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Technology the driving factor in retail: Ram Iyer, Vodafone

By Jhumur Nandi , afaqs!, New Delhi | In OOH News | February 17, 2012
Ram Iyer, executive vice-president, retail, Vodafone India talked about the importance of technology in the retail sector at the seventh edition of In-Store Asia.

This century has got a new world - and technology has changed it. Ram Iyer, executive vice-president, retail, Vodafone India stressed on how three most important segments of life have changed due to technology - time, distance and size.

Ram Iyer

Iyer commented, "With the passage of time, certain things have been destroyed, while new habits have been created, and it has been possible with the help of a catalyst where technology is the changing agent." He spoke about how, in early days, one would wait for hours in the morning for the newspaper but now, one prefers to log onto Google or social network sites such as Facebook or Twitter to get instant news.

He said that technology has redefined the word 'distance'. Citing an example, he added that earlier, he would have to board a steam engine train, far slower than today's diesel and electric engine trains, to travel to his native place. In fact, now people are semi-present everywhere, he said, thanks to the availability of video conferencing technology.

Next, Iyer spoke about how 'size does not matter' any more. He said, "Over the years, 'size' has been losing its significance. In case of computers, what started with floppy disks reduced to three-and-a-half inch floppy drives and today, we actually work with even smaller pen-drives, which store much more data than the earlier devices." Talking about the change in retail due to technology, he opined, "The first macro trend is online expectations and off-line experience. I think there is a growing popularity among consumers in terms of using online and e-commerce sites."

He cited the example of luxury retailer Burberry in China, which has equipped its entire staff with iPads. These iPads not only help the support staff to keep tabs on inventory of goods in the store, but also allow them to help consumers buy goods which are not available in store and can only be purchased online.

Next he spoke about an application developed by the UK-based retail chain, Tesco. Called Time Shoppers, the application, developed for a new set of consumers, enables one to create a shopping list quickly by clicking the pictures of the products that one intends to buy. The clicked item gets automatically added to the shopping list of the consumer. The app thus enables the consumer to create a shopping list well in advance.

"The second macro trend is 'shoppers know-how', which is mainly about providing the shopper with all relevant information such as interesting deals that can be availed from neighbourhood stores," he said. The insight, developed by Thinknear.com, offers an application which finds people near one's shop and then sends SMSes to the customers informing them about deals and offers.

He next stressed on the third macro trend, which is 'refined retail cartography'. He said, "Cartography is a study of maps that turns shopping into an interesting and fun experience." For example, Fraunhoffer.com has designed an application wherein it allows one to choose a particular dress from the clothes available in the store. As part of the process, the person has to stand in front of a screen and once she selects a dress, she can see herself wearing the dress virtually on the screen.

To conclude his presentation, Iyer spoke about the emergence of a new generation of shoppers, called Social Current. This involves a shopper being rewarded for every tweet or positive influence that she has on the brand, which generates further interest amongst consumers. The idea has been transformed into reality through an application created by Palm.socialrewards.com, where every shopper gets paid for tweeting.

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