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January 9, 2015

Deciphering the right ecommerce model for India

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Multiple ecommerce models have evolved in the market starting from Pure Inventory Model (capital intensive) on one extreme to Pure Market Place Model on the other (technology based agent model that is light weight on capital).  In US 3 models dominate the space, they include

-      Pure Inventory Model

-      Hybrid+ Model- ex: Amazon

-      Pure Market Place Model - ex: eBay

However in India, while the market initially started off with Inventory led ecommerce model the capital intensive nature of business, concerns from stakeholders on profitability and scale as well as threat from International bigges like Amazon has led to emergence of new class of ecommerce Model namely

  1. Hybrid Model
  2. Managed Market Place Model

Each model has come into existence for similar reasons but with different intentions. The Managed Market Place Model has been adopted by Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon to circumvent FDI Laws and bring foreign money to beef up capital. While there are debates on whether it is legal to bring FDI under the Managed Market place model, for the time being it is seen as a quick source of much needed capital for these companies.

On the other hand Myntra (in early 2014) also introduced (but did not switch completely) to a Market Place model while retaining the Inventory based ecommerce model. Per one of the earlier announcements from the company, Myntra will continue to operate both models (one needs to read this with caution as Myntra got acquired by Flipkart in mid 2014) - src: www.economictimes.com

       Sell premium and private label brands through inventory model

       Sell Local and Boutique Brands through Marketplace model

While managed market place model is one sure way to scale profitably without needing too much capital and providing right level of control towards customer experience, there are still multiple problems to deal with

       Limited or Lack of control over Product availability and quality  from third party sellers

       Humungous task of managing a large supplier base that is fragmented and Limited ability of 3rd party suppliers to scale and meet demand fluctuations

       Delays in shipment and marginally higher shipping costs as multiple products in an order needs to be fulfilled from multiple suppliers consolidated at a Fulfillment center and then and shipped to customer

       Loss of competitive advantage over the long run as the technology platform offering (for managed marketplace) can be replicated by other players leaving little or o differentiation between various players in the market

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In my view the model followed by Myntra** in India (hybrid model) or the one followed by Amazon in US (hybrid+) has greater appeal over the managed marketplace model for the following reasons

       Provides leverage to sell premium and exclusive brands through their own inventory

       Focus on private labels and improve margins

       Provides an option to the company to scale and sell other products/categories (from their own inventory) when 3rd party sellers are not providing the right quality of product or service

       Utilize marketplace to derive trends and insights on new products and gaps in current offering and use the Inventory model to exploit those gaps.

       Strikes a fine balance between Capital Requirements vs control on product quality, inventory and fulfillment

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To summarize, in the near term the market in India will move towards the Managed Market Place model for ecommerce for obvious reasons. However once the restrictions on FDI in online retail (B2C) are removed and when capital is available at acceptable rates most players will settle for a 'hybrid' model where Inventory and Market Place models will co-exist on their ecommerce platforms allowing players to exercise right amount of control on product quality, inventory, price, fulfillment and order tracking. Think about a hybrid model where high value-low volume and designer goods are sold through inventory model and categories that have high volume/low value and low margin goods are sold through marketplace model.

Other interesting proposition to consider would be that of Brick and Mortar retailer like Reliance Retail or Tata*** to build or acquire one of the ecommerce platforms and provide a compelling business case. A player like Reliance Retail has the following advantages

       Established supplier network for multiple categories as they already operate various formats like Fresh, Hypermart, Digital and Fashion - helps scale the business faster

       Faster rollout into Tier-2 and Tier-3 markets by leveraging well established store network in these cities.

       Availability of capital from parent company which will help scale the business. Deep  pockets and easy access to capital ensures staying power in the low margin online business

       Omni channel support by leveraging stores as fulfillment centers ensuring faster deliveries and improved customer experience

Clearly these are exciting times for online retail in India. The extent to which any model succeeds will depend on positive policy changes, efficient usage of available capital, trust quotient, scale, optimal customer experience and supplier network management and tight control on operations (price, quality, availability, fulfillment and returns).

