The paradigm shift in India's e-tail industry

This is a hopeful time for businesses in India. Where larger brands are targeting data-powered decisions and operational efficiencies to boost growth, small businesses based in smaller markets are riding the digital revolution to explore new avenues

Updated: Oct 7, 2019 03:44:02 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Between early 90s department stores and the market entry of Amazon and Flipkart, the Indian retail landscape has seen a dramatic evolution. Traditional retailers outgrew their capability to offer personalised experiences to each shopper as e-commerce brought in efficiency and individual engagement, something that customers have always yearned for.

Increased connectivity, improved capacity and reduced latency are some of the key catalysts for this transformation. Advancements in connectivity networks have enabled e-tailers to leverage leading-edge technologies such as sensor devices, edge analytics and AI to analyse consumer data and identify their exact needs to elevate their shopping experience.

With access to an increasingly diverse consumer base (both digital and physical), understanding of their preferences, and strengthening distribution frameworks, e-tailers in India today have the exponential opportunity to transform the nation’s economy.

Bridging the digital divide
The country’s e-tail industry is rapidly expanding today, not just crossing international boundaries, but also touching the interiors with tier-2, tier-3 cities and remote areas defying all physical (and digital) barriers that existed earlier. For instance, conventionally, the consumer market for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) remained restricted to major urban (tier-1) cities. But with the advent of e-commerce, traders today are experiencing new-found access to larger, more heterogenous and region-specific markets, leveraging innovation in technology and supported by strong connectivity and efficient distribution frameworks.

Flipkart recently revealed that in 2018 it distributed gaming PCs to 1200 cities and quite interestingly the product demand came significantly from smaller cities such as Barnala and Latur rather than just the top metropolitan areas. This rising demand and supply of PCs in the suburban areas of the country highlights an ever-increasing adoption of new-age hardware devices among a new set of users—the small-town dwellers, gamers, content creators and entrepreneurs.

The added convenience in usage of internet, ease of access to connectivity and availability of modern computers is empowering people to obtain information from across the globe. This has far-reaching benefits for small traders, vendors and business owners as it helps them gain knowledge and upskill themselves to tap into original business ideas.

Imagine the life-changing experiences that women artisans from the rural regions of Madhubani, Bihar, have to share when they are able to showcase their paintings, handicrafts or other art work, not just to a handful visitors to their physical workshops, but to the whole world with a simple PC and an internet connection. Selling their products through online platforms has not only brought these women much needed income and recognition but has also kept this cultural legacy from fading away.

The Indian e-tail movement, aided with a wider penetration of PCs and connectivity is inspiring a whole new cohort of cooperative trades, SMBs and startups across the metros and remote areas, ramping up the overall productivity of the country.

Technology advances accelerating precision and innovation
Another factor playing an instrumental role in helping e-tailers is the power of fast-emerging technologies such as data analytics, AI, and the Internet of Things (IoT). E-tailing brands are exploring a vast range of advanced sales and marketing tools based on these technologies to better understand customer demands and market challenges, derive actionable insights and deliver personalised shopping choices.

Upgrading their interaction systems with AI and machine learning (ML), many e-tailing platforms are aiming to offer unique product/service recommendations to their consumers based on their past purchase data. For example, Flipkart has partnered with Microsoft to design leading-edge solutions based on cloud platform and AI capabilities for its future sales.

The integration of AI/ML and natural language processing (NLP) has also accelerated the mapping of the country, helping e-tailers cultivate a precision in delivery services that wouldn’t have been possible without the technology advances of the past decade.

E-tailers are increasingly leveraging the power of IoT to track management of inventory, deploy efficient warehousing of products and ensure quality maintenance and timely delivery of shipments. Through advanced, real-time connectivity among their smart storage equipment and intelligent stock keeping systems, more and more e-tailers are streamlining their supply chain ecosystem, hence, achieving goals of doing business in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

By virtue of augmented and virtual reality technologies, the concept of experience-based e-tailing services are being dramatically reformed. As a case in point, Myntra has a virtual trial room—Style Studio—that integrates this technology with their web and mobile apps to provide a unique experience to their users. This tool provides customers a real-time experience of trying on the products they wish to buy through their ‘online body doubles. Similarly, Lenskart enables customers to virtually try on eyewear to aid their online purchase decisions.

This is a hopeful time for businesses in India. Where larger brands are targeting effective marketing strategies, data-powered decisions, operational efficiencies to boost growth, small businesses based in smaller markets and remote locations are riding the digital revolution to explore new avenues. Looking at the broader picture, rise in demand-and-supply of intelligent edge devices, increased connectivity, well-knit distribution networks, next-generation technologies and the subsequent e-tail revolution, have the potential to exponentially impact the productivity of the nation.

The author is Vice President and Managing Director, Sales and Marketing Group at Intel India.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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