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Four ways of how digitisation can help unorganised retail to flourish, during the pandemic

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By Mahesh Alayil, COO and Co-Founder, Goavega Software

Retail, as we had traditionally known, has undergone severe disruption in the past decade, thanks to the advent and immediate popularity of e-retail, digital payments and door-step delivery. The Covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated digital adoption across retail channels, including physical brick and mortar stores offering online order placements, and aspiring to create an omni-channel presence among a host of other digitised services.

The Indian retail market, which consists of the unorganised sector, including conventional family-run neighbourhood shops, and organised retail, such as brick-and-mortar large retailers and online shopping sites, is the third-largest in Asia and fourth-largest in the world. The sector is expected to cross US$ 1.75 trillion (approximately INR 126 lakh crore) by 2026. The grocery sector accounts for half of India’s retail consumption, and kirana stores, conventional mom-and- pop stores, account for about 90 per cent of the grocery retail market. The fast paced growth is set to be driven by several factors, as pointed out by a report by Zinnov’s Digital Engineering in Retail study. As per the study, India is fast-becoming a retail test-bed, thanks to a large base of existing e-Commerce users (110 Mn), presence of retail Global Centres Of Excellence (GCoEs) (25+), a large number of start-ups focusing on retail tech (465+), and also significant digital talent (1/8th of the world’s digital talent is expected to be based in India by 2030)

While no-contact deliveries and cashless payments are two of the most popular and widely used tech tools by offline retail, currently, there are a vast range of tech-enabled tools that leverage AI, ML and other features, to make conventional retail safe and smart for the modern consumer. The Indian organised and unorganised retailers across grocery, furniture, and apparel, witnessed an increase in multi-channel shopping as lockdown prompted consumers to turn to non-ecommerce platforms like WhatsApp ordering takeaways, and curbside pickups. Some other digital adoptions that can help Indian conventional retail to accelerate growth and thrive, include:

  1.       Digital payments and POS technology: While cashless payments and digital wallets powered by Adhaar and UPI have been around for a while, there has been a remarkable adoption by smaller unorganised retailers who are now moving away from a cash or card payment to other modes of digital transactions. Apart from the payment digitisation both at store and in case of COD, retailers can also adopt SaaS solutions that can allow them to integrate POS and e-commerce or other omni-channel sales platforms to optimise consumer engagement and boost sales. Effective synchronisation can allow retailers to conduct both online and offline transactions, keep track of inventory, and run promotions across all offline and online platforms.

 

  1.       Omni-channel presence: While offline and online seem to be the only two known platforms that most retailers can think of, several tech innovations have been introduced to help retailers build a strong visibility and digital connect with their consumers. Digital 3D sampling, virtual fitting rooms, AI enabled solutions for helping senior citizens and vulnerable consumers with assisted shopping, and chatbots are only some of the varied channels now available, which can make a difference to retail outlets. From fashion and groceries to stationeries and electronic and white goods, omni channel retail is changing the shopping experience for new age consumers

 

  1.       Data driven consumer engagement: Data analytics and AI and ML based tools can help retailers build a strong consumer portfolio with precious insights into purchase patterns. From average times a person shops to the regular items bought, personal choices and insights into newer product or campaign launches, can go a long way in effectively running discount offers, promotional sales and even introducing specialised inventory. Apart from consumer behaviour insights, data analytics can also help run targeted consumer communication which can in turn boost effective engagement and build loyalty.

 

  1.       Self-service or staff free shopping: Physical stores without staff or cashiers, monitored and supervised only through advanced tech enabled infrastructure may sound like an ambitious futuristic idea, but is actually the most relevant and feasible one today, when social distancing norms are imperative to make physical shopping safe. Apart from contactless payment and smart tech solutions like virtual fitting rooms etc., self-service stores with no cashier, no staff, are becoming increasingly appealing. Leveraging RFID tags for inventory, computer vision systems, machine learning, IoT devices, and facial recognition, retailers can now employ smarter and faster zero contact shopping experience. For Ex The Amazon Go Grocery model that is recently being used in the USA, leverages computer vision ,sensor fusion, IoT and deep learning, in stores to track what consumers place into their cart. When the customer leaves the store, the store automatically charges the credit/ debit card that the customer has on file.

Even as most businesses come to terms with the second lockdown, and stricter norms for business operations, tech enabled disruption is going to pave the way for a more integrated, sustainable and smarter shopping experience which helps create value for both, small and large businesses as well as consumers. 

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