Saturday, February 26, 2011

Leveraging the mobile penetration in India

India has seen one of the fastest increases in mobile subscriptions, in the world. We currently have more mobile phones in India than land lines. Almost everyone has one today – from a galley-wala tea stall to a farmer in a village. Part of the reason behind such an explosion of mobile usage could be the ubiquitously available low-cost Chinese mobile handsets and the lowering costs for maintaining a subscription.

Potential utilities on a typical Indian mobile phone

Businesses across the developed economies, and retailers in particular, have leveraged on consumer technology trends – web, social media, mobile, location-aware apps, etc. Large retailers like GAP, JC Penny, etc have leveraged these technologies for publishing promotions to consumers. Unlike the developed economies, the mobile revolution in India is not as much about touch screen phones with internet connectivity as it is about pervasive usage of mobiles by the general population. Hence, the strategies for leveraging the mobile subscription base in India should be different from the strategies in the Western world.

Potential application for mobile at each of the Retail Stakeholders

In India, I feel the strategies for leveraging mobile penetration should be different for the different stakeholders in the company. Though the business scenario of each retailer is different, I think, in general, the following applications could be considered – 

Stakeholder: Shoppers
a.       Regular Shoppers
                                                               i.      Potential Application: Loyalty
Mobile number portability has just come in. I would estimate that it would increase the probability that someone would stick to the same mobile number. This provides an opportunity to consider mobile numbers for customer identification, especially for loyalty programs. Mobile numbers are easier to remember for consumers/shoppers and are easier to verify while processing rewards.
b.      In-Frequent Shoppers
                                                               i.      Potential Application: Targeted Promo Messages
The tariff structure of Indian mobile telephony allows for free incoming SMSes and Phone Calls. Anyone with a number in a retailer’s database could potentially be messaged about promotions around his last purchased store. If this shopper has an option to visit multiple stores, he might end up choosing the retailer where he knows that a promotion going on.
c.       Non-Shoppers
                                                               i.      Potential Application: Purchase Channel
The best way to reach shoppers who don’t stay close to your store is by letting them call-in or message-in. I recall a leading Grocery Chain in India has tried this out and gave up. As a rule, I feel telephone channel works best for low-involvement high-discount items. Food, contrary to popular belief and based on some of my own field research, is a high-involvement purchase. I would wager that an M-Seal, A Fevicol, a Tap Washer, a Stapler pin set, etc are more simpler for Indians to order on phone than others. And imagine this - it’s not just the city-dwellers who could order, it could also be rural consumers – a market which is known as the largest untapped retail market in the world. Why? – because they have phones, they have spending power and they watch TV and Newspapers too.

Stakeholder: Employees
a.       Store Organization
                                                               i.      Potential Application: Rein Checks
When shoppers walk into a store and don’t find something that they saw in a TV Ad or bought elsewhere, it leaves a bad impression about the store. In today’s world, in India, systems for such information passing to the head office are either not present or are highly human recollection based. What if there were a toll-free number that an employee could call or SMS for a customer query? IVR and SMS Response Systems, are very mature now. The store employee can give a more informed response to the visitor at store and at the least, record such queries so that a pile of such queries can be mined by buying teams to understand what to buy.
                                                             ii.      Potential Application: Shift Alerts
Store manager’s time is precious. If the manager’s time is freed from low-value activities, he could spend that time and focus more on high value activities. Stores where employees work in shifts could potentially implement an automated shift alert system where individual store personnel mobile numbers are sent an automated call or message reminding about a shift. Based on user acceptance, this could potentially be extended to a leave management system using mobile phone messaging, so that head office can analyze worker patterns more easily.
                                                            iii.      Potential Application: Audio Instructions
Self-service trainings, that are so common in an IT company, are generally not available to store personnel. Matching store personnel recruitment and training schedules is not always possible. Unscripted trainings by colleagues could mean inconsistent processes across the organization. Toll-free numbers that provide local-language IVR training could be leveraged to allow store personnel to self-service their training needs – at least for easier tasks.
b.      Non-store organization
                                                               i.      Potential Application: Good Receipt Alerts
Indian supply chain is immersed in late deliveries and short-supplies. Giving the buyer a quick SMS update on the stock received at warehouse would help the buyer respond faster to short fall contingencies.
                                                             ii.      Potential Application: Vehicle Tracking
Distribution networks that consist of long transportation legs could benefit from cellular triangular technologies to track the driver’s phone. Analysis of rate of movement and stops could help setup more efficient routes.
                                                            iii.      Potential Application: PoG Audits
Planogram (PoG) compliance is an issue across the world. All the science and skill behind PoG planning and analysis goes to waste if the store doesn’t adhere to the PoG. Costs for an employee to travel and confirm the PoG implementation could be avoided. Custom apps could be given to store manager cell phones for date recorded capture and 3G transmission of shelf pictures for analysis at head office.

Stakeholder: Vendors
a.       Potential Application: Rooster Reminders
For Direct Store Deliveries and DC Deliveries, planning vendor in-bounds could help optimize personnel utilization and bring in greater certainty into supply chain planning. Vendor portals could potentially include a field for driver mobiles for each shipment so that if a company driver is delivering, he is reminded over SMS or a recorded phone message about the store rooster or DC schedule.
b.      Potential Application: Pay Processing Updates
Trade float is an important source of working capital in Indian businesses. Indian Retailers have to deal with a variety of vendors including family-run businesses and small industries. Giving better visibility into payment processing could give a mental comfort level to a vendor and potentially lead to trust-based relationship and better credit terms with him.

Stakeholder: Stock Holders –
a.       Potential Application: Standard IR Updates
I am avoiding commenting on stock holders as such interaction might not be very different from any other sector. From what I gather, some corporations are providing updates through SMS for those registered to be alerted on important corporate actions.

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