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Digitization of physical retail isn’t easy (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
Digitization of physical retail isn’t easy (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)

Coronavirus might lead to faster adoption of Retail 4.0 solutions

  • As the covid-19 outbreak increases fears about touching surfaces, being in close contact with others and more, retailers will have to look at ways to solve new problems

Over the last month, a small Delhi-based startup called Mirrorsize has been signing small and mid-sized retail customers “almost on a daily basis". Mirrorsize is a 3D body measurement solution that uses artificial intelligence (AI), advanced computer vision, deep learning models, and mesh processing to instantly provide precise body measurements.

The company said its body measurements came from diverse geographies, including Australia, the United States (US), Pakistan, the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, Morocco and even India. Mirrorsize’s tool can use a simple smartphone camera to present precise body measurements of a person, even if they are wearing jackets and other apparel.

Unlike business as usual, Mirrorsize didn’t make any cold calls to get clients. The pandemic is driving physical retail companies to seek contactless solutions for their customers. Many of them reached out to Mirrorsize after finding customers going through searches.

Mirrorsize’s example is just one of what is expected to be many in the days to come. As the covid-19 outbreak increases fears about touching surfaces, being in close contact with others and more, retailers will have to look at ways to solve new problems.

A recent study by Capgemini found that 37% of Indian consumers between ages 41 and 50 prefer facial recognition for authentication at shops, banks, contact centres and government offices to avoid human interactions and touchscreens during the pandemic.

“If I were to blend our own opinion with what we’re hearing from them (customers), I think how you reach the consumer is changing," said Amit Sharma, founder, ShopX.

Sharma points out that the traditional direct to home constructs can have “severe scale limitations" in a country like India. “It does not work well for India II and India III, the next 400-600 million people," he said.

The reasons could be many, ranging from delivery charges on apps to the economics of last-mile delivery. Sharma says that while millions will start using delivery services over the next nine months, still more will be left out, people who can be served by digitization of physical stores.

ShopX is working with one of the leading FMCG brands in India to roll out a nationwide digitization plan for its value chain. This includes processing orders, collecting payments, generating demand from retailers and more.

But digitization of physical retail isn’t easy. Sharma pointed out that many solutions have already failed, often because they don’t take the psyche of the local retailer or store owners into account. For instance, a traditional point of sale (PoS) machine doesn’t fit into the model of a small retailer. However, mobile payments do.

“We used to do 15-16 lakh transactions a day before covid-19, and we are at about 7.5-8 lakh transactions a day now," said Ashneer Grover, co-founder and CEO, BharatPe. Grover explained that the company was getting these numbers at a time when only merchants selling essential products were open.

BharatPe onboards new merchants through offline means, so it has not added new merchants since the lockdown. That means the company is getting more business from a smaller number of merchants.

“The next stage is data-driven retail," says Kamal Singhani, Managing Partner, Global Business Services, IBM India/South Asia. Singhani explained that organisations are already sitting on data that isn’t being used effectively, and the pandemic presents the right opportunity for use of AI and machine learning (ML) on such data.

“It gives them better visibility on how their customers behave, a 360 degree view of individuals, and enhances the overall consumer experience at various digital touch points," Singhani added. The industry has been calling this Retail 4.0 and it has existed as a concept for a while. However, the pandemic has left them with no option but to look at that.

“Till last year we were all talking about how kiranas are here to stay, but online grocery will pick up. Today, kirana stores will fiercely compete with online because the paradigm for online grocery purchase has changed," he said. “Prior to covid, the focus was on price, ease and speed and the choice you get, for local kirana stores against online groceries. Come May 2020, the priorities have totally changed, and trust is the topmost category," he added.

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