Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts

09 June, 2019

Self-Checkout or Assisted

Earlier, I wrote in my article for The Economic Times about how Self-Checkout or even an assisted one would make a cut in the Indian scenario even as Indians are embracing E-Commerce like no other and the Indian E-Commerce business is expected to cross over USD 50 Billion by 2025 by various estimates. Meanwhile, the Retail Industry in India is pegged at USD 500 Billion with just about 10% being Organised or even semi-Organised (meaning those shopkeepers who use some form of PoS for Billing & Accounting). Almost half of the semi-organised Retailers do not have an end to-end PoS solution and this is the latest trending opportunity in the realm of Retail Entrepreneurship with a number of existing players upping their ante while a whole lot of new technology is being tested and introduced by new Start-Ups. Interesting days ahead indeed.


Meanwhile, I visited the Apple Store on Orchard Road at Singapore during my recent vacation to the Country. It’s been 11 years since I travelled abroad and was yearning to see the Temple of Technology to seek the blessings of the Almighty Apple (sic). I have owned every Apple product ever made by the Company in it’s recent history, starting from the iconic iPod in 2007, iPhone (several of them!), iPad (two of them), MacBook, Apple Tv, Apple Watch and Airpods. I felt like a little kid inside Disneyland when I entered the Apple Store, that I was walking all along the counters and seeing the whole retail theatre with glee.  I wanted to interact with the staff and hence gave a request for a query on iCloud Management. I was given an appointment and was asked to wait for about 40 mins which I agreed with utter happiness so I can spend time there seeing how Apple consumers interact with the Apple Store. On the first floor was the Genius Groove – apparently the Genius Bar has now become a fledgling hub where atleast 100+ customers & staff can be seen seated together and interact on various service issues. I picked up my iPad and started browsing with the free internet provided by the Apple Store – a whopping 110 mbps even as so many of them were sharing the same internet. Finally, my turn came and I was assisted ably by Justin who clarified some basic as well as a few complicated queries on iCloud. He was extremely polite and knowledgeable and sent me back happy. 


I returned a day later to buy the new iPod which was launched on Thursday 30thMay 2019. I saw about it on their website and ended up at the store to pick it up. The staff themselves were surprised that it was ready for Sales! I placed an order on the mobile PoS which the staff had where I was allowed to browse the options, colours, etc. I placed the order and waited for 10 minutes by when another Apple Staff brought the product and handed over to his colleague. She placed my order on the same handheld PoS and my transaction was completed in less than 2 minutes. I was pretty excited doing this transaction and saw first hand how Omni-Channel Retail actually works. While I have seen similar technology being made available at a few Indian Retail Stores (Croma, For Example), the seamlessness and the convenience was fantastic from a user experience. 


There are atleast 20,000 companies, small medium or bigger who make PoS solutions including market leaders like GoFrugal, Wondersoft, Pathfinder, etc. to name a few. The solutions are priced from a one-time payment for as low as Rs. 10,000, SaaS models with recurring payments, enterprise solutions and so on. At my own Start-Up “Smiling Baby” – a chain of baby care stores, we signed up GoFrugal Technology’s eponomous “RayMedi” software which is now christened “RPoS” and have invested heavily 2 years backwith a module to manage Inventory across our multiple franchise stores including product management, adding inventory, live stock status and much more. With two running stores and two more in the pipeline, we have put the software to great use although we are yet to unlock so many hidden features including the omni-channel option where in we can rotate stocks across stores based on user requirements. Also, there is an option to connect the software with a mobile App, so Consumers can actually check which product is available at which store and accordingly, they can place orders online for a home delivery or a store pick-up. And this, for a small Start-Up like ours which is certainly not heavy on piled up cash investments. 

Omni-Channel offers a great opportunity for SME Retailers as much as the established ones. Time to make the most of it now.

13 December, 2018

Staff Empathy - Wake up India!

Like many of you, I too saw the viral video of the Zomato delivery guy consuming the food meant for Guests on his scooter. As a benefit of doubt, I initially thought he was eating the food he had ordered for himself or his family. I never shared the video and the ensuing Memes even to my close family or friends. Something stopped me from doing it. It takes me back to 1997 when I joined my first job as a part-time employee in erstwhile Madras. Being a humid city and blessed with four seasons of Summer through 12 months, the city was eponymous to a hot weather all through the year and about 20 days of winter. So Ice-Cream as a product category was a 12-month business opportunity and no wonder, “Baskin Robbins” set-up their second store in India here after debuting in Mumbai. I would study Computing at NIIT from 7am - 9pm and pursued B. Com from 4pm - 8pm at RKM Vivekananda College. A chance glance on the local tabloid and I saw there was a job opportunity at this shop and I headed. 

