What does it mean to go omni-channel, as a retail jeweller? How to do this? What are the upsides, the potential pitfalls? Nobody can answer these questions better than the brains trust for this highly anticipated panel discussion. Here are some glimpses of a wealth of practical insight.

The prime attraction at RJIF 2016 was the final panel discussion, “Trends in Omni-channel Retailing”. The panelists were a formidable group of experts: Govind Shrikhande, managing director, Shoppers Stop; Vipin Nair, associate vice president–offline marketing, CaratLane.com; Kapil Hetamsaria, co-founder and CEO, VelvetCase.com; Nitin Jain, head, WearYourShine.com; and Sanjay Banerjee, head, ecommerce and digital marketing, P N Gadgil Jewellers; joined by moderator Vijay Jain, CEO & board member, retail & digital, ORRA.

Today, a single retail channel is no longer sufficient between a jeweller and his or her customers. Omni-channel retail is the new reality. To conventional bricks-and-mortar are added mobile sales and e-tail, and the result is not something incremental but a fast-evolving and ever more mutual relationship between sellers and buyers.

For the panelists this changing paradigm amounts to a blueprint for a new era of retail. Their professional duties place them in the frontline of this change. This discussion on omni-channel retail was therefore, for the high-profile retailers in the audience, an unusual opportunity to profit from top-quality, hard-earned insight and use it to refine their retail strategy.

Consumers seek conversation, not a lecture
“Technology is influencing human behaviour in a big way nowadays,” said moderator Vijay Jain, in his scene-setting remarks. “This is offering a vast spectrum and headroom for omni-channel retail to grow in our sector. In fact, new-age consumers’ faster technology adoption is forcing marketers to change strategies to keep their brands relevant, the brand experience uniform, and their products and services accessible across channels.”
The communications ecosystem has evolved from the former one-to-many, one-way flow, which was ruled by traditional media such as print, television and radio, said Vijay Jain. Thanks to the popularity of social media, it’s not only brands who initiate a dialogue with consumers — consumers also engage in dialogue with each other, and such dialogues build brand perception. “For example, while watching television, people are looking at smartphones. While in a store, consumers are scrolling pages on their smartphones. So, consumers are now using multiple channels, often simultaneously, to form their opinions.”

Due to the fragmented and localised nature of jewellery retail, said Vijay Jain, most jewellers feel that that they know their customers well. “But,” he asked, “do your customers still accept your way of communicating or interacting with them? Aren’t their thought processes evolving with the emergence of new communication channels? Aren’t they demanding a better brand experience?”

Also, “We should no longer target consumers in each channel separately or independently. The consumers have moved on.” Thanks to internet and social media, more and more consumers are discovering brands, products and services of their choice online. “They no longer need to come to the store to discover your offerings. So, if you don’t make your presence felt across channels, it’s a huge opportunity lost.”
Shrikhande of Shoppers Stop, India’s largest multi-brand retail chain, offered his take on new-age consumers. “As far as the adoption of new technologies and concepts is concerned, consumers are ahead of us,” he said. “In fact, consumers have stopped looking at online and offline separately, a clear a sign of their ahead-of-the-times thinking. They have become the most organised negotiators. They are quite demanding, and always come to your store equipped with all the market information. As we are still a couple of years behind our consumers in terms of thinking, we need to buck up.”
There is in fact, said Vijay Jain, a potentially very strong complementarity between jewellery retail and social media. “Jewellery retail is primarily based on word-of-mouth promotion, and social media are all about person-to-person communication, or customer-with-customer interaction. So jewellers have a valid reason to look at omni-channel retail seriously.”

Many channels, one view
“Consumers now have various touch-points to interact with your brand: offline, online, mobile, via social media, etc. So, the idea of omni-channel retail is to ensure consistent communication through these channels,” said Nitin Jain of WearYourShine. “The idea is defeated if customers get a different feel and perception of the brand on different platforms. Things as simple as the showroom colour scheme or customers’ interaction with sales representatives, advertising or social media communication, all should have some sort of symmetry. In a nutshell, it’s easy to be a multi-channel player. But to become an omni-channel player, one needs to bring in uniformity across channels.”
“The trend of consuming information through smartphones is leading change in the omni-channel ecosystem,” said Shrikhande. “Such is the influence of smartphones that the history of communication technology can now be divided into two distinct eras — pre-smartphone and post-smartphone.”
Shoppers Stop, he said, plans to redefine the omni-channel concept. It will spend Rs. 60 crore over the next two years to implement its own omni-channel model, built of three modules aimed at uniformity: “one view of customers”, “one view of stock”, “one view of orders”.

The “one view of customers” module is intended to make it easy to track individual consumer spends across channels, based on credit and debit card spend, Aadhar card details, and so on. For instance, Shrikhande said, the company is planning to install a system to track and capture the entire spend history of each loyal customer over time. Such customers will be asked to turn Bluetooth on, on their smartphones, while at a Shoppers Stop outlet. “This will help us serve them better. We are planning to introduce the system in the next six to eight months.”
“One view of stock” aspires to offer customers a complete view of the stock, across all Shoppers Stop stores and distribution centres. “For example,” said Shrikhande, “if an order is generated at a store in Kolkata and the stock is lying in a store in Vijayawada [in Seemandhra], our efficient stock management process will enable us to pick up the stock from Vijayawada and deliver it to the designated address in Kolkata through our delivery centre. That way, one can make stock that is unsellable in one region sellable in another region.”