* Includes Control on Product Quality, Inventory, Price, Logistics, Fulfillment and Tracking

** Myntra got acquired by Flipkart in Mid 2014 and hence their business model might be subject to change

*** Tata has already made investments in Bluestone, UrbanLadder and Snapdeal in 2014

December 22, 2014

Smartphones and Smart Consumers

 

There was a time when if you went to a retail store and the prices seemed a bit high, you would have to drive to a competitor to compare rates.  If it turns out the initial store was cheaper, you could drive on back and make your purchase.  Then the internet came along.  If you wanted to compare prices, you could do some online research comparing different retailers' prices, before printing off your MapQuest directions to the store offering the lowest prices.  Now, we're in the mobile era.  From a retail store you can quickly look up the price of a consumer product offered at every single competitor from your tiny computer that you take everywhere that happens to make a phone call once in a while. 

How do retailers satisfy these knowledgeable consumers?

                Armed with smartphones, consumers demand lower prices and have the power to seek out less expensive alternatives, including buying from online retailers like Amazon.  To compete, many retailers have offered to match the lowest prices from physical and online retail stores alike.  This can prevent a retail store from losing the customer, but a cost.  Retail stores lose revenue by lowering their prices to match low-cost competitors, but they also must deal with the uncertainty in forecasting associated with selling a product at various prices.  Price matching also allows some shrewd bargain hunters room to pull a fast one over retailers.  Recently some customers created false Amazon pages to purchase Playstation 4 consoles at less than 25% of the going rate.

Where does this leave retailers?

                Retailers use this price-matching to practice price discrimination.  They offer lower prices to the bargain-hunters who pull up competitor prices on their iPhones, but offer standard rates to those who are satisfied with the listed price.  This strategy allows retailers to stave off the low prices of online retailers a little bit longer, while also extracting the most revenue from most customers.  Trends are moving in the direction towards consumers gaining more and more information about consumer products value and quality, so physical retail stores must begin to offer more benefits to the in-store experience if they wish to remain profitable.  The Apple Store is the pinnacle of this in-store experience.  Customers enjoy trying out the latest products, receiving one on one assistance from "Geniuses", and lounging around in the sleek-looking stores.  There is still a reason to go to these physical locations.  Price-matching is nice short-term band aid, but retail stores must continue to offer premium experiences if they expect today's consumers to choose in-store purchases over the convenience and experience of online shopping.

June 3, 2014

EDI Transforming Business Models

For most of us, EDI is a communication system to exchange formatted data between disparate applications, however it is time to realize that the technology has potential to deliver much beyond than what it was intended to. Since early 20th century commerce had seen industries leveraging the opportunities provided by Express mail and Telefax to grow network. Healthy and far-reached network implies smart way of handling goods and providing services, optimization of cost and labor, efficient processes and customer delight. Business growth, technological advancement, and ever changing customer needs demanded for more swift and complex information exchanging networks.

The growing concern was addressed by UN recommended EDIFACT and ANSI recommended X12 EDI standards that set to establish uniformity in business transactions defined for each industry or operation segment. The principal vision was to establish standardization and integrity of the business documents being exchanged amongst trading partners. However EDI proved to be a state of art technology in many areas starting from finance to processes. Following is an attempt to understand the way EDI has contributed to the evolution of many processes, creation of opportunities, and efficient management of resources in a supply chain.

 

Continue reading "EDI Transforming Business Models" »

September 30, 2012

"Mobile Apps For Faster Shopping Sprees"

 "Google Indoor Maps" has opened a whole new opportunity to retailers whereby they can enable their customers in getting easy and quick access to the products that they're looking for. In brief, "Google Indoor Maps" allows a person walking inside a store to navigate his travel within this indoor location just like what she(/he) would have done while driving a car using a GPS

Integrating these maps with Retailer's own mobile application (app) and tagging a store's aisles by "Product Categories" on these Google Indoor Maps for a large format store, going down to category of products available by Brands may be just the beginning of the thought as to how Retailers allow their patrons to directly reach out for the product that they are looking for rather than wandering through store departments or searching for a store associate which for some shoppers may be time consuming or even frustrating.

