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Merger Of Offline, Online Will Define Future Of Retail: Devendra Chawla, COO, Walmart India

At the BW Businessworld Marketing Whitebook 2018, Devendra Chawla, EVP & Chief Operating Officer, Walmart India, spoke about the future trends that will define the retail landscape

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With the rise of online shopping, the retail industry is evolving quickly. However, the future of retail would have a merger of both offline and online stores.

At the recent launch of Times Network presents BW Businessworld Marketing Whitebook 2018 powered by Adobe in Delhi, Devendra Chawla, EVP & Chief Operating Officer, Walmart India, spoke about the future trends that will define the retail landscape.

Stressing on the need to keep customers at the centre of all decisions, Chawla said, "If you measure customer centricity, retail is one industry where 100 per cent of the times you need to keep the customer at the centre of all the decisions.  It is absolutely a necessity every day, every moment. You have to think of the customer being at the center of every single decision.  As founder and father of retail Sam Walton had said that customer is the only boss and that is truly something we obsess over. What is interesting is that tech companies and retailers in some cases are following the customer and making changes to suit to the customer behavior, and in other cases companies and retailers are leading the trend and showing way to the customers so they can shop better."

Blurring Lines Between Offline & Online Retail
Chawla also said that innovation was happening at a breakneck speed whether it was offline or online retail and in future the merger of these channels was imminent. "The big word right now is convenience.  We always believe people should save money so that they can live better, but people also need to save time so they could spend their time on productive things. So it's price and convenience, and not just price and not just convenience that is important. Now if you ask what is leading to this merger of online and offline, which looks imminent in the future, and to some extent has started; I think first of all, India has a very young generation and 55 per cent people are below the age group of 26 to 27 years, so we are talking of 700 million people.  They are all tech savvy and the disposable income is much more today and most importantly data is cheapest in India. So with free flowing data, having a smartphone, being tech savvy and being younger and having a disposable income, which more than the past, all this is leading to change and the merger of online and offline would be happening in the future," stated Chawla.

In May this year Walmart agreed to buy 77 per cent stake in online retailer Flipkart for $16 Billion and it is currently operating 21 cash and carry stores across 19 cities. Speaking about the blurring lines between offline and online retail, Chawla said, "There is nothing called pure offline or online retail these days. If you see offline, there are digital touch points. You will get to communicate with the retailer digitally. If you see online, there is nothing pure online either. Today a customer wants to buy when they want to buy and where they want to buy.  Sometimes they will come to the store, sometimes they will buy while commuting, sometimes they will use home delivery and sometimes they will use ecommerce. So slowly the lines are getting blurred and it is going to further get blurred as we go forward. This is happening because customers want more choice. And how are retailers responding?  So some retailers in the physical stores have the concept called endless aisle. It means that the products and items that you carry have to be placed digitally on the screen and customers have to browse and place orders which can be delivered at the store or to their homes later."

Rise of S-Commerce
Chawla also said that today's customers may start the purchase journey with search on the phone but will end up buying in the store or may end up buying online.  He explained how in some countries retailers preferred mobile check-outs, a check-out which is not fixed and can move.  "Customers are leaving a lot of digital footprints and analytics tech companies and retailers are picking up this data which helps them to put together what matters to the customer.  I think this is in the future is going to gain more and more steam. Moreover, there is something called S-Commerce which is commerce starting with social media. You could be on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and sometimes you start shopping there.  It is not that commerce starts with retailing; even on social media commerce is starting," stated Chawla.

Evolving Delivery Models and use of Predictive Analysis
Speaking about the changing delivery models in the retail space and how there was a perceptible shift in the way retail stores operate, he said, "Today the retail store is carrying inventory for customers to come and shop and the same store is doubling up as a warehouse for the catchment for home delivery, for ecommerce and also for customers to come and shop. So the shift from store as a delivery model has taken ground. There is also Kerbside pick up where you drive to the store and you pick up and drive away and sixty seconds is all it takes from placing an order to picking up. The other one is experiential retail which is digitally trying apparel without actually trying it. Also the fact that cities are becoming busier, and there is more traffic, retailers are fitting their store sizes and models into what is available in the store and still be able to deliver convenience.  Thanks to the younger generation, one more trend that we see is that earlier there used to be the concept of 'pantry loading', which is -buy for 15 days, or buy all your home goods for a month , but now a lot of shopping is happening for essentials which is -buy for today."

Finally speaking about the use of big data in retail and how it was bringing in a new era of customer engagement Chawla explained, "You know the world used to run on oil and now it runs on data. The most intelligent part of data is yet to come on which a lot of work has started. I don't know when it would happen, but someday it will happen which is 'Predictive Analysis'. Even before you know what you want to buy they will tell you this is what you want to buy."

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