“One view of orders” enables sales personnel to track orders in minute detail. “The order history of any particular consumer, across channels, will help sales staff to pitch them the right products,” he added. “Instead of pushing customers to open their purse, this module will subtly entice customers to buy more.”
According to Shrikhande, omni-channel retail actually increases buyers’ appetite. “Analysis at the global level underlined the fact that multi-channel or omni-channel buyers spend four to six times more than single-channel buyer,” said Shrikhande. He was making the point that the omni-channel approach offers marketers immense retail bandwidth.

Single goes omni: how it happens
The omni-channel concept is being interpreted and used in different ways by different retailers — versatility is built in. CaratLane, for example, started off as a as a pure-play online jewellery retailer, then expanded to omni-channel. Its rationale for launching offline stores in various cities was, first, to address the basic desire of the Indian consumer to touch and feel the product and, second, to build trust.
“The bricks-and-mortar format helps pure-play etailers to establish trust and credibility and gain stronger consumer traction, because consumers are nowadays present across channels,” said Vipin Nair. CaratLane has opened 12 stores across India so far. It selects sites by analysing the online traffic density and mapping it to geographical locations to find the most suitable spots.

Another insight that led CaratLane to open offline channels was that consumers choose channels depending upon the purchase occasion. “One of our regular customers recently brought her mother to our store in Thane, near Mumbai, to buy her a birthday gift,” said Nair. “Her mother was not comfortable with the idea of buying jewellery online. Our strategy of offline–online integration stands vindicated.”

Kapil Hetamsaria of VelvetCase, in his comments, reasoned that the omni-channel approach makes retailers’ stock work harder. Instead of restricting stock-reach to just a few kilometers, a jeweller can expand its appeal to a broader geography with omni-channel retailing — because discovery has started happening online.
On discovery, he added, “Jewellers can achieve superior consumer engagement even in the product development stage, if they leverage the concept intelligently.”

Omni-benefits, omni-opportunities
When the switch is well planned, said Shrikhande, going omni-channel can help multiply sales the way leading UK departmental stores John Lewis or Harrods have done.
Both these retail giants have two types of online services: home delivery and store pickup. According to recent research finding, said Shrikhande, in the US market, of all online orders, 20–20 per cent are for store pickup and the remaining 80–85 per cent are home delivery.

For John Lewis, as much as 50 per cent of online sales are for store pickup. “Pick-up-from-the-store is helping these departmental stores to upsell,” said Shrikhande. “It helps them multiply buys and the efficiency of existing stock.”
Jewellers surely stand to gain from this store pickup model, agreed Vijay Jain. It offers buyers the much-needed touch-and-feel option, he observed, and retailers can convert walk-ins by showing buyers more variety.
On the important subject of communication and big data, Hetamsaria said, “A skillful omni-channel marketer tracks consumer behaviour across channels, minutely. The marketer tries to figure out the pattern behind what the buyer has liked, viewed and actually bought, across all those channels. This helps the marketer understand the buying decision-making process.” Naturally, insight like this also helps keep communication relevant as well as contextual to the target audience. It is a virtuous feedback loop of sorts.

“Consumers leave digital footprints all over the place,” said Vijay Jain. “Their footprints might [reveal their interest in] a brand, or an intention, or a trend. With strategic online promotion, a retailer can [identify and] convert interest or intent into store walk-ins.”
As Shrikhande pointed out, those footprints are left very willingly. “At our stores we see a lot of customers downloading the Shoppers Stop mobile app. We also track how many buyers go to the in-store kiosks to check the online store.”

The success of omni-channel retail can depend on how a jeweller integrates online and offline elements. While promoting the exclusive Blue Nile collection (₹2 lakh and up) online, for instance, WearYourShine leveraged PC Jeweller’s bricks-and-mortar network in select cities to offer the merchandise offline as well. Customers responded with enthusiasm.
In the case of CaratLane, Nair said, “We treat our stores as fulfillment centres and we have put our entire stock online. We work with higher inventory turns at the stores. To fulfill orders efficiently, our online and back-end process are integrated seamlessly.”

Discounts are not the only purchase activator online, said Vijay Jain. “Contrary to popular belief, only one in three customers shops online for discounts, according to a report by Boston Consulting Group that covered all product categories.” Nitin Jain said, in corroboration, that four-fifths of searches on WearYourShine.com were aimed at finding new jewellery, not locating discounts. Hetamsaria sounded a small note of caution, saying that discounts should be consistent across channels so that customers experience no jolt of discontinuity.

Shrikhande urged jewellers to enrich their in-house talent pool by hiring the designers and salespeople who can coax the maximum benefits from the omni-channel ecosystem. Banerjee of P N Gadgil, speaking along similar lines but more holistically, said, “One should inculcate synchronised thoughts among one’s peers to lead the omni-channel project to success.”

Victory in the long run
The panelists agreed that omni-channel is the way forward. If jewellers want to be part of consumers’ decision-making process, after all, they have to go where the consumers are — which is, in digital media.
“Jewellery is one category in which retailers own the entire lifecycle of a consumer,” said Vijay Jain. “Leveraging the omni-channel ecosystem will make the association even stronger.”

“Omni-channel is the lambi race ka ghoda of retail,” said Shrikhande, borrowing a line from the iconic 1975 film Deewar. And yet, “this is where the customers are. So jewellers should back this change wholeheartedly. It will bring them results in the long run.”