered just now but a pick-up option from a branch of the same store.

As you enter this store, the sales associate armed with an iPad greets you by name and walks you to the dressing room stocked with your online purchases. He has your purchase history from another branch store where you shopped a year back and has got an idea of your preferences from your social media and shows you some matching additional accessories; you send videos to a few friends and select two of these items.

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You scan the bar codes on your mobile and find that one of them is available for a cheaper price in another store. The other one you would prefer a size smaller. The sales associate quickly matches price for the first item and promises home delivery for the second item in the correct size in two hours.

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You reach home and decide on one of the five items you picked up; you drop in at one of the 5,000 drop-off points set up by this retailer in local stores the next day just before going on your holiday and within hours your get the refund on your digital wallet.

Sounds too futuristic? But it may not be too far away. Yes, today’s brick and mortar and e-commerce will become tomorrow’s click and mortar. Retailers will realise that to stay ahead digital and physical spaces have to complement each other to reduce costs, increase sales and deliver the kind of personalisation unheard of today.

Retailers tomorrow will have to catch prospective customers, follow you as you move from one channel to another and from one device to another across all five stages (research, selection, transaction, delivery and customer care) of your purchase cycle to give you a seamless shopping experience. Retailers will have to continuously measure your online and offline movement behaviour and enable you to purchase, offering lots of localised information.

Is this going to be easy? Absolutely not. But retailers who understand this disruptive innovation early enough, prepare for this frequently enough and implement these innovations broadly will stay ahead of the race.

Let’s look at some international examples. Crate and Barrel, a US retail chain specialising in houseware, furniture and home accessories, has understood cross device behaviour and has enabled saving information of your purchase on their app across web, smartphone and tablet so that you can access information across multiple devices and browsers and pick up from wherever you left in your purchase process on the previous device.

Oasis, a UK fashion retailer, has equipped its sales staff with iPads to give you instant information on product and availability and when an item is out of stock, place online orders on your behalf. Similarly if you are purchasing online from your home and find an item out of stock, you can use its ‘seek and send’ service. The retailer gets you the product and ships it to you or gives you the pick-up option as well. It has also set up a network of over 6,000 drop-off points in local stores including grocery and convenient stores where you can return items you purchased but no longer want.

Nordstrom, the US fashion retailer allows you to instantly buy items featured in Instagram. Store staff constantly monitors social media trends and items popular there are given prominence in the showrooms. The “kerb side collect” feature allows you to remotely order any product online and it is available for you to collect outside the store an hour later; and with mobile checkout, you don’t need to stand in queues.

There are many such examples from abroad, but let us look at developments in India. Snapdeal has tied up with The Mobile Store and when you order using this service, the mobile gets delivered to your home from the nearest TMS within two hours with the person delivering it doing the installation, demonstration and activation. You can even return it to the nearest TMS outlet. Snapdeal is in the process of tying up with other chains like Michelin for tyres, Luminous for inverters and batteries, Shoppers Stop for fashion products, and brands like Nike, Fab India and Metro. It recently launched a platform called “Janus “which will allow you to discover products online and order with faster local fulfillment executed by offline retailers.

Similarly, most of the traditional big players have realised the future is C2 commerce and have planned big investments in ‘omni-channel experience. The Future Group is enabling you to have a single view of its many brands across physical and digital channels and recently announced a tie-up with Hybris technology for the omni-channel experience. Croma has started delivering orders placed online before 2 pm on the same day through its nearest store across 16 cities.

Madura Fashions is enabling store pick-up and return for orders placed online at its e commerce site trendin.com. Shopper’s Stop is gearing up for C2 commerce enabling a seamless experience across neighbourhood stores, online purchase through its e commerce site, seeing trends through Facebook pages, viewing tutorials through its YouTube channel and shopping at airports.

I think with this digital wave, we are not far away from C2 commerce. Even the smallest of companies will be able to engage with customers directly, no matter where you are, what you are doing or what device you are using. The future is all about engage, experience and enable.
*Views expressed here are personal.