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How Continuous Experimentation Has Kept this E-commerce Giant Ahead of the Curve How do Ravi Krishnan and his team at Flipkart Labs assess what to toy and experiment with among 80+ product categories? They focus on core customer needs, consumer understanding, and category understanding

By Paromita Gupta

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Flipkart Labs

With a vision in mind, anyone can become an entrepreneur and start a business. The key challenge for longetivity and customer retention can be overcome only with experimentation and newer offerings. And Flipkart has been a staunch believer of this.

Since its inception in 2007, Flipkart, the e-commerce giant, time and again have claimed to experiment with its offerings for Indian consumers. Case in point, in 2010, it introduced a new-untapped payment mode- cash on delivery. Today, over 80 per cent of Indians opt for CoD, making it the most popular payment method for online purchases.

Its consistency in coming up with new features for customers has made Flipkart a leader in the space. It, along with Amazon India, control a 60 per cent of the market.

Its perusal to make the ecosystem a more accessible and engaging one continued with the launch of Flipkart Labs in 2022. "Flipkart Labs was set up with the objective of looking at emerging areas of technology, which are probably not adopted in mass or at scale, either from an overall industry or ecosystem standpoint or specifically within e-commerce. We figure out which of these trends we believe are going to be most impactful in the future for consumers," shares Ravi Krishnan, Head of Flipkart Labs with Entrepreneur India.

So, how do Krishnan and his team at Flipkart Labs assess what to toy and experiment with among 80+ product categories? They focus on core customer needs, consumer understanding, and category understanding.

The Immersive Tech Bets

In less than two years, the Labs has bet on several moonshots for success. This includes Digital Twin room view, 360-degree view, FireDrops, Virtual Worlds, and their latest offering, Skin Analyzer. "The objective is never to focus on just building on what others have done, but figuring out India-specific solutions which solve for a poor consumer or seller or ecosystem problems that the industry may have," he shares.

Understanding that their tech offering may not be best suited for a low 4G or 3G network, they developed their 3D software development kit. "We've developed our own SDK to render this experience so that it's scalable to a larger base of customers," he shares.

On 3D and Augmented Reality

With newer technologies cropping up now and then, it's

intuitive to think of adopting them in one's process. But that's not enough. He shares that 3D and AR need to be "validated at a very granular level."

Digital Twin helps users visualize which products are suitable for their requirements, "One of the challenges in buying online is the look and feel and understanding whether this is the right product for me, how does it look on me, or how does it fit into my house." By evaluating different textures, different features and how it is placed in your room, users can make a much more informed choice at large.

When it comes to the 360-degree view offering, users can get a better idea as to what the potential product looks like. Giving an example of a TV set, questions like how many ports it has, what ports it has, does it have an HDMI port or three HDMI ports are answered.

Embracing Web3 and Metaverse

It is one of the handful of companies that have ventured into the Web3 and Metaverse space. "We genuinely believe that there is a strong need for a version of the internet going forward, where there is a lot more trust, personalization in terms of the end-to-end experience, and fungibility in terms of the way this entire ecosystem operates," he shares. Flipkart Labs launched FireDrops to boost its Web3 loyalty programme. It will allow users to store, collect, and trade non-fungible tokens and unlock larger rewards and benefits.

Largely, Web3 is synonymous with cryptocurrency, but Flipkart Labs is working towards easing the technology. "The way FireDrops is designed is to abstract the complexity of Web3. When people start correlating it with crypto, the value that it can bring gets lost. We wanted to keep it very simple," he shares. "Brands are looking for more innovative ways to engage with customers and reward customers. Loyalty is probably too strong of a word, but more around how you bring more customers into the fold of the brand. How do you engage with them in a different way? How do you get more mileage for your rewards? Essentially breaking away from the regular way of doing things in an e-commerce constructive," he shares on why Flipkart is betting on NFTs through FireDrops. He quipped that the platform has 3.5 million users as of date and claims to have one of the largest activations in a Web2 setting for Web3 technology.

"Online shopping needs to become a lot more immersive than it is today," he adds. In order to make shopping a lot more interesting and fun experience and, at the same time, more enriching for its customers, the company launched FlipVerse in 2022 as a means to democratize the shopping experience for customers. The team wanted brands to have a say as to the kind of experience they wanted to offer their customers and portray their image. And this led to the brand-driven Virtual Worlds being launched in September. Coca-Cola, Oppo, and Mondelez are a few who have their virtual worlds with the Labs.

FlipVerse, on the other hand, is also facilitating social interaction between users in the world. He shares that the virtual worlds saw good traction during Flipkart's 'The Big Billion Days' sale. However, the number is yet negligible and is currently at the product/brand discovery stage rather than chipping into the sales revenue.

"We believe whatever technology we build, eventually is for the 800 million Indian consumers," Krishnan adds.

The AI-powered Skin Analyzer

A lot of the potential technologies are based on the insights procured from deeper consumer studies. Two insights were identified from the beauty category, and the Skin Analyzer was a result of it. "It's a very personal category. Many people don't like to talk about it as well. They want a lot of recommendations, but they're not comfortable talking in a very large circle," he adds. He further makes a mention of the trusted influencer concept, a phenomenon where a trusted-reliable influencer is the source of your purchases, "The trusted influencer is probably not the best person to advise them on what specifically is suited for their skin type because the influencer's skin type will be different from yours." People look for advice, but they probably do not always get the best one.

The second insight that came was that people thought of skincare as a routine or a regimen rather than a single product purchase. "What do I need to do to take care of my skin holistically? And how do I know that this is the right recommendation when you're making a recommendation holistically? And that's what the view was behind the skin analyzer," shares Krishnan.

The e-commerce giant partnered with L'Oreal's owned ModiFace, an AR technology provider, to launch an offering suitable for Indian skin. E-commerce has been reported to be the fastest-growing channel for beauty products.

So how does the AI work? The Skin Analyzer is powered by 10,000 images, offering exceptional accuracy in its recommendations. Available for all skin types, including oily, normal, combination, and dry skin, it requires users to take selfies and answer a few simple questions to provide customized skin evaluation. It provides a detailed chart of seven stages- clean, prepare, treat, moisturize, care, target, and protect.

The average time spent end-to-end is seven minutes per user.

It was launched as a part of Flipkart's 'Glam up Fest' in Mumbai in June. On being asked how the response has been so far, he shares "We have seen a 21 % increase in conversions of people who use the product versus people who don't since the launch." He feels that there is a really strong consumer need for the skin-oriented offering.

What's Next?

"These technologies are very soon becoming mainstream; they are no longer good to do on luxury. Consumers are expecting it," he shares on being asked what can be expected in the immersive technology space. Anyone who understands, leverages, and focuses on it as a necessity will drive mass adoption.

"Shopping in 2030 will look very different than what it is today," he concludes.

Paromita Gupta

Features Writer with Entrepreneur India

Covering news and trends in AI and Metaverse segments. An avid book reader running her personal blog on the side. You may reach me at paromita@entrepreneurindia.com. 
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