One of the best supporting feature on Google floor maps, is the ability to guide the user by individual floor's plans, whereby a large multi-level retail stores can also be covered easily and therefore we feel that some of the immediate exploits can be in the large scale Store or say Super Store

Let us try to understand how one such Retailer app may make the life a Retailer's clientele much simpler and the shopping experience much better. Assume the scenario that our loyal Customer "Louise" is entering such a Large Super Store for her weekly purchases which runs across several departments of the store like fresh produce, dry grocery, apparel, cleaning supplies, bath-ware, electronics, sports goods and the list goes on. Soon after she has parked at the store, Louise logs-in to the Retailer's own native Mobile app on her smart phone. The Retailer's app upon invocation on her smart phone, detects her geographical location and the store that she is visiting today via Location Based Services (LBS) wherein this specific store's latest tagged maps can be pulled and displayed on Louise's phone's screen

To make the whole shopping trip faster, Louise has keyed in the shopping-list beforehand in the app and a route map is prepared for her upon her check-in into the store via this app. This route map is based on the latest movement of shelves/racks in the store.  Such a guided walk cuts down the Louise's walk through the aisles a short, easy and a confortable one

Louise was looking for a shirt for her son, but the size small does not appear on the shelf today... does the store have it? No problem... the check would be a quick one by Louise quickly getting to know this via her mobile app. Moreover, if it is not available in store right now, the app prompts her with an easy and quick site to store order which she can pick up during her trip next week 

Another use for this app+google maps eco-system can be to integrate with the floor maps and publish current vacancies/next available time slots/expected wait times in Large Store's sub stores like ophthalmologist shops, saloons etc.

 

This Large Super Store's sub stores are very frequently publishing a status of a vacant customer spots/seat available or unavailability of the same on the floor map which when viewed by Louise, will give her an idea whether she needs to do the shopping first or go to the sub store for a quick visit to the hair salon

While these are just some of the initial thoughts, when pursued actively this specific technology can be utilized in umpteen ways to boost the store sales and to guarantee customer satisfaction. Overall, sky is the limit when one starts documenting the concept of such a solution/product. Customer purchase/return history and loyalty points can be utilized to highlight offers/deals when customer is approaching a specific aisle or when she has been looking for a specific product for some time

This article has been contributed by Ashutosh Kaushal - Senior Consultant (Sterling Commerce - Infosys Ltd). You can reach Ashutosh at Ashutosh_Kaushal@infosys.com.

 

Leveraging Social / Consumer Genome for Merchandising

Most retailers traditionally leverage sales data from POS terminals to analyze buying behavior. In some cases, loyalty card data is also used to determine appropriate assortment decisions. These data sources and their corresponding analysis have proven reasonably helpful, though they don't convey the whole picture. With the recent explosion in social and consumer related data on the web, there is a wealth of information that Retailers should be exploiting and incorporating into their merchandising decisions, primarily around assortment and space.

Social/Consumer genome related data provides rich insights into needs, wants and buying behavior of individuals. This data when combined with demographic and geographic data can provide a good map of consumer wants and needs for a given market for a set of product categories.

A major input into merchandising decisions / assortment plans is to determine consumer buying behavior to identify what products sell and what potential products could sell to increase sales. Based on this analysis, assortment decisions of inclusion/exclusion or allotment of space are provided. The means to identify this buying behavior was typically the use of POS data or data from Nielsen/IRI that provided good basis for WHAT was being purchased. When married with Demographic data, there was a good proxy for WHY the products were being purchased. Even when rigorous correlation and clustering analysis is carried out, the determination of buying behavior and the reasons for the same were proxies at best.

Now with the availability of consumer genome or social genome information, the analysis of WHY purchases are being made and what is being purchased with identification of latent and express needs becomes even more accurate as there is clear expression of wants and needs. This will significantly enhance the quality of assortment and merchandising decisions as the degree of error/approximation is reduced.

There are however some pitfalls to the use of this data. We cannot solely rely on this data as web usage and consumer/social genome information may not fully represent buying needs and wants for the entire market population. This data usage has to be married to traditional sales analysis to augment the decision making process.

There are no tools / application products in the market place that provide truly integrated capabilities. The holy grail for optimized merchandising would be to integrate social/consumer genome data effectively into the traditional clustering analysis and thereby into the assortment planning process. This might be a challenge for some of the retailers who struggle with traditional approaches. Asking them to adopt more advanced analytical approaches to incorporate social/consumer genome data would be a challenge.

The key would be to devise suitable technology/process platform augmented with robust analytics shared services that can leverage necessary data to enable optimized merchandising decisions.

