The recent CODE New Delhi 2023 convention brought together leading minds in the Indian retail sector to discuss a pivotal question: “What is the Future of Retail – Online or Offline?” The panel, comprising Bharat Sethi (Founder, RAGE Coffee), Narinder Mahajan (Co-Founder and CEO, ODN Services), Somil Agrawal (Senior VP and Head of Marketing, Shiprocket), and Jatan Bawa (Founder, Perfora), offered a deep dive into the evolving retail landscape in India.
The Omni-Channel Approach
Jatan Bawa highlighted the importance of an omni-channel approach in retail. The convergence of online and offline channels is not just a trend but a necessity for modern retailers. This approach allows brands to meet consumers where they are, offering a seamless shopping experience.
The Challenge of Trust in Online Retail
Bharat Sethi addressed the challenges in online retail, particularly the issue of trust. Consumers often hesitate to make online purchases due to concerns about product quality and return policies. Solutions like AR/VR technologies are being explored to bridge this trust gap, allowing consumers to have a more tangible understanding of products before purchase.
Data-Driven Decisions in Retail
Somil Agrawal discussed the role of data in shaping retail strategies. Online platforms provide retailers with valuable insights into consumer behaviors and preferences, enabling them to make informed decisions. This data-driven approach is key to understanding and responding to market trends and consumer needs.
Service Industry Perspective
Narinder Mahajan brought in the perspective of the service industry, discussing the challenges in marketing services compared to products. He emphasized the need for effective communication strategies to convey the value of services in an increasingly product-centric online environment.
Consumer Behavior and Trends
The panelists agreed that understanding consumer behavior is crucial. Today’s consumers value convenience and are willing to pay a premium for it. Retailers need to adapt to these changing preferences, whether they operate online, offline, or in a hybrid model.
The Impact of Quick Commerce
Quick commerce emerged as a significant trend, with consumers increasingly seeking immediate gratification and speedy delivery services. This trend is reshaping the way retailers think about distribution and customer engagement.
Policy and Government Initiatives
The panelists also discussed the role of government initiatives in shaping the retail sector. They appreciated efforts like ONDC (Open Network for Digital Commerce) in bridging the gap between online and offline retail.
Embracing Technological Innovations
Technology plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of retail. As highlighted by the panel, innovations like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are not just futuristic concepts but are becoming integral tools for enhancing the online shopping experience. These technologies help in replicating the physical experience of product examination, thereby building consumer trust and reducing the hesitation associated with online purchases.
Balancing Online and Offline Presence
The discussion also delved into the balancing act between online and offline presences. The panelists agreed that while online channels offer extensive reach and invaluable consumer data, offline channels provide tangible experiences and help in building brand credibility. The future of retail lies in the effective integration of both channels, where each complements the other to provide a holistic customer experience.
Addressing the Return Rate Challenge
A unique challenge in the Indian online retail sector, as pointed out by the panel, is the high rate of product returns. This issue stems partly from the trust deficit and the inability of consumers to accurately gauge products online. Addressing this challenge requires innovative solutions like improved product visualization, more accurate sizing information, and enhanced customer support.
The Rise of Quick Commerce
Quick commerce is redefining consumer expectations, especially in categories like groceries and essentials. The panelists observed a significant shift towards quick delivery services, indicating a future where speed and convenience could become the primary drivers of consumer preference. Retailers must adapt to this change, ensuring that they have the infrastructure and logistics to meet these rapid delivery demands.
Government Policies and Digital Infrastructure
The role of government policies and the development of digital infrastructure in shaping the retail landscape was also discussed. The panelists appreciated initiatives like ONDC and the focus on creating a more inclusive and connected digital retail environment. However, they also expressed the need for continued support and more initiatives to foster a seamless online-offline retail ecosystem.
The CODE New Delhi 2023 panel concluded that the future of retail in India is a blend of online and offline channels, driven by consumer preferences for convenience, trust, and speed. Retailers must adopt a flexible, data-driven approach to meet the evolving demands of the modern consumer.