Deena Dayalan K, Director – IT, Sears IT & Management Services India Pvt Ltd, speaks to Shweta Gandhi about the ways IT can help the retail industry.
“One thing is very clear,” says Deena Dayalan K. “IT departments have to move with the times and CIOs have to collaborate with all the players in the ecosystem; otherwise they can’t perform well.” With more than 18 years in the retail industry, Deena has also worked with Reliance Retail, India’s largest retailer, and HCL Infosystems. His has expertise in managing technology operations, designing and implementing technical and information security solutions, and has worked closely in integrating IT systems. Deena was recently recognised as an influential Retail Icon at CIO Power List 2016. Here he tells us his experience of using IT to leverage business in the retail industry.
#1 Social media is the way in
“Retail has traditionally been about merchandise and store displays. Today, a lot of it is driven through word of mouth, mostly through social media. If there is a product displayed in a store or on a website, especially one with a good bargain, customers immediately connect with their friends on social media and ask them for their opinions. So, it goes without saying that social media plays a major role in retail.
“At Sears, our main motto has always been putting members first and to live up to our mission of serving, delighting and engaging our members (customers) while they shop. One of the ways we implemented this was through an online chat service on the Sears shopping website. If members have any queries about prices, features, deliveries, or mark-up areas (not all shipments are free), they can start chatting to get their queries clarified in real-time. We launched this feature a couple of years ago, and it’s doing well—every day we serve thousands of chats. This helps us secure sales right then and there. This also alleviates the risk of members going back and getting influenced by others, who may tell them about other sites offering better prices. This process has helped us immensely better serve our members. We are also a very pro-social media company and use these tools to launch our services too.”
#2 Customer feedback analysis
“Procuring and analysing the right feedback from members of the community is paramount to member satisfaction. Members are an integral part of our business. Our Customer Feedback Analysis team collects all the feedback regarding products and delivery. The team then collates it and through comprehensive data mining, we build strategies to tackle problems and enhance positive aspects mentioned in feedback. This is how we close the circle and give back to the business as well as members.”
#3 Ensure IT and business go hand in hand
“Earlier, ITs role was only to provide solutions. IT and business worked in silos, and interacted only when business wanted to implement a new model. As of today, we are undergoing a big transformation to bridge this gap. IT collects data from the market, finds out what members are feeling, and questions business practices — all in an effort to optimise business returns. And there’s been a major shift in roles. CIOs are becoming CDOs—Chief Digital Officers. Their role is to digitise what is there is in the system and take it to the next level. They are becoming an integral part of the business; they are no longer just enablers—they are the system itself.
“In my earlier organisation, Reliance Retail, we had a role called Business Intelligence Officer (BIO). This individual reported to the business CEO and CIO. The position was a bridge between the two departments. The BIO’s responsibility was to understand the needs of the business and see how IT could partner in enabling that. They would create common initiatives for digitisation. This was done very successfully in Reliance Retail. And I think it’s an important step many businesses should adopt.”
#4 Give customers multiple options
“With a plethora of choices available at the click of a button, members can afford to be picky. So you have to sell competitively as well and give members all the choices and options from within the company’s ecosystem itself. For example, Sears has started a unique service called BOPIS (Buy Online Pick up In Store). This is our successful effort to connect online shopping with a brick-and-mortar store, thus integrating both into one. A member buys a product online, checks where it is available, gets the barcode and picks it up from the merchandise pickup unit. This is not only convenient but also saves members the usual three to seven days delivery time. Another innovative feature that we offer is the option of ordering a product at the in-store kiosk even if the product is not available in required size/color in that particular store. And members can of course order online and have the product delivered to their homes. These options and the experience of an omni-channel retail ecosystem is connected via our integrated loyalty program Shop Your Way. To conclude, innovation in member experience is the name of the game if a retail company wants to succeed and become the preferred company for its members.”