It's A Phygital World

KC Krishnadas

In May 2016, nearly 150 years after Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata started a private trading firm in 1868 that grew into the giant Tata Group, TataCLiQ was launched. It was the conglomerate’s first venture into pure-play digital. This e-commerce venture, however, is different from the likes of Amazon or Flipkart in that it converges physical with digital retail, delivering India’s first true “omnichannel” customer experience. Its executives call it “phygital,” a platform that allows shoppers to order, collect, return, or exchange products either online or at any of its brand partners’ brick-and-mortar stores.

I have a fairly prosaic definition of digital because it helps me focus on where I think the disruptions can happen. While enterprises have seen the first wave of disruption due to ‘digital-only platforms,’ the second wave of digital will be ‘phygital’—a combination of physical and digital, commonly called ‘omnichannel.’ –KRS Jamwal, executive director, Tata Industries and Digitalist 2017

The ‘Q’ in the TataCLiQ logo is in the form of a magnifying glass—a visual representation of the brand’s focus on only the best, most authentic brands and products. Unlike other Indian e-tailers that have burnt big-time cash in their quest for growth, this one-year-old enterprise is already disrupting the disruptors through tech-enabled innovation.

When Tricia Manning-Smith, senior on-air global correspondent, Customer Storytelling Team, SAP, dropped in to meet senior TataCLiQ executives Ashutosh Pandey, CEO; Vikas Purohit, COO; and Sