is brick and mortar RETAIL on decline? Is online RETAIL booming?? or is RETAIL transforming yet again ???

online e-commerce has quite obviously disrupted the traditional retail sector considerably - and continues to grow/evolve with new players, entering various sectors, sub-segments to take advantage of digitalisation waves all around us today.

did you hear that Amazon has now entered brick & mortar retail segment as well (Amazon go) to address the needs of those who do want to go to a retail store and for a quality in-store experience. However as a differentiator from the pack, they have got rid of the billing counter/ques completely - to ensure a smooth/frictionless experience. So the customer walks in - picks up - and goes out - without stopping/waiting to bill.  The way its advertised is that shopping is a breeze …. see here - go

Consolidation amongst many ecommerce players is also on. You may have heard about snapdeal merging with flipcart.   And might have heard about how Patanjali - seems to have such a close ear to the ground that they are continuously introducing & delivering ayurvedic & non flashy products that customers really want -  not those that most of the tranditional FMCG players end up pushing in the market, with fancy advertising, etc .

So on one hand we have e-commerce growing across segments, with new players entering various segments to take advantage of the digitalisation tsunami, and on the other hand, owing to sub-optimal customer experience/sales/profits - some players are merging with peers to build scale, cut costs, etc.

While lots is happening strategically in retail, let’s try and understand what’s also happening in the retail stores at the operational level.

 When I visited a local retail chain - last weekend - for our weekly family grocery top up (at one of the best names of retail stores in India)- we noticed that the layouts were changed yet again, for the nth time(creating lots of confusion and the need to go up and down, here and there to locate what we were looking for and finally once we had navigated all that,   the billing ques were as disorganised as usual.

However, this time around, at the billing counter - the billing clerk pointed us to a device for providing rating feedback, next to the billing machine - a customer satisfaction measuring touch pad like contraption - with a colour coded five button option, for customers to press/choose, to indicate their customer satisfaction/dissatisfaction level.

After handling us with more efficiency than usual, suggested with an eager smile, that I give a good rating for our store experience (CX).

What was good to observe was that they had started measuring customer satisfaction levels- and hopefully they would be doing correlations with sales volumes, customer loyalty, customer types, etc. A good beginning is what I thought, although there are lots of obvious things which can be easily be better organised to improve customer experience (CX). 

The loyalty card point’s redemption process at the same store was a bit rickety - they were ok with accepting the cell number for logging in the points, but wanted the actual card to be produced for points redemption ( and were not ok with customer ID like adhar card, credit card, etc to validate ID).

Similar CX breakages were all over the store - including, as mentioned above, extremely disorganised layout of items in different categories, making us move up and down the aisles multiple times, for goods which should have been in the same area and most of sales support staff seemed untrained/ unhelpful/careless - who were floating around, but  did not want to be disturbed from their own chat groups or were adequately knowledgeable  to proactively support customers navigating the aisles, searching for the right goods/brands.    If only they had a mechanism in place, to seek/capture feedback from customers to iron out all such breakages in the customer experience?

Actual delivery across various touch points and stages of customer lifecycle- needs to be mapped & made frictionless and customer experience measured at various customer moments, to ensure its smooth consistently – all easier said than done.

Delivering a superior customer experience consistently, requires tremendous operating rigor entailing  integrating org structure, operations, people, processes and technology withproduct fulfilment & service channels, into a well-oiled smooth operation orchestrated around the customer - with a no siloes approach/metrics, which not just delivers a good customer experience consistently, but simultaneously  welcomes, solicits customer feedback/complaints, and leverages the same to continuously drive product, process improvements & innovation. 

Organisations including our newly minted digital e-commerce avatars need to not just measure customer satisfaction but actively solicit feedback as a strategic & operational imperative - to enable continuous improvement cycle of customer experience (CX) and the product. Recognition of this feedback led improvement cycle, to be as important as product development, sales or bottom line performance - is critical today- but so widely ignored. While sales/profits indicate, what has already been done in the last year/quarter (i.e. is a lag indicator), customer satisfaction measures & scores can be an important lead indicator of future (i.e. if customers are satisfied – there is high probability that sales will be good in future. Below par satisfaction measures if measured objectively (critical to ensure by inter alia, running independent mystery shopping programs) and tapped on a real time basis, can also be an opportunity for management to intervene, before things get worse and sales deteriorate).

We’re often amazed to see how few organisations actually do customer journey mapping and/or objectively measure & map customer satisfaction? The number of organisations whose websites carry wrong phone numbers /email addresses for customers to call - also seems be ubiquitous. And while they do bench mark themselves (with peers), on traditional metrics like revenues, sales & market share, profitability, shouldn’t they first map the customer journeys’ & measure, benchmark customer / user experience(CX) delivered - and on an end to end basis, as seen from the customer’s eyes?


 thoughts? do share/let us know…