“The world of Retail depends on how the COVID pandemic leaves us.”

In an exclusive conversation with TechEela, Smaran Somaiah, VP- Customer Success & Marketing of Wooqer, shares insights on the need for digitization in the retail business process. He talks about how data can be leveraged in current scenario.

Here are some edited excerpts from the insightful conversation:

The retail industry has for long collected various types of data. How do you think they can best leverage this data in the current scenario?

Let’s understand the different types of data in a retail setup: Customer data: This usually includes Customer name, contact details, and purchase history. The second is product data; Product details like Brand, Price, Quantity, Style, Product inventory, and sales data around the product. The third is Store data, which includes headcount, sales, and local market information. The fourth is the Operations data. This is the least mature of all. While most retailers have almost all Product and Store data and many have now started collecting Customer data, very few have any Operations data. This would include understanding what is happening on the ground every day, whether it be with the store readiness for customers at the start of the day, product display, VM, or employee understanding of current products. All processes that are part of a retailer’s SOP and necessary for delivering the planned customer experience. Employee data could be considered a fifth data type, but more in the HR domain and common across industries.

Some approaches to using this data that make sense at the current time are:

a. Store data – to help make decisions around which stores to keep closed longer than others and permanently close stores. Where to negotiate rentals and where to relocate a store. With so many businesses shutting shop or unable to pay rentals, properties that may have been unavailable in the past could now be accessible. A move from commercial to residential areas may also help in the current work from home scenarios. The headcount of stores may also be revisited in light of changing traffic volumes, and in today’s omnichannel environment, utilizing store properties as distribution locations may also see the merit. Data would lead the way.

b. Customer data – Mapping customer locations can help store relocation decisions. Where customer contact details are available, guiding customers to stores with Appointment booking and incentivizing them to visit digital platforms where the Brand is available would have definite results is executed right. With customers spending so much time online, using customer data to plan digital marketing campaigns and bring them to physical or digital purchase locations has merit and should increase spending.

c. Product data – With reduced sales, revisiting the inventory, and understanding the new turns to plan, the entire supply chain must optimize capital utilization.

d. Operations data is an important one as processes are changing across retail and ensuring employee understanding of and adherence to these new processes while tracking execution is necessary to provide a safe shopping environment for customers and ensure efficiency and, in turn, profitability.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for the digitization of business processes. What role do you see Wooqer playing in such a future?

The pandemic has indeed fast-forwarded the need for digitization and what may have taken another decade to become a necessity has already happened in the last few months. Wooqer becomes very important and, in fact, a necessary tool for retailers at this time as it helps retail at scale. It ensures that the entire SOP is executed and tracked for adherence at every single store, every single day. And honestly, how else would you do it?

Can you talk about specific use-cases where digitization helps improve retail processes?

Almost everywhere. Take the example of the Daily store opening Checklist. It’s one of the most important retail processes, as that is the key to ensuring that the store is ready for customers at the opening time. The acting Store Manager has to complete a store walkthrough by a certain time every morning and ensure that everything is in order and ensure that whatever isn’t is actioned immediately. But most retailers we have talked to do not know if the Store Manager actually got out of the back room and did a walk through to do the check, or whether the check was done on time and no one has the slightest idea of the top challenges stores face every single day and which if addressed centrally may release hundreds of manhours. With Wooqer, our customers have reported Store Managers saving up to 180 minutes per person per day. And that’s just one process. When all operational processes get digitized, the impact is humongous. The shift is almost similar to communication volume in a paper and post era vs. the e-mail era. There’s no comparison.

Inventory management is crucial for retailers. How does digitization help in inventory management?

Over the years the Inventory Management has been seen by most Companies in the following context:

  • Capital employed (Finished, RM and WIP)
  • As a driver of sales.

The 1st part is mostly the Supply chain and Financial Management responsibility, and the other is the ISCM/ Merchandizing Function aspect.

In my experience, the Finished Good and Stock turn Impact on Financial was managed by one Revenue generating function, and the RM and WIP by the ISCM.

Having described the structure of the Inventory impact on Business, the Digitization of Inventory mostly finished Goods Inventory is in its nascence, at best seen in Online players.

But the other Brick and Mortar Retailers one sees a huge opportunity in maximizing Inventory returns in both Sales and Stock Turns

The areas where Digitisation can help improve sales/ Inventory efficiency are:

  • The best possible product mix in stores for the best Sales return.
  • Displayed stock was Back up stock maintenance and efficiency.
  • Aging Performance of stock.
  • Freshness quotient for Customers.
  • Using the right Inventory for EOSS
  • New Product/SKU performance enhancement

These are some examples where dynamic data management will help the above parameters come alive and derive the maximum returns on the investment in a Digital Platform, which can perform the above function, but again, Dynamically.

How does the future look for the retail industry in a post-pandemic world and what must retailers do to survive, and thrive?

The world of Retail post COVID, if there is a world like that, will be different, depending on how the COVID pandemic leaves us.

There are two scenarios: a) COVID is a way of life and will be with us for long enough and changes our views on consumption and lifestyle, and b) if it goes away after six months and becomes a bad dream, for us to forget eventually.

But for the moment, it is still with us, and we have to manage the following impact:

  • Consumers shopping habits have been altered, more Online, Less Malls, Safety, and Hygiene becoming serious considerations by customers
  • lesser Customers and, therefore, impact on revenues.
  • The financial pressure of sustenance. And one’s existence.
  • Cost Management/ Productivity Matrix of all our Resources
  • People’s issues, retention Motivation, and their productivity.

Each and every Organisation, especially the Offline Retailers and Omnichannel Retailers, has to master the above to ensure they sustain the medium term and rebuild the Business model as the spending pattern starts gathering momentum dynamically.

Here also the Dynamic management of Operations and Strategic Investment line items is critical for the Enterprise’s existence and future growth.

One will see COVID having given all organizations to modify/ change the way we manage Business, it’s now a critical Process, and automation led Organisation will succeed, better than People-centric and old ways of running Businesses.


Team eela

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