There are clear signs of Ranjit Satyanath’s love for the iconic detective all over his cabin at the Kaledonia building in Andheri. A framed artwork of Hollywood star Benedict Cumberbatch who essays the role of Sherlock Holmes in the BBC TV series, adorns the otherwise bare walls of his cabin. “I have been a Sherlock Holmes fan for as long as I can remember. I have read every book, watched every movie and series on Sherlock. And it has only whetted my appetite for the super sleuth’s escapades,” he confesses, as we sit down for an interview over cups of cappuccino on the rain-soaked evening.Ranjit Satyanath, CIO, Infiniti Retail (Croma) has gleaned several leadership lessons from the astute investigator. “One aspect of Holmes’ personality which I identify with is the data-centric approach to work. Holmes held deep contempt for emotional reasoning and believed in solid data to solve problems even if they intuitively seemed impossible. This was illustrated by his remark in The Sign of Four “…..when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth..”, quotes fanboy Satyanath.The other learning is how Sherlock cleverly used to outsource legwork to his “Baker Street Irregulars” – people who the world did not think mattered but who addressed Holmes’specific need of intelligence gathering. And finally, Watson. That one person who you need to bounce ideas off, who plays foil and documents your work illustrating that even a “high functioning sociopath” needs a team. How Total Communications can help your businessJust like the iconic detective, Satyanath keeps his cool in trying situations and always has a smart trick up his sleeve. He is a vital cog in Croma’s digital transformation strategy.With a revenue of Rs 3,500 Crore, Croma is India’s biggest large format specialist retail chain for consumer electronics and durables. The Tata Group’s consumer electronics retail company Infiniti Retail runs 110 Croma stores in 21 cities across India.Croma operates in the retail sector which is beset with staggering challenges owing to the mounting pressures from online players. Satyanath, however, seems unfazed by the challenges. Like Sherlock, he is never short of insights to outfox competition. And he, for one, is going to make sure that, IT helps Croma build an abiding competitive advantage. Being somewhat of a futurist, Satyanath is helping Croma identify the competitive possibilities. And whether it’s the present or the future, Ranjit Satyanath seems to have it all charted out.In an interview with ETCIO.COM, Ranjit Satyanath, CIO at Infiniti Retail ( Croma) talks at length about the ways in which digital will help his company stay ahead in the game.Consumer shopping behavior has changed fundamentally and permanently with the proliferation of mobile, internet and e-commerce. Today, shoppers are digitally influenced and informed because of the research they do online. They are well informed, connected and context-aware. How are you leveraging technology to take your stores to the next level of customer engagement?Digital technologies have empowered the customer in various ways. Most of the customers who come to our stores are very well informed about the products because they have done their research online. They ask the sales associates very informed and sharp questions about the products, features, similar categories, etc. Through an integration of mobile platforms integrated with our content management system, we enable associates to respond to their queries consistently across stores.At Croma, we are trying to build a perfect amalgamation of offline and online using the digital mediums and in doing so give a better post buying experience to the customer by obsessing over customer journeys and providing digital nudges wherever appropriateWe endeavor to use technology to help the customer across channels. A simple use case – if a customer’s product warranty is nearing expiry our systems could send notifications to them thus enabling the purchase of an extended warranty. So we use technology to nudge the customer to improve her experience with our brand.We don’t look at a technology just because it is available. We consider the business need and RoI while evaluating the technology. We regularly observe customer journeys and study how they are evolving to assess the technology that can enable a frictionless interaction with them.For instance, we ensure that stores have minimal stock out situations by employing sophisticated decision tree structures to replenish our stores and distribution centers.How is Croma using Cloud computing, analytics, mobility and AI to create a strong core infrastructure to enable IT to build innovative solutions on top of it? Last year, we tested our ability to leverage the cloud by moving significant workloads there. It worked well for us and therefore now we intend to move completely. All our production workloads will be cloud-based because of the scalability and security that the cloud affords. Going forward, we will follow a hybrid cloud strategy.For customer analytics, we have chosen to leverage the capabilities of one of our group companies Tata iQ and the engagement is thus far working well for us. Also, it keeps us light on the technology front. However, we will keep evaluating this space and tweak our approach whenever needed.On business analytics front, our MIS reporting is completely automated. We are looking to improve our capabilities in the area of data visualization, predictive and prescriptive analytics and data mining. As a strategy, we are not focussed much on native mobile apps. However, we will continue to leverage mobility in all our digital initiatives both customer facing and enterprise. We are extremely excited by the prospect of Progressive Web Applications (PWA).We are working on some pilots involving AI and intend to pivot it to customer-facing scenarios soon. AR and VR are technologies with immense promise and we’ll leverage them as and when we come across a relevant use case.Croma is undertaking an industry first initiative in the area of omnichannel with the deployment of an end to end Order Management System. Talk to us about the project and how it will translate into a competitive advantage for Croma?We are in the final stages of deploying an enterprise-grade Order Management System. It will go live in a couple of months.Post-deployment, we would be one of the handful of Indian retailers to have connected all customer channels- online, stores, marketplace and mobile. With this OMS, all channels will leverage the same inventory.As the number of stores grows and the customer base increases, we will not be able to stock all our stores with everything we have. With this initiative, customer journeys will straddle multiple channels and we will be “phygital” in the truest sense. For example, customers can buy products from any store in the chain and get it delivered to home or even opt to pick it from a store of their choice later in the day. So this in itself has a chance to boost conversion significantly.Price and quality of products can only get a retailer into the game. Service wins the game. How is Croma leveraging digital to up the game?We are continuously tweaking the way our online channel works. As part of this, a complete refresh of our online customer journeys is in the works which include our customers being able to complete purchases with the minimal number of clicks.I have earlier mentioned that PWA is an area of interest. Simplistically, PWA allows sites to behave in a native app like manner within the mobile web browser. This is normally achieved through a concept of “Headless Commerce” whereby content layer and commerce layer are abstracted out. We are also very interested in ensuring that our product search is sharp and leverages the latest trends like NLP.We are looking at improving the in-store experience through a combination of technologies like Mobility, IoT, AI and Machine Learning. Application of these technologies allows us to explore concepts like in-store Dynamic Pricing hitherto possible only online.Our customers will soon have the ability to track their orders without having to talk to an agent or an IVR. This initiative is live and we are in the process of scaling it. RPA is another area of interest from an efficiency perspective. Bots are today being deployed for a wide variety of use cases from automating repetitive tasks to customer interactions.How has the endless aisle mechanism helped Croma generate better sales?The ‘Endless aisle mechanism’ is an approach that has shown very promising results at Croma.Using this mechanism, we are being able to leverage the inventory of the chain and offer products to our customers even if not available in a particular store. If the merchandise that the customer is looking to purchase is not in the store that she has visited, our sales associates can lookup inventory of nearby stores and based on availability promise delivery.This has been working for us for the last one year, and we have seen an uptick in sales because of this. We have a focused team of enthusiastic sales associates in each store who ensure that the “endless aisle” is leveraged optimally.We launched a store in Green Park, New Delhi in May 2018. It is called “Gadgets of Desire”. Currently, in “beta”, this store provides a complete digital experience to the customer. So everything right from billing to browsing electronic products can be done digitally along with “endless aisle”. The large stores are seeing a good uptick in sales due to the endless aisle mechanism.Endless aisle leverages our online channel to a large extent. We have created a single content management repository which can be used by people at the store as an endless aisle and the customers who come to our website.It is said that in retail you can’t wait for customers to come to you. You have to figure out where they are, go there and drag them back to your store. What according to you are the technologies that will help retailers develop that magnetic pull to attract customers?Blockchain as a concept has been around for a while. However, I think that it could be an interesting technology for retailers to explore. Potentially retailers could move their entire Loyalty Programs on to a Blockchain based system. Other potential Block chain use cases are Warranty tracking and enabling customers to view the pedigree of products which would be relevant for luxury segments and merchandise with high resale value like antiques, diamonds etc. There is also a very compelling use case for Blockchain in Supply chain using Smart Contracts.Digimarc is a developing technology where the product packing has invisible but machine) readable codes which could automate a series of a merchandise related process like price communication, stock take, and checkouts. QR codes are yet to find mainstream usage in organized retail in India except for a few cases. We have done some experiments with beacons. We are working to better communicate various in-store offers such as finance options, brand offers, cash-backs etc. to customers through deployment digital of technologies.Facial recognition technologies are now ushering in another set of very interesting retail use cases. This allows retailers to provide customized in-store communication. Take it a little deeper and category specific use cases begin to emerge. For example, cosmetic retailers are using a variation to detect skin type and recommend customized products – online.
Read more: economictimes.indiatimes.com