What is Next for E-Commerce and Digital Retail?

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“In all likelihood, retail and e-commerce strategies would continue to shift towards safety and convenience – Contactless delivery, order scheduling, convenient returns, services at home – that this pandemic has already accelerated,” says Anant Arora, Senior Director – Product Management for Merchandising at Lowe’s India, in an exclusive interview with TalkCMO.

TCMO Bureau: How have businesses shifted strategies during the covid-19 pandemic? What e-commerce strategies will work post the pandemic? 

Anant Arora: COVID-19 pandemic has been an impetus for accelerating change. It has allowed the world to stop and notice what matters to them and the ever-changing needs of their customers. It has allowed large businesses to fall back on their business fundamentals and small enterprises to reposition their business model, thus presenting an opportunity to compete on a new pedestal, a unique landscape, one that no one has seen.

For the small businesses that can survive through the downturn and reinvent themselves, the future is bright. It reinforces the principles that, in this ever-changing world, only those that are nimble and agile and looking to disrupt at every opportunity would survive the long game.

Read More: The Customer Journey and COVID-19: How to Keep Up

In all likelihood, retail and e-commerce strategies would continue to shift towards safety and convenience – contactless delivery, order scheduling, convenient returns, services at home- that this pandemic has already accelerated.  There will be an increased focus on localization, on-demand availability, and personalization.

In India, largely, the physical stores and digital stores have played their own games. Physical stores are constantly persuading customers to come into the stores using touch and personalization, while digital offering ease of shopping from home increasing accessibility and reducing prices.

Two key sets are coming together:

a) Large e-commerce players bringing SMEs into the delivery and assortment mix while offering them a platform to sell.

b) Digital stores finding more ways for their consumers to touch and experience their products and services using technology.

TCMO Bureau: Consumers have begun selling their own data and privacy for rewards and loyalty programs; how do you think this will affect the playing field? 

Anant Arora: Safeguarding personal identity has not been an issue thus far for Indians as has been in the west. Whether we like it or not, we are culturally a very high-touch intrusive economy where the idea of personal space is nebulous.

This is contrary to the west, wherein they have started to constitute laws to safeguard personal information, such as the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act). Given this, consumers’ rich data is a competitive advantage with companies leveraging them internally or selling to other companies for monetary gains.

As the tech infra becomes more commoditized, capturing and mining data would continue to present new sets of opportunities, likely opening new avenues for business.

TCMO Bureau: Interactive emails are picking up, and the inbox is becoming the new browser, but does it work without being too invasive. Also, how has it changed the e-commerce platform?

Anant Arora: Interactive email is yet another platform to upsell to your consumers. It is no different than how companies have enabled shopping via chatbots or instant messengers, or voice assistants.

Like with any product feature, it needs to answer a key question for its consumers – what would they stop doing when they start using this feature? Thus, it is not the medium but the level of customer empathy and personalization that would make companies undertaking such initiatives successful.

TCMO Bureau: How are AI and data science transforming retail merchandising?

Anant Arora: AI and Data Science are transforming retail in more ways than one. Knowing the consumers well has never been more important than today. There is a level of customer friction at every touchpoint that data can help eliminate.

In that sense, it is not just AI and data science in its purest form – but the applications of those technologies and how they are leveraged for the customer’s benefit would formulate a compelling value proposition.

TCMO Bureau: What do you think is next for E-Commerce and Digital Retail?

Anant Arora: At the outset, it’s the survival of companies that come out strongly from this downturn and the introduction of new companies with unique business models. From a technology lens, increasing penetration of smartphones would bring more consumers onto the digital economy. Paired with assortment content available in local languages is interactive with voice-enabled shopping across different social media platforms.

Also Read: Data and Technology Help Marketers Return to Normalcy

Technologies that simplify these, such as AR/VR, computer vision, voice assistants, personalization, and localization, would be where the rubber hit the road. Retail would likely go through a push rather than a pull model.

Rather than having the consumers come to the website or app, companies would make themselves available on the platform where they spend their time. It won’t necessarily be the race to get the highest downloads for the app but rather leverage the platforms that already have the customer’s share of mind. Connected commerce- borderless shopping, interactive media, voice-based assistants, chatbots, interactive emails, and social media – would become ubiquitous.

Anant Arora is a product management leader with global experience in retail & eCommerce. He has a proven track record of building enterprise products and product teams touching millions of customers. He comes with strong expertise in data-driven decision making and a strong understanding of both business and technology. His previous stints include working with Target, IBM, and other boutique consulting firms advising clients on – business strategy, sales strategy, automation of supply chain processes, enhancing sales workforce productivity/operational efficiency.