How retailers use tech to make a better sale pitch

Published: October 14, 2019 2:05:41 AM

Some retailers are using technology to resolve customer queries, and offer customers a better shopping experience

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By Devika Singh

Retailers the world over are relying on technology to predict consumers’ purchase behaviour. For example, in its flagship store in London, Marks & Spencer analyses data from videos and IoT (Internet of Things) sensors to equip its employees to serve customers in a personalised way. UK-based supermarket chain Sainsbury’s is also developing a data insights platform, which will analyse real-time consumer data and identify current trends.

McDonald’s in the US is reportedly working on a technology that would predict a customer’s order, based on his or her past purchases.

With the pressure to reinvent marketing strategies mounting, retailers in India, too, are rising to the occasion. Of late, a few offline retailers have been tapping social media analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) data to gather information about consumers’ buying history and online activities.

Watching and learning
Fashion retailer Raymond in India has developed an algorithm that segregates consumers under its loyalty programme, based on their past purchases, preferred styles and colours, and uses this data to predict their future behaviour.

Ravi Hudda, CRM and online tailoring, digital consumer centre, Raymond, says, “By leveraging this algorithm, we can predict what a customer is likely to buy during the festive season and how much discount will persuade him to make the purchase.” The company is also working on a technology that would use geo-tracking to alert the sales staff whenever an enrolled customer visits its stores.

Raymond plans to move its ‘Made to Measure’ offering onto an artificial intelligence model that can predict the apparel size of a person using just a picture. The company claims the size predictions are 98% accurate for shirts and trousers, but the accuracy is a tad lower for jackets.

“In the US, 95% of our business is ‘made to order’ because that is where the tech is more advanced. We are now trying to get that to India,” Hudda adds.

Footwear brand ASICS keeps track of customers who have visited its website or store. “We have information such as demographics, weight and previous purchases of customers. This allows our staff to show them products similar to what they have bought before,” says Rajat Khurana, MD, ASICS India.

Some retailers are using technology to resolve customer queries, and offer customers a better shopping experience. Take clothing brand W, for example, which is using an AI-driven platform to resolve customer queries across channels — WhatsApp, e-mails, text messages and even through feedback forms. The platform also analyses the feedback and offers insights to the product team to help them plan their inventory. claims that it has brought down the resolution time of complaints by 50% for its clients.

Not many takers
It is mostly the large-format and medium-size retailers in the food and apparel industries, and a few in the footwear and eyewear categories, that are tapping these technologies. And most are only still experimenting. Why haven’t companies embraced these tech solutions wholeheartedly?

An expert on the matter says it is because these technologies entail heavy investment. “Most of the companies don’t want to spend beyond `15 lakh for these; some even want data analysts at salaries as low as
`2 lakh per month.”

Their reluctance to spend, according to Pinakiranjan Mishra, partner and national leader, consumer products and retail at EY, stems from the fact that they are not confident about the return on investment. And for results to show, he says, “they will have to invest more”. Furthermore, there is the fundamental need for more tech providers, but with a lack of funding, such players too, are few and far between.

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