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P&G’s ‘Smart Basket’ AI-powered engine enables 20 lakh kirana stores serve customers based on real-time needs

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Data is considered to be one of the most powerful elements across industries, holding untapped potential to understand consumer and customer behavior. This holds true especially with the valuable Kirana stores who are adopting newer technologies and tech-driven solutions for a seamless business.

Nikunj Jain, CIO and Digital Leader, P&G, Indian Sub-Continent tells us how his company is leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Machine-Learning powered with data analytics, to enable over 20 lakh kirana stores in India serve consumers in their vicinity, based on their specific consumption pattern and preferences

Some edited excerpts:

Please explain the current supply chain complexity for P&G India and brief us on the number of SKUs, the number of Kirana stores reached and the scale of its operations?

P&G serves a diverse set of consumers in the country across multiple geographies with its superior product portfolio of products in varied categories. In serving these consumers, our priority is to always meet the needs of our consumers, by ensuring availability of our products at a store closest to them through our distributor partners.

For this, we are actively leveraging modern technology to drive constructive disruption and innovation in our operations at P&G. As part of this, we have designed an AI/ML powered engine called ‘Smart Basket’, to serve consumers with the most relevant propositions based on their real-time needs. An integral aspect of this endeavour is to ensure availability of the right product at the right time at the right kirana store, via our distributor partners.

What was the need for developing an in-house data science engine?

We believe in the power of modern technology, and the opportunities it unfolds. In today’s age, data science is an art which connects the dots between data, technology, advance algorithms, and domain expertise. Digital has also emerged as the common language within our ecosystem, be it for enhancing collaboration among employees, market research, supply chain, distribution network or customer relationship management, we are consistently leveraging technology at all touchpoints.

Our endeavour is to serve our consumers with irresistibly superior products. In line with this, we are constantly innovating and leading digital transformation across all aspects of the business. We are leveraging technology and digitization to drive industry-first innovations to provide a superior experience to our consumers, and a better value proposition to our customers, thereby driving value for P&G.

Indian consumers have leapfrogged in their media consumption habits with the rapid increase in digital penetration. This evolution is also paving the way for shifting consumer habits and preferences, and disruptions in the economic landscape. At P&G, we strive to stay ahead of the curve by leveraging modern technology to drive effectiveness and efficiency across every aspect of business. An in-house data engine specifically, is helping us to stay agile and bring in fast-paced innovation.

How has this data science engine helped the company?

At P&G, digital is at the core of our business strategy. We are bringing the best of both worlds by combining modern technology like augmented reality, cloud, advanced AI/ML algorithms with traditional tried-and-tested methods to drive superior engagement with our customers and consumers. For instance, this is enabling us in offering our consumers a customized and personalized basket of their favourite P&G products to them at their nearest stores via our distributor partners.

To share some detailed examples:

– Driving Superior Consumer Engagement: We are levering advanced data science to provide a superior experience to our consumers by being present where they are and engaging with them at their preferred channels using AI and ML algorithms, which also help us optimize cost.

– Superior Supply Chain: This is also helping us in making our manufacturing smarter through scalable predictive models that enable touchless operations. We are also driving manufacturing sustainability optimization with the help of tracking dashboards. This is helping us stay digitally connected to our suppliers and customers. We are leveraging advance AI/ML algorithms to ensure that we are always available when consumers need us and where they need us.

– Superior Go-To-Market Execution: At P&G, our model has evolved to treat every single store and consumer touchpoint as special, unique, and different. Our go-to-market strategy is uniquely designed for every single store. Our distributor partner sales team have access to real time unique propositions based on consumer need and store preference in each neighbourhood, on their fingertips. This helps us provide a personalized experience to our customer to drive their profitability, and our consumer to deliver a superior experience.

For a Kirana shop owner, how has this innovation helped? Can you give us some examples of how this has helped the Kirana stores? What can a Kirana shop owner now do that it could not do earlier?

The ‘Smart Basket’ engine powered with AI and advanced ML models, enables us to equip our diverse store network with a customized range of P&G product offerings via our distributor partners, based on the demonstrated preferences and needs of the consumers in the vicinity of these stores.

The innovation aims to help kirana store owners in efficiently optimizing their stock inventory, significantly reducing non-moving stock, and enhancing business operations by serving consumers better. The availability of the right product, right quantity, and recommendation to stores on the right promotion strategy is contributing positively to the business and profitability of each Kirana store.

What has changed? – If you see from the point of view of the consumer, they do not have to visit multiple stores to get the right product. Instead, basis their preferences, their nearest stores are always ensuring product availability. For stores, eliminating non-moving stock and ensuring they do not run out of stock is casting a positive impact on their business and consumer relationship. P&G is among the first few companies in the country to implement the modern solution at this scale, reaching 20 lakh kirana stores with this solution via our distributor partners. In doing so, the innovation is serving a two-pronged purpose – helping our customers to serve consumers better and helping our consumers to access superior P&G products as and when they need.

Does the Kirana shop owner have access to the analytics? Can they run what-if queries on their own?

At P&G, one of the ways in which we aim to leverage technology is by driving simplification across different aspects of business. As part of the ‘Smart Basket’ initiative, our aim is to simplify operations for stores, sellers, and our distribution partners. We do this by distilling complex data into meaningful and actionable insights and articulating these trends as recommendations to our customers/stores/sellers through their preferred mode of engagement with us. We do this, so that stores can invest their time in driving their business, while we take lead to work the back end and provide them with key insights and analytics.

Can you give us some measurable statistics or numbers that show the efficiency or success of this data science engine?

Reaching over 20 lakh kirana stores with this solution, P&G is among the first few companies in the country to implement the modern solution at this scale. This was done after running robust trials and pilots on any new initiatives before we introduce it into the business ecosystem, to ensure highest levels of accuracy and efficiency.

The engine is already helping in driving incremental growth in business and distribution for stores and thereby for our distributor partners and P&G. In fact, the repeat order rate for our core SKUs has increased, behind the always-on availability of products on the shelves of the stores we serve.

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