Friday, November 20, 2009

Retailing: Strategies for future growth

Case Analysis on Indian Retail Sector and Future Strategies by Himanshu Kapoor

Retailing is one of the world’s largest industries. The advent of large scale retail chains has significantly reduced the market share of small retail shops and has changed the landscape of future retailing. The world’s largest retailer, Wal Mart, has sales of over USD 378 billion which is far greater than GDP of many small countries. Wal Mart employs 1.8million people. Carrefour, the largest European retailer, operates more than 12,000 stores worldwide. The historic evolution of retailing is a progression from commodity centric retail to service oriented retail. It all started before industrial revolution when markets were centric to commodities, which includes minerals and metals derived from ground. The agrarian market was well developed and trade of agrarian commodities was well channelled through routes across oceans. The industrial revolution, however, changed the game. The agrarian and commodity inputs were processed to create goods. These goods were available through retail stores. The progression finally led to service oriented format, where supermarket giants opened an arena for multiple products to be sold at single large location. Shopping mall revolution first started in US and was mildly adopted in Europe. By end of twentieth century the model got replicated in Asia. China, India and Middle East are still experimenting with the format borrowed from developed economies. As I reside in India, we will be talking more about India, due to my personal experience being a citizen. Retailing came as a revolution to this country. However, the success rate was not close to one expected by Reality and Marketing experts. There are several reasons for this and before we talk on future strategies, we must analyse the situation in ‘as is’ format.

  • Indian economy is largely agrarian and food still dominates the large share of disposable income of urban and rural masses. Traditionally, the supply and distribution of food and food products was regulated through government owned PDS or through local retailers and wholesellers. The system is still dominant across India and is very successful. The Pantaloons Retail first tried to break this model through ‘Big Bazaar’. Being a ‘First Entrant’ made a difference for ‘Big Baazar’. The chain is successful in cities like Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bangaluru, Pune; where huge population of IT and ITes professionals love to purchase their weekly groceries from these stores. The group clocked the revenue in excess of USD 750 million for the fiscal year 2008. The late entrants like ‘Subhiksha’,’ Spencers’, ‘More’ and similar chains bore the brunt of thin margins and are in sustenance mode. International players like Wal Mart, Carrefour and Tesco are still reluctant to enter Indian shores thanks to shrinking margins and high operational costs. In an economic system whenever goods become commoditized, then you can only compete on three attributes. These three attributes are PRICE, PRICE and PRICE. Look what is happening to telecom and airline domain. There is a dirty price war going on between players like Airtel, Aircel, Vodafone, Tata, Reliance and MTS and similarly between airline operators. Similar situation is happening in retail of electronic goods, furniture and home appliances. The retail chains like Chroma, Next, Staples and Jumbo have to offer huge discounts which are no good for their health.
  • There is huge operational cost tagged for running a retail chain. The rental of floor plate (1000-5000 square metre), Electricity, maintenance of huge facility, Inventory control, logistics, employee compensation and many other variable costs makes it a costly affair. The wastage incurred due to expiry of packaged food and perishable food items adds to the cost. The footfall in majority of large retail outlets in low during weekdays and fragmented during weekend. Let me clarify on word ‘fragmented’. In Noida (located in NCR Delhi), there are three large shopping malls. There are over 10 outlets inside and outside these malls that sells Reebok shoes within a radial area of 200 metres.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are still nascent in India. There is little research and tracking of customer spending habits by existing retail players. Though few have implemented such systems, the results and actual projections will take years to form into any conclusions.
  • Further, the Retail Cycle of products from large number of manufacturers is very short. The time span of the cycle (Development, Introduction, Growth, Maturity and Decline) is now so short, that you see a product one day and it is thrown out of market in one financial quarter. At any hour, a large scale retail store has 40,000 - 60,000 items on shelf. 20% of these are replaced by items from new manufacturers every quarter.
  • Indian markets are not successful in implementing franchisee model. The Skill set required in Indian demography is not adequate. This is contrary to Middle East where Carrefour operates its hypermarket stores through Majid Al Futtaim Group. The franchising model implemented by Carrefour is successful through the world, but the group has apprehensions about similar model in India. Surprisingly, franchised stores in Middle East are run by well trained migrant Indians.
Retail in India, despite several roadblocks, some of them discussed above, has potential to flourish. The growth though, stalled due to recent recessionary pressure, can be reignited through effective strategy and change in retail format. The next few pointers explore some strategies that can be implemented in current and future landscape pertinent to retailing.