This article has been contributed by Amitabh Mudaliar (Group Engagement Manager - RCL Infosys). You can reach Amitabh at Amitabh_M@infosys.com.

Cashing in on "Order to Cash" through BPO shared services

 The Order to Cash process is at the heart of every business and I have often been tasked with asking clients and prospects to consider moving their Order to Cash processes into a Shared services delivery model with a third party service provider.  Over the years this attempt of mine has evinced myriad expressions from clients ranging from the "Have you lost it?" look to the "You just showed me business process nirvana" look. The industry where I experienced the most contrasting reactions was the CPG industry and I wanted to share some interesting learning from the experience of working with a few clients in walking the talk and sharing in their Order to Cash transformation journey over the years.

To provide some context, the concept of Business process outsourcing in the CPG industry is not a new one. This industry was one of the earliest adopters of outsourcing transactional and back office business processes such as Accounts Payables, Accounts Receivables, Payroll processing and Procurement. The primary driver for outsourcing across all these processes was labor cost arbitrage followed by process efficiencies from consolidation; harmonization and continuous improvement. These drivers have become the cornerstone of all business process outsourcing relationships and have for long settled into becoming the marketing tagline for the BPO industry.

With this legacy of perceived value from BPO relationships, when one has to go down the same journey with Order to Cash processes, the value equation does not necessary stack up. The most obvious reason for this skew in the case of O2C processes is Risk. To cite an instance provided by one of my clients - The entire annual cost savings delivered by a BPO relationship can potentially be eroded by one order from a large retailer being inadvertently dropped or shipped to the wrong address due to the contractual penalties involved. And one defect out of a million is acceptable even by "Six Sigma" standards!

So two questions come up, the "Why" and the "How"? The "Why" is easy. Given that the Order to Cash process impacts not just the G&A metric but also the Cost of Goods Sold, Working capital efficiency, Days Sales of Inventory and Gross Revenue metrics, a successful shared services strategy undertaken by engaging the right partner could catalyze business transformation impacting the highest levels of the organization.

The tough question however is the "How"? I often relate that to converting an "Art" into a "Science". The "Art" here refers to the finesse and proficiency that Customer service representatives have honed on their jobs for a number of years. The "Science" here refers to replicating that same level of service or sometimes even improving it but with a completely new team that's located thousands of miles away in a global delivery model.  Sounds like mission impossible right? Not really. It's been done before and involves the following best practices:

·         Create the right operating model: The tried and tested Front Office-Back Office model is a great starting point. It allows for a risk mitigated approach to the end state sourcing mix given the need to balance risk and value in a customer centric setup for the CPG industry.

·         Create the right performance measurement methodology: The days of adopting operational metrics such as cycle time, average handling time, Abandonment rate, First Contact Resolution etc to govern outsourcing relationships are a thing of the past. These metrics are now considered Business As Usual (BAU). Consider including business metrics and supply chain performance metrics such as cost per order/invoice, Case Fill Rates (CFRs), On Time Delivery (OTD), Truckload capacity utilization, Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) into the performance measurement framework

·         Create a segmented service framework: Most CPG businesses operate in the 80:20 model where 20% of customers account for 80% of revenues. Given this mix, a one size fits all shared services model will fail to deliver differentiated service experience to top tier customers. Consider a three tier service framework involving Transactional shared services, Business support services and Enterprise support services layers

·         Choose the right global delivery model: Most top tier BPO providers today have global presence with established Centers of Excellence. Adopt a hub and spoke global delivery model preferably aligned to customer tiers as well as the segmented service framework

·         Adopt a phased transition approach: A prudent transition plan is the foundation to successful Order to Cash shared services adoption. Consider creating a phased transition plan where phasing is based on customer tiers, markets, process complexity or a combination of these parameters

While there are several other design considerations, the above five are what I could call the essential ingredients of Order to Cash BPO solutions for the CPG industry. With these best practices implemented, companies can start to cash in on their Order to Cash processes through BPO shared services led transformation.

This article has been authored by Sushanth Ananth (Manager, Client Services - Retail, CPG, Logistics and Life Sciences, Infosys Ltd). You can reach Sushanth at Sushanth_ananth@infosys.com.

 

 

 

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