The term ‘Incredible India’ seems apt when one considers the sheer diversity of languages, cultures and ethnicities across the country. For the retail industry, which contributes to approximately 10% of India’s GDP, the huge consumer market is both an opportunity and a challenge. The challenge is more pronounced in the relatively-untapped rural and semi-urban regions that account for about 65% of the population.
Although the digital transformation of India’s retail industry was already underway in recent years, pandemic-linked tailwinds have accelerated the acceptance of e-commerce among both sellers and consumers. As per estimates, unorganised retail accounts for 90% of the market in India. Of these, online shoppers are said to number 70 million, with only 10 million categorised as ‘digital natives’. Without a doubt, in a nation of more than 1.3 billion people, tremendous scope exists for attracting more online shoppers via personalised products and services, particularly from regional India.
Opportunities and Challenges across Bharat
The availability of smartphones and 4G in tier 3+ areas has opened up this vast market to e-commerce players. Thanks to the absence of physical stores, online companies offer more value-for-money prices due to their lower overheads. It must be emphasised, however, that value-conscious consumers expect quality products too.
But given the plethora of languages and customs, catering to the remote cohorts comes with unique complexities. In such scenarios, online entities can deploy digital technologies to offer their customers personalized experiences, facilitating higher conversion rates and greater brand loyalty. What’s more, the beauty of online selling lies in the fact that e-commerce portals don’t need to worry about storage space and its allied costs since goods are shipped directly from producers. For sellers, there are no worries about inventory being locked up in warehouses till sales materialise.
While all this sounds kosher, it takes more to convince and convert customers in tier 3 towns and beyond. Therefore, online retailers are using a regional language interface to offer better customer experiences. Additionally, retailers are deploying big data to decode consumer behaviour for providing bespoke offerings. In such situations, a thorough understanding of customer needs helps boost satisfaction and retention rates.
The use of AI algorithms and big data analytics also helps in analysing consumer behaviour through their shopping information such as product preferences, browsing history, etc. Predictive analytics is then leveraged to improve the customer experience by customising marketing campaigns centred on their habits and needs. For instance, the data of a major value-based online retailer reveals that customers exploring the portal through regional languages end up spending 20% additional time on the platform, which includes higher viewership of product videos.
Personalising the Shopping Experience
Accordingly, customer experiences can be personalised by analysing their purchase history to pitch relevant deals and discounts. Besides, the purchases of other consumers in the same demographic cohort can be used to upsell related products.
Moreover, retailers must provide a personalized omni-channel experience whereby a customer can order a product on the website/app and then collect from a brick-and-mortar outlet near them if they so desire. Amidst all this, one must realise the importance of social media as a digital shop floor where sellers can engage with prospective customers directly. Instagram and Facebook are prime examples here with the former offering visual storefronts that help increase customer traction.
Bear in mind, though, that marketers on social media must be digitally-savvy and in sync with customer needs and expectations. Any mismatch in consumer expectations runs the risk of a bad experience being put under the public gaze.
If big data and other tech tools are used judiciously to engage with consumers, they can act as a key differentiator in providing a clear edge to e-commerce players in a highly cluttered and hyper-competitive retail market. In this way, an ongoing relationship can be established with consumers throughout Bharat.
Thereafter, despite the diversity of consumer choices, more satisfaction and increased brand loyalty are bound to follow across non-metro regions. Undoubtedly, technology can offer a winning proposition for customers, sellers, online platforms and other retail stakeholders.
Sanjeev Barnwal is co-founder and chief technology officer of Meesho.