I got selected but the Franchisee wanted me to work all day which I couldn’t since I had classes in the morning and evening. So, I suggested I can work part time from 11am - 3pm which he agreed to for a monthly remuneration of Rs. 300. We were a crew of 6 and had to run all errands - from receiving stocks to cleaning tables to serving scoops. Around the same time, local brand “Arun” would sell their stick Ice-Cream for Rs. 5 while a scoop of Baskin would cost Rs. 33. We had to not just convince Customers to try and buy our offering but also justify why they should pay so much for the product.
The Franchisee was a shrewd businessman in his 30s and had an idea which took us all by surprise. He suggested that each of us can take any one scoop of ice-cream daily. There was a register we maintained and we tried as many flavours. Over a few days, we requested if we could take them home instead and make the family happy which he obliged. Over the weeks, we got tired of eating daily and said we wouldn’t do it anymore. The Franchisee had hit two mangoes with this move - he ensured we never pilfered the food; he ensured the staff knew what we were suggesting to Customers and so could sell them easily.
This was my first lesson in Retail, my first job as well. Frontend Retail Staff in India, most of them find it difficult to make ends meet. Salaries of CXOs have grown multi-fold in decades, but not that of these guys. So there is always a sense of remorse (at least for some of them) that they are unable to afford the products or services. I am not taking this as an excuse for living poor, after all that’s a choice too but they do really cannot afford even basic needs at times. I feel really bad for this Zomato delivery guy for all the negative publicity the society gave him. Imagine the humiliation his Mother, Wife and Children would face from their neighbourhood? Will anyone employ him again? With our excessive media trials, we have killed a family's reputation Sigh.
We have failed as a society, yet again thanks to our "one-upmanship" and self-styled righteousness in the garb of exposing someone who was at fault. Oh, btw that guys doesn't need our sympathy. The world needs more of our empathy. Am sure you agree. 


The Retail Staff (including the delivery staff) deserve better. Better Salary, better empathy and better social acceptance. When we give them something beyond what they deserve, they will not only display integrity but also build a better society that we live in. Remember, no one was born a thief. We just become one, thanks to circumstances.

03 October, 2018

My i Vs. Mi Experiences

I purchased my Mobile SIM card for the first time in the year 2002 in Chennai from Aircel and that number is still active. My my first handset was an Ericsson followed by Samsung R220, the first mobile phone launched in India with a multi-colour display. This was followed by a few Nokia models over a decade and a Sony Ericsson P1i before I finally moved to Blackberry. A few models and 4 years later, I moved on to the Apple Ecosystem with iPhone 4S in 2011. I upgraded to 5S, 6 and 7 over the years as well as including other i-Devices such as 3 generations of iPod, 2 variants of iPads, a MacBook, Apple Tv and finally an iWatch. With a paid plan for Apple Music and a huge storage on iCloud, I don’t have to worry about my stuff on the hard disk anymore, for its all safe and secure, “Up in the Air”. Hopefully. With a seamless integration within the iOS, it is almost impossible for me to move out of the Apple Ecosystem anymore and I guess I will remain clued in here. however, when the announcements for new models of iPhone XS & XS Max were announced last month, I had less interest than last year for the iPhone 8 & X. Somehow I felt that Apple has stopped making mobile phones for common users and is perhaps focusing on a niche segment who can use most of their offering.


Notwithstanding my self-prejudice for a coveted Brand and its products that I love so much, I decided to visit a Retail Store to physically touch and see the new launches. On a sunny Chennai afternoon last weekend, visited an upmarket Mall in the City, which for some strange reason has four retail stores next to & opposite to each other who sell multi-brands of Mobile phones and accessories apart from an Apple Premium Reseller (APR) and a Mi Experience Store. Even before I could visit the APR I happened to see the new iPhones at one of Tamil Nadu’s leading multi-brand Retail Store. The Staff were as uninterested as I were and they hardly explained why the new damn thing costs a lakh and fifty thousand bucks, with which one can but at least three new laptops or 15 mediocre mobile phones or perhaps even 5 top-end new mobile phone models. I didn’t bother to even ask queries and quickly moved on to the next chore with the family. Was having a sad grin on my face that the same “me” had waited at the same Mall five years back in a queue for four hours on a sunny November afternoon along with my better half to buy my Apple iPhone 5S on the launch day. How things change, huh!

My wife has been asking me to buy her a wearable device to measure footsteps, which we have been exploring for the past few days. Surprisingly, Croma and Reliance didn’t have a wide range while the Mi Experience Store at Express Avenue Mall didn’t have the widely popular Mi Watch 2. The staff at the Mi Store was unapologetic that it wasn’t available at their flagship store in South Chennai and instead advised us to visit a few days later when it would arrive at the Store. Really? Do Brand staff think Customers will Queue up anymore for their once coveted products? We ended up buying at another store whose Sales staff surprised us and matched the same price as the Mi Experience store where the device’s price is Rs. 200 lower than outside. At the Mi Experience store, I saw a wide range of products including LED TVs but another flagship Mi A5 model of Mobile Phone wasn’t available, once again. 


Recently, I was reading how Best Buy has embraced omni-channel in the US by ensuring a wide variety of models across Brands were made available at the Store and the Retailer also offered multiple models of delivery such as in-store, same day delivery, Day +1 delivery, at home delivery, etc. This was the only way they could counter the intense competition from Amazon in the US. Back in India, things remain unchanged. Croma has a namesake omni-channel model but the staff are disinterested in taking the effort. The bigger surprise was Mi Experience Store, where the staff could have immediately engaged with us, potential buyers of a Watch to browse the range on a device kept right at the store where one could browse and buy with a deliver in a day or two, Lost opportunity. 


This is just my personal experience and am damn sure there are millions of such experiences across the world where Customers are walking away without purchasing, thanks to disinterested staff and their respective Managements. A report in the Economic Times suggests that of the 1 lakh units kept ready for the opening weekend in India, not more than 50% were sold, thanks to low interest of Customers for various reasons, from new innovations to pricing. This is a first for Apple, what with already sagging Sales and the same trend could continue if they keep making iPhones which people stop buying for snob-value. And a younger brand like Mi which boasts of giving a run for money with its devices could do better with Merchandise Planning some Staff training. hope that’s not asking for too much from a Brand which has apparently carved a niche for itself.  

10 years in Madras - A recap

It was on this day 10 years back I returned to Madras (by then it was renamed Chennai) - where I have grown up all my life, after a long sta...