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GenAI empowers teams, enhances efficiency across Flipkart’s operations: Ravi Krishnan, Head, Flipkart Labs

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In an exclusive interview with Express Computer, Ravi Krishnan, Head of Flipkart Labs, Flipkart, shares insights into the recent digital and technological initiatives undertaken by Flipkart and their impact on the e-commerce landscape. Krishnan delves into the company’s focus on immersive commerce, Web3 integration and GenAI, highlighting their contributions to enhancing customer experience and driving engagement. He provides concrete examples of innovative solutions developed by Flipkart Labs, emphasising the significant improvements in the e-commerce journey for Flipkart customers. Moreover, Krishnan discusses the pivotal role of customer centricity and technological innovation in maintaining competitiveness in the e-commerce industry, outlining Flipkart’s vision for the future of customer experience.

Can you share some of the recent important digital or technology initiatives your company has undertaken and their impact?

Certainly. From a Labs perspective, our focus spans four key areas. Firstly, we prioritise immersive commerce, which entails visualising products in 3D AR/VR formats. Under this umbrella, we offer various solutions such as 360-degree product views, unique room visualisation for items like refrigerators or televisions, try-on features for beauty and apparel, and a skin analyser utilising augmented reality and AI for personalised skincare recommendations.

Moving on, our second focal point revolves around Web3. We’ve adopted a centre of excellence approach in partnership with Polygon, aiming to merge blockchain and e-commerce expertise. By leveraging Polygon’s innovative platforms and continuously evolving technology, we seek to bring the benefits of Web3 to millions of shoppers, aiming for mass-market product-market fit (PMF) and enhancing customer/stakeholder utility through applications like NFT drops, immersive 3D worlds, and on-chain loyalty programs.

The third area of emphasis is metaverses, where we offer two formats – custom worlds for brands and multi-tenanted experiences during festival windows. Through partnerships with brands like Oppo and Mondelez, we create immersive 3D environments where users can engage with brand identities and products in a game-like setting. Additionally, our Flipverse platform hosts various brands simultaneously, providing users with gamified experiences and interactive challenges.

Finally, we delve into generative AI, exploring cutting-edge applications in image, video, and other domains. While some applications like LLM have achieved mass-market PMF, we continue to innovate in areas like generative AI to drive further advancements and explore new possibilities.

Can you provide an example of an innovative solution developed by Flipkart Labs in the spectrum of 3D, GenAI or Web3 that significantly improves the e-commerce experience for Flipkart customers?

I’ll talk about 3D AR first. In terms of widespread influence, this technology has had a profound impact on the shopping experience. Currently, we have integrated AR functionalities across a significant portion of our catalogue, particularly in categories such as electronics, fashion, beauty, and furniture. Insights gleaned from user research, along with surveys conducted by both our organisation and third-party entities, underscore the growing demand for immersive product visualisation in e-commerce. For instance, Google’s survey revealed that over 60 percent of respondents prefer to visualise a product in 360 or experience it through AR before making a purchase. Similarly, McKinsey’s study focused on the beauty segment, indicating that 45 percent of users seek engagement with products through such means.

We’ve observed tangible on-platform engagement metrics that validate these findings. Up to 40 percent of buyers interact with products using the 360-view and “view in the room” features before completing a purchase, signalling heightened engagement and bolstered trust in the shopping journey. Moreover, these immersive experiences have translated into improved purchase conversion rates and reduced return rates, attributable to enhanced clarity and confidence among consumers.

Shifting gears to the blockchain realm, Flipkart has emerged as a trailblazer in web3 adoption. With nearly 3.5 million users onboarded to our wallet and actively participating in NFT minting via various programs, we’ve witnessed a remarkable surge in user engagement. Brands leveraging our platform have reported a reduction in customer acquisition costs and an uptick in reward redemption rates. These early indicators underscore the potential of our platform to revolutionise customer engagement strategies.

Through gamified experiences and a dynamic NFT marketplace, brands can foster deeper connections with customers, driving user engagement and loyalty. By facilitating direct engagement between users and brands, our platform enables a novel C2C channel for customer acquisition, complementing traditional e-commerce channels.

What other tangible business benefits and return on investment (ROI) have you observed from deploying these technologies, beyond decreasing customer acquisition costs?

If we dissect the consumer shopping journey, we can discern several key areas of focus. Firstly, there’s engagement, which pertains to the ability to connect with consumers from both brand and seller perspectives. Secondly, there’s shopping conversion, where the goal is to stimulate intent and drive actual sales. Lastly, there’s efficiency, which involves maximising return on investment (ROI).

While it’s still early days for these technologies, making precise attributions to Flipkart’s growth is challenging. However, we’ve observed their impact across various stages of the consumer funnel.

On the engagement front, initiatives like Fire Drops have shown remarkable engagement, with millions of users engaging with sellers and brands in diverse capacities. Similarly, ventures like meta and virtual worlds have attracted significant traffic, fostering brand perception and enhancing customer engagement.

Moving to the conversion phase, decision aids such as 360-degree views and virtual trials have proven to boost purchase conversion rates, indicating their efficacy in facilitating buying decisions.

Also in terms of ROI as well, rewards programs like those associated with Fire Drops have demonstrated tangible returns, further underscoring the value of these technologies in driving consumer engagement and sales.

Which strategies, positions, or initiatives do you believe have played a pivotal role in driving profitability and maintaining competitiveness in the e-commerce industry as the head of Flipkart Labs?

