COVID-19 Induces Digital Transformation of Traditional Retailers in India As India sets foot into a market recovering from a global pandemic, the neighborhood stores have to make quick business decisions to maintain the momentum

By Kumar Vembu

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Over the years, digitization has taken over every spectrum of industry, and retailers are no exception. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has elevated retailers to prioritize their digital transformation strategies as consumers or shoppers have started to shun human contact. Retail can no longer be about buying products alone it's all about the experience and the journey from the time of order till payment, delivery, or even coming back.

As India sets foot into a market recovering from a global pandemic, the neighborhood stores have to make quick business decisions to maintain the same momentum they had garnered during the lockdown. Even before the pandemic outbreak, we saw these kirana stores gaining a lot of momentum. These kirana stores have always had the advantage because of their easy accessibility, personalized approach in doing business, credit payments, and quick supply to many buyers, etc. Yet, there is a gap between customer experience and awareness as today it is all about convenience and experience that matters to shoppers. However, a strong drive and little steps every day towards digital transformation can help kirana stores to bridge the gap and build a competitive edge in the market.

Right questions lead to right path

The saying, "Asking the right questions will already solve half of the problem," is true in almost all cases. With the pandemic re-emphasizing the need for technology and the fact that recent technological advancements have made digital transformation simple, easy, affordable, and most importantly have made the adoption incrementally without having to close down the shop and with less time and effort. As each of the kirana businesses is unique, the transformation can happen with the right set of questions.

A healthy business starts from the inside, by understanding existing processes, a business owner can decide the current frictions or manual interventions that are time-consuming and try automating them to serve the customers better. Not every process needs to be updated, but sensible choices will make a huge difference. For instance one of the biggest challenges a retailer faces today is improper inventory management. Either they are not using any software (POS or ERP) or their current software could not help them manage stock efficiently. By asking the right set of questions in choosing the right software this transformation will be made extremely simple and easy with minimal or no kind of training required to implement.

Empowering on-ground processes through technology

In retail, digital transformation is about using technology to improve existing processes, increase revenue streams, and implementing new business models at an affordable cost. Digital transformation at the process level means doing a task with "Zero-Effort, Zero-Skill, and Zero-Learning Curve," with the help of the right tools and technology.

Neighborhood kirana stores need to empower their employees and customers to adapt to the current change by moving from paper billing to mobile billing, access to data from anywhere anytime any device with migration to cloud POS. Identify non-moving products, profitable products, audit inventory, or regular stock-audit to get complete inventory control all of these can be automated and brings in lot more control in running the businesses and serve the customers better. Integration and interoperability will be the key ingredients for success.

Digital transformation plan

The pandemic has declared the old school retail model inefficient. It has nearly wiped out businesses which show diffidence for change. Be it a local kirana or a retail store in well-organized malls, having a digital transformation plan is the only immunity to protect from this business pandemic wave. For shoppers today, it is all about convenience and experiences as personalized as possible. Each process needs a touch of technology to attract people to the stores.

A firm resolution to update one process (online ordering, manage delivery platform on their own, or inventory management, integrated accounting, payment, loyalty, market places, etc.) every day for the next 100 days will help business owners to create a decent digital experience for their customers and employees and level the playing field. Strong leadership will be needed, not just to steer the ship, but to make the necessary decisions, cutting across traditional boundaries and thinking. Digital transformation happens when the right tools and technology promote self-service and empowers every stakeholder with real-time insights to run the business.

The evolving COVID-19 situation is complex and digital transformation will only give traditional retailers a competitive advantage and build the foundations of a more digital, nimble business for the future. Unlike COVID-19, there is no waiting for a vaccine to get a complete cure. The only way to get out of this business pandemic is to build your immunity for this and whatever comes next by transforming digitally.

Businesses that have embraced digital transformation are more profitable than their average industry competitors and enjoy a higher market valuation. It is clearly, the thing that's transforming is not technology: the technology is transforming you.

Kumar Vembu

CEO and Founder, GOFRUGAL and Angel Investor

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