The retail Industry contributes 10 per cent of our GDP and India is one of the top 5 retail markets in the world powered by our 1.3 billion population. The pandemic saw the organized retail sector, which is nearly 15 per cent of the retail sector, incur losses of about INR 19 lakh crore. Retailers resorted to major cost-cutting in infrastructure and staff which added to the challenge of keeping the store afloat. Premium brands were the worst-hit and even, the traditionally resilient Food & Grocery retailers are facing critical challenges.
The severity of the pandemic impact forced the retail sector to rapidly innovate to pull-up shoppers and shopping spends. The retail industry has traditionally depended on ‘Walk-in’ Customers. The post-pandemic walk-in numbers had dropped to as low as 50 daily from more than 100 daily (as per a survey by Feedback Advisory), and people needed to be engaged and encouraged at their homes.
The festival shopping data brought some cheer to the market, yet the retail recovery has a long way to go. Our experience with innovative retail partners had shown a silver-lining as early as May 2020 at the beginning of the deep pandemic crisis. This was with the use of conversational commerce and its impact on recovering sales. UCB, Tommy Hilfiger, Unlimited, and Landmark group are some of the national retail brands where the implementation of our conversational commerce toolkit Shopster showed positive results during the pandemic. In India, WhatsApp has more than 400 million users as per Techcrunch and Facebook has more than 310 million users as per Statistica, greatly aiding conversations.
Conversational Commerce has thus established itself at the forefront due to its ability to help stores advance their ‘In-store’ business. It has created an environment in which brands are able to personalize their messages, develop a connection with their audience, and simplify the home shopping as well as the in-store shopping experience.
National retailers also strengthened their contact-less shopping enablement with the widespread adoption of Shopping by appointment, Self-checkouts, Scan and Pay, Digital invoices, and other such measures. Conversational commerce along with contactless shopping is now turning into a proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the retail industry.
Conversational and contactless commerce let the store staff contact customers and help them make purchases by sending product catalogues and personalized recommendations with the support of AI. It facilitated the completion of the entire sales cycle by enabling stores to receive payments digitally, send digital receipts, and ensure timely product delivery. Brands also created a safer in-store shopping experience through contactless digital payment and e-receipt. They integrated the system with their existing billing systems to accept online payments and part-payments with payment through gift vouchers and points. Brands were also able to create and send customized digital receipts with recommendations and offer through SMS/ WhatsApp, hence making the shopping experience more personalized and thoughtful.
The WhatsApp Business account has now become a force multiplier in the brand market presence along with website and branded stores. The true power of omnichannel presence is reflecting in the conveniences being offered to the customer. The customer who was earlier exercising loyalty impulsivity is now more willing to stay committed thanks to a better conversation with the brand. According to McKinsey “It (omnichannel) can improve customer satisfaction by providing a more personalized experience and even create “moments of delight” for the customer during interactions that truly matter to them.”
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The customer experience (CX) is getting more personal. Brands are providing a highly personalized experience over their WhatsApp and WebBot engagements. Customers are able to build familiarity with the brand and enjoy the “my shopping my way” experience while getting a consistent experience regardless of the channel used.
According to BCG-Facebook global study, with 87 per cent of the world’s smartphone population messaging, people prefer to have a conversation with brands while shopping.
This role of conversational commerce in fostering better and deeper customer relationships is proving to be a game-changer. AI capability is enabling brands to have smarter conversations and quicker customer support. This is directly enabling sales as brands are consistently able to better respond to customer needs by offering options and suggestions. Thereby making the purchase journey more enjoyable and thus of higher value for both the customer and the brand. The AI engine enables learnings across different customer engagements to further enrich the conversation and the customer relationship.
Phygital shopping, for long a future, has now become the new reality. The conversations are helping the physical stores manage the customers’ expectations better while ensuring social distancing inside the store. The shopping experience has become more meaningful to consumers by converging both the online and physical experiences and offerings.
Conversational commerce and contactless shopping tool today assist customers throughout the shopping journey by enabling product search with product recommendations, locating the nearest store, booking store visit appointments to ensure social distancing, scheduling self-pickup from the store, and even helping with returns or exchanges in case of need. In the process, the brands are delivering a more personalised shopping experience to each customer.
No wonder that conversational and contactless commerce has played a significant role in uplifting the fortunes of multiple retail brands from the pandemic gloom. This boom in conversational and contactless commerce has brought upfront the need for brands to accelerate investment in key capabilities, technologies, and processes.
Soumya Chatterjee is the CEO of Easyrewardz. Views expressed are the author’s own.