India's Frenzied Festive Shopping Season Calls For Agile Customer Experience

An industry veteran with incomparable knowledge about information technology and services industry discusses the dramatic shift towards contactless shopping this festive season, and how retailers can best prepare for an uptick in online demand.

This year will be a first for Indian retail, as the number of online shoppers will nearly double to around 50 million during the festive season. In that last decade or so, Indian consumers were spoilt for choice when it came to shopping at large outlets, as the country witnessed the exponential growth of brick-and-mortar shopping spaces. Fast forward to 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic has induced a complete transformation of consumer behaviour. Lockdown restrictions ­ coupled with the fear of leaving the safety of the home ­ have pushed customers to online platforms to satiate their ever-increasing craving for shopping. E-commerce sales jumped to $4.1 billion during the week of 15th October, reinforcing that ­ even in the face of an adverse and restrictive environment ­ consumers still want to shop.

Until public sentiment over shopping in-store is restored, retailers have no choice but to elevate contactless online shopping experiences for those unwilling or unable to leave their homes ­ else they risk losing out on a golden opportunity to tap into festive and holiday demand. Only agile retailers willing to take risks, by pivoting their product and customer service mix, will capitalise on this newfound retail explosion.

Changing customer expectations
The rapid rise of social and mobile technologies is actively changing the way businesses interact with their customers. Mobile commerce sales in India are projected to reach 80 per cent of all e-commerce sales by the end of the year, as the all-powerful connected customer ­accustomed to moving seamlessly through the online shopping experience-continues to drive the retail agenda. The challenge for retailers to effectively foster long-term loyalty beyond the critical festive period is ensuring they are present on the right channels, and effectively communicating through each of them.

Amid fast-evolving market changes, one thing remains fundamental - customers' demand for seamless shopping experience

Restructuring the retail experience
Indeed, during the holiday shopping season, consumers will be on the hunt for exciting deals that offer discounted rates, but also experiences that match the quality that shoppers desire. A high-tech, high-touch experience, blending the best of technology and empathy, will prove critical to elevating the shopping experience and enabling retailers to dedicate tailored care for each customer. With an emphasis on preserving the human touch, retailers should aim to maintain compassion in the virtual era, for consumers who are likely to be needing more support than ever.

Staying on top of updates regarding stock of essential and non-essential items, delivery slots, and exchanges/refunds will be a significant challenge throughout the holiday season. Customers across markets want shortcuts to finding out this key information, and prefer the seamless integration of digital, social, mobile, and other channels to make this even easier. When it comes to channels, the more, the better ­ customers that find it easy to locate a contact channel have a loyalty intention 32 per cent higher than those find it difficult. For shoppers with complex queries, such as bouncing payments, retailers can turn to chat and messaging solutions that enable instant dialogues with customers. As a result of the crisis, instant messaging is expected to continue to grow by almost 90 per cent in the next year and a half, due to its ability to efficiently combat enquiry backlogs and wavering customer satisfaction.

Retailers are also increasingly exploring visual engagement tools, such as co-browsing, to help identify the root cause of issues for users who may be less technically proficient. Augmented Reality (AR) takes this one step further, enabling users to make a physical product come to life on a screen, and has fast become a tool used to entice browsers and follow through on a purchase without having to leave their homes.

Shift towards digital payments
The current market environment has been a boon for India to push for a digital payment revolution. With such a rapid increase in usage over the last year, digital transactions are now expected to grow three-fold to Rs 7,092 trillion by 2025 as today's consumers are willing and encouraged to use secure and safe contactless platforms. This trend is pushing organisations to keep pace with competing innovators and pivot their digital strategies towards user-friendly, digital wallets.

Vying to increase customer satisfaction through digital wallets, retailers will need to unlock higher levels of security and a user experience that combines functionality, speed, flexibility, and usability. Consumers ­ however digitally-savvy ­still expect to receive care and attention should an issue arise; therefore organisations should integrate automated support in chat functions to become more available and responsive. Consumers appreciate the convenience of going cashless, while businesses can expect sales conversions as a result of making the buying experience more accessible for their customers.

E-commerce is here to stay
Amid fast-evolving market changes, one thing remains fundamental ­ customers' demand for seamless shopping experience. Retailers are accepting the pivotal role innovation plays in reimagining their omni-channel strategies to attract more customers and sales, as seen by the growing numbers that online shopping has amassed since the pandemic began. Whilst e-commerce demand is at an all-time high, so is competition to secure valuable wallet share, therefore pursuing a more interactive, seamless purchasing experience must never stop.