I’ll step back a bit and broaden the scope of the discussion beyond labs because it might be a bit limiting. From Flipkart’s perspective, there are two key elements that we believe give us a competitive edge, and these principles are integral to how we operate, including at labs. First and foremost is customer centricity, which is deeply ingrained in our values. Our values, represented by ABC, with “C” standing for customer centricity, underscore the importance we place on our customers. In all our decisions, we prioritise the customer experience. What’s particularly impactful, in my opinion, is our approach to understanding customers across different categories. We recognise that consumer behaviour varies significantly across different product categories. For example, shopping for a television is vastly different from shopping for beauty products. So, we tailor our solutions based on insights specific to each category. This informs everything from product development and technology to category management strategies. Our innovations are often rooted in these insights. Take, for instance, the skin analyser we discussed earlier.

Through user surveys, we discovered that skincare purchases are deeply personal but often uncomfortable to discuss openly. This insight drove us to develop a solution that provides personalised guidance using AI, addressing a real user need. It’s not just about leveraging technology for the sake of it; it’s about solving genuine user problems. The second pillar of our approach is a relentless focus on technology and innovation. Our mission at Flipkart is to deliver value to all stakeholders through technological innovation. Technology isn’t just a tool for us; it’s the driving force behind everything we do. By constantly exploring how technology can enhance the value we offer to our customers, sellers, and ecosystem partners, we stay at the forefront of innovation in the marketplace. These two guiding principles—customer centricity and a commitment to technological innovation—shape our daily operations at Flipkart.

What is your vision for the future of the e-commerce industry in terms of customer experience?

The way users shop online is going to undergo a significant transformation in the future, in my view. Technology will play a pivotal role in reshaping this experience. We’re already witnessing the emergence of various applications, from generative AI to other cutting-edge technologies. I believe the future of shopping will be characterised by a much smoother and personalised experience compared to what we have today. Users will not only have control over what they see on the platform but also how they interact with it. This personalised touch will be key. Web3 and metaverse experiences will likely lead this transformation, making online shopping more immersive and engaging. Unlike the past, where shopping felt more like a chore, a mere utility, it will evolve into a more experiential activity. Similar to how people visit malls not just for shopping but for the overall experience, online shopping will offer a similar immersive experience. The integration of spatial computing, including augmented reality, will add another dimension to online shopping, blurring the lines between the physical and virtual worlds. Platforms like live video shopping are gaining traction, offering a novel way to combine shopping with an interactive experience. Overall, the future of online shopping will be immersive, personalised, and deeply engaging, seamlessly blending the real and virtual worlds. While the exact path forward is uncertain, I envision that shopping seven to eight years from now will be radically different from what we experience today.

Do you anticipate that shopping experiences online will evolve to resemble applications like Second Life or Metaverse, which have long been established in other contexts?

So, envisioning the exact format of what’s to come is a challenge, to be honest, because it requires a convergence of various factors. Many pieces need to fall into place for this vision to materialise.

Firstly, the technology must progress in the right direction, and its adoption costs must become more affordable for mass implementation. Hardware development also plays a crucial role in supporting this journey. Also, there are considerations regarding privacy laws, legal aspects, and compliance requirements that need to be addressed. It’s a multifaceted challenge that requires the entire ecosystem to collaborate and align. Therefore, it’s difficult to definitively outline the future landscape.

However, we can anticipate various evolving immersive experiences. While it may not precisely resemble a metaverse, we can expect to see an expansion in the ways users interact with shopping platforms and how brands engage with customers. There will likely be a proliferation of new avenues and surfaces for engagement, offering a more dynamic and interactive shopping experience. This is the trajectory I foresee, acknowledging that predicting beyond this scope might be beyond my expertise.

Have you identified any areas of improvement in terms of technology, and if so, what measures have you considered for enhancing those technologies?

Each technology follows its own maturity curve, presenting unique opportunities for advancement. Take 3D technology, for instance, which is among the most mature technologies we focus on. Our emphasis here lies in reducing the cost of creation to broaden accessibility for a larger pool of sellers. Currently, while there is some level of automation in 3D creation pipelines, it’s not entirely automated. This means there’s still a designer cost associated with building these models, making the return on investment (ROI) unfavourable unless it involves a top-selling SKU. Therefore, one of our primary goals is to significantly reduce costs through automation, making it feasible for a broader range of sellers and products to adopt 3D.

Another area where notable progress has been made in the past 12 months is in optimising the size of both 3D assets and the software development kits (SDKs) used to render them. This optimisation ensures that 3D assets remain visible even on low-end smartphones, addressing a critical challenge, particularly in a market like India. We aim to deliver an experience that is accessible across our entire user base without compromising performance or causing app crashes on lower-end devices. To achieve this, we’ve developed custom compression pipelines and viewers tailored for efficiency in memory usage on smartphones.

These are ongoing areas of improvement for us, and while we’ve made strides in both aspects, there’s still considerable room for scalability. Our vision is to enable every product in our catalogue to be visualised in 3D, and we’re committed to advancing toward that future through continuous innovation and refinement.

Are you currently leveraging the benefits of AI in your daily enterprise operations?

Yeah, GenAI is a significant area of focus for us. We have multiple teams leveraging GenAI for various applications. For instance, in my team, we’re utilising GenAI for 3D model creation, just one of its many applications. Additionally, we introduced Flippi, our conversational assistant bot, last year, which remains active on the platform today. You can interact with Flippi by swiping on the homepage. This launch represents just one aspect of our broader adoption of GenAI, which spans customer support, supply chain, product visualisation, image enhancement, search, and more. Recently, we launched our multimodal search quality, further extending the utility of GenAI within our operations.

At Flipkart, GenAI is integrated into various aspects of our daily operations, rather than being treated as a separate initiative. It’s a tool that permeates throughout our organisation, empowering teams to innovate and improve efficiency across the board.

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