Retailers turn to startups like Shopsense with innovative technologies to take on e-tailers


These days e-commerce giants are doing whatever it takes from offering discounts to providing seamless shopping experiences to win retail share, thereby making life increasingly difficult for brick-and-mortar stores. Pushed to the wall, these brick-andmortar guys are now taking the fight to the e-tailers by using innovative technologies, thanks to a number of new startups.

"We are doing exactly what Google Analytics does for an e-commerce store, but for an offline retailer," said Anup Balagopal, 32, founder of Torchsight, which captures wireless signals from customers' smartphones for data collection and analysis on the cloud. "E-tailers have a lot of consumer data, but retailers don't."

Launched in May and currently being hosted by Target Accelerator, Torchsight is already used by over 50 stores in 11 Indian cities, and it may reach over 250 stores by the end of this fiscal. The information gathered from customers can be used to make data-driven decisions on marketing campaigns and loyalty programmes, among other things. "Previously, retailers were able to identify performance of individual stores, but not underlying reasons like conversion and quality of service," added Balagopal. "The kind of information Torchsight provides is beyond what transactional data can give you."


Meanwhile, nine-month-old Shopsense has installed large touchscreens or tablets in fashion retail stores for customers to visualise what different clothing combinations are going to look like; for instance, in clothing chain Being Human, these digital visualisations are tried out on Salman Khan, the actor who owns the chain. Today, Shopsense can be found in 45 stores across the country, where 35 per cent customers use the device and end up spending 35 per cent more than average customers. For these stores, 12 per cent of the sales are being driven by Shopsense, without giving any discounts or offers.

"This is a huge market opportunity there's a huge gap in offline retail analytics in India," said Sasha Mirchandani of Kae Capital, an early investor in Shopsense.

"There's a lot of pushback on some business models because people feel violated by having data collected from them, but the Shopsense model is completely non-intrusive and far more useful to the retailer."

According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, as of April this year, organised retail in the country accounts for around 8 per cent of overall retail. However, while overall retail is growing at 7 per cent an-nually, organised retail is booming at a massive 26 per cent growth rate. By 2020, the total retail market is projected to reach $1.3 trillion, of which $220 billion or 150,000 stores will be organised, the leading category being fashion and footwear (40 per cent).

Other stores boost conversion through improving the visceral experience of offline retail. Moojic, founded in September last year, creates custom branded in-store experiences by helping retailers establish radio playlists with their own branded content. They are now in around 250 outlets, including all Enrich spas and Park Avenue stores across the country. "There's a lack of tech integration across chain stores people were using CDs and other creative methods, but the management had virtually no control overall," explained cofounder Neha Behani, 31. "This product can provide standardised solutions for chains to not only maintain the same look and feel of their particular brand across stores, but also disperse sales-related messages to customers."

"Being a marketer, I strongly believe that technology should work as an enabler to improve consumer experience, and that's what Moojic brought to us," said Ravi Verma, head of the Park Avenue brand at Raymond. "Their technological innovations work on consumer insights, and that's what makes them relevant and experientially delightful."

Yet others recognise that online and offline retailers are not necessarily competitors for the consumer's buck, but can in fact complement each other. "The overall retail market is much larger when consumers research online and purchase offline," said 34-year-old Kartik Sanghavi, who is building an application called Omnisphyr that allows consumers to research and find products in stores within close proximity. "We want to enable even the smallest of offline retailers to connect to and serve consumers who browse products online."

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