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Trend driving eCommerce in India: 'Offline-Online Integration'

Move over SMAC! The eCommerce Industry in India has already adopted Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud (SMAC) in a big way and even the smaller players are well aware of their massive benefits. In fact today these have become a necessity to stay competitive and some of the innovations are coming from the smaller players.
What the Indian eCommerce market is now waking up to is the potential of Offline-Online integration and how it helps in catering to all kinds of buyers. Following in the footsteps of giants such as Amazon, which opened a physical storefront in the middle of New York City last year -- a first in the company's 20-year history as an online retailing giant -- online retailers in India are also taking to a hybrid-channel strategy, opening brick and-mortar stores in addition to their online stores. Here's my take on why Offline-Online integration is important for 'Online only' players.
  • Physical stores provide that 'much needed trust' to the brand especially in an Indian set up where people's psyche is still to touch and feel the object before buying. I was at an eCommerce forum recently and a major Home décor player talked about how important is building trust with the Indian audience and how a good experience in the store pushes them to buy online for later purchases.
  • The Indian buyer of today does his research online even when he will go to the store to buy. A great way to engage with buyers would be by setting up kiosks within the store, this would help them browse through the catalogues and ask for the right product. I believe the retailers in the US have adopted this in a big way. Also, your buyers are saved from some 'in-your-face' sales people who may not have a lot of product knowledge.
  • In eCommerce having an omni-channel strategy and delivering a 360 degree customer service has been a mandate with organizations setting up not just legacy customer service teams over the phone and emails, but also social media channels, mobile apps etc. Offline is another great way to address grieving customers' challenges and would go a long way in keeping them loyal.
  • While technology and Infrastructure are improving all the time, you still can't rely on it completely. Physical stores will give you the early mover advantage in locations where infrastructure is not mature and help drive more traffic towards your online properties as well.
  • Another example on why we should not rely on one channel: Recently I was buying a bouquet from one of the major Online Flower shops and the transaction failed. By the time I could decide whether I wanted to try another time or go to a competitor's site, I got a call from the customer service team stating that he wanted to help in completing my purchase. This was great experience for me and that's what drives customer loyalty irrespective of the channel.
While these are all advantages of adding the Offline channel, the challenges of exorbitant real estate costs, stocking huge inventory, hiring store persons etc. still remain. Hence, I foresee that the physical stores will act like 'Experience centers' or 'Branding centers' which will give the eCommerce players the 'much needed trust and feel' with the Indian audience and finally push them to buy online as the technology and infrastructure matures.