  • Catchment area and Location: Location and catchment area is very important to field of retailing and hospitality. Most of the large scale stores and malls in India are located in busy city centre markets. All of them are selling similar merchandise. Though, they are convenient to locate, the issue is catchment of masses that can buy the merchandise. We have already covered that footfall on weekdays is very low. The obvious reason is that people have to attend their office/college/school or whatever work they do. So we need areas where we can catch people even on weekdays. Opening smaller retail areas at Metro Stations, Interstate Bus Terminals or near Railways Stations can be a better strategy to sell volumes that otherwise can never be sold at malls located at city centres. People boarding the Metro can definitely spend 15 minutes to quickly shop for their everyday needs. As Metro is being constructed in several Metropolitan cities, the opportunity for retail players is to secure these locations for expansion. However, it decision has to compliment retailer strategy (retail formats, merchandise, pricing strategy, etc.)
  • Specialty Stores with Quick Customization Service: India can be a huge market for speciality store chains that can offer customization service as part of their offering. Stores like IKEA have huge potential in Indian market and similar players can achieve results in this domain. IKEA specializes in home furniture that can be quickly customised to buyer’s needs. Such stores can be great value proposition and well aligned to Indian sensibilities.
  • Effective use of Information technology and data assets: Operational inefficiencies and malfunctions waste money during several phases of retail operations. Retail chains need to look at small areas where inefficiencies can be reduced. Targeting these small areas can benefit in large proportions. This can be achieved through IT supported operations management. Real time and historical Data can be analysed to arrive at subjective model related to estimates on inventory & sales and objective model related to market and competitor operations on similar parameters. IT can help in better control and monitoring of operations thus streamlining the cost structure. World over IT has helped large retailers lower the costs and consistently offer lower prices to consumers. There are tools available for data asset management, analysis and decision making. These tools can be used to better understand customer purchase patterns, demographic and psychographic profiles, optimize communication strategy, create product assortment structure and effective promotion.
  • Forecasting Accuracy and JIT Inventory: ‘Subhiksha’ stores are an excellent example to illustrate poor forecasting about expected demand and oversized inventory that finally led to collapse of the retail chain. Stockpiling without accurate forecast lead to tight cash flow resulting in excessive liabilities and balance of payments. Indian retail chains have little cash flow and cannot afford to maintain large unused inventory. Forecasting regular and promotion demand is difficult as inventories are allocated on quarterly basis and final price calls. However, it is still possible if data pertaining to season, festive period, demographic profile and promotion demand is properly analysed. The inventory has to be ‘Just In Time’ based on forecast. A variance of + 10% can be maintained based on capacity of retailer. Promotion demand, however, can create large swings resulting in large variance to forecast. This situation can be tackled by negotiations with suppliers for ‘Just In Time’ replenishment. The retail chain can pay a reservation fee to manufacturer for maintaining inventory, and supply it as demand spurs. The logic here is that buffer should be maintained by manufacturer/supplier and not the retail chain. Further, the sales forecast has to be compared with actual sales on periodic basis. This is required for reducing variance in prediction.
  • Checkout process: The checkout process is a tedious affair at almost any large retail chain. Big Bazaar, though a very successful venture has a checkout waiting time of 15-30 minutes during weekend. Retail chains across India use 25 year old technology, where bar code is read on each item making a single transaction a 10 minute affair. These chains have to explore modern technologies like RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) where products are tagged with RFID sticker. When whole bunch of products pass through RFID gate, the price of all items get loaded on billing screen and the checkout is a 30 second affair.
  • Experience and Authenticity: US and European retail model can never be successful in India. Indian consumers, traditionally, had a relationship similar to family bond with the local retailer. And we cannot see transformation in Indian psyche in a period of ten years. People in India love to interact with retailers and sales people and love to talk to them on any subject. This is evident by success of traditional retail markets like Chandni Chowk, Karol Bagh, GK, South Extension in Delhi and similar markets in other parts of India. The large scale retail chain must strive to create similar experience. The interaction has to be authentic. This can be achieved by changing design format of stores. The format should be close to Indian sensibilities where they can shop, experience family bond kind of experience and authenticity about their interaction with sales people.This is required to form customer loyalty amidst highly competitive market space.

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