Recently, on a visit to Croma, India’s largest electronics retail chain from the Tata Group, I told a sales guy that a particular product available at the store was cheaper on their website and requested to get the same price at the store. The sales man could not match the price and said that offers online are limited to those buying online. In brief, what he implied was that it was all right if I walked out without buying at the store and ordered online instead.

In the past year, online retailers have flooded the market with huge promotions and deep discounts causing a significant dent to retailers’ revenues as consumers shopped online.

As consumers moved online, brick and mortar retailers like the Future Group which operates Big Bazaar, FBB and eZone, Shoppers Stop Ltd, Arvind Ltd and Aditya Birla Group’s retail arm have all started warming to e-commerce, launching their omni-channel strategies and websites. Some are even making their products available online on market places like Snapdeal, Amazon and Flipkart.

What omni-channel really means is that convenience is king. For the retailer this means putting the consumer at the centre of its strategy and allowing them to decide when, where, and how to shop. The consumer can order anytime, anywhere, and from any device. They can get their purchases in the store, at a separate delivery location, or through home delivery; to determine their own shopping and delivery or pick-up windows to fit their busy schedules; and to be able to return items at any of the store’s retail locations without any hassles, says consulting firm Boston Consulting Group in a paper on omni-channel retail.

In the US, some of the biggest e-commerce companies are brick and mortar retailers. To date, close to 90% of the sales occur in store, and 95% are captured by retailers with a brick and mortar presence, according to a recent AT Kearney study. In Australia, omni-channel retailers like Myer, David Jones, Woolworths and Coles account for 50% of the ecommerce market and they are growing at almost double the rate of pure play ecommerce companies. Likewise in the UK, physical retailers like John Lewis, Tesco and Sainsbury’s are some of the biggest online sellers as well.

Interestingly, 35% of shoppers who buy items online have used click-and-collect retail to pick up their purchases, and that proportion will increase to more than 75% of shoppers by 2017, says retail researcher Planet Retail.

Global retailers are experimenting with technologies similar to what was seen in the 2002 sci-fi movie Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise walks into a Gap store and is recognized from a retina scan (smartphone now) and asked about the assorted tank tops he bought the last time. What we are talking about is super personalization.

Some global retailers are offering free wi-fi in their stores and as you log in to their network, download their apps, they get your profile, your browsing history and start sending personalized offers and recommendations based on your likes and preferences and also help you to navigate the store to find what you like.

However, Indian retailers are still just reacting to online retailers. They are far from ready to unleash the power of analytics, the internet or to use their physical locations as an added advantage over the ecommerce portals.

It could be 2016-2017 by the time we see Indian retailers’ omni-channel strategies unfold and even later before their mindsets change to become completely consumer centric.

Given the rate at which ecommerce is growing, in five years, etail in India will be the same size as the organized brick and mortar retail, says a report by lobby group Retailers Association of India and property consultant, Knight Frank India Pvt. Ltd. Organized retailers need to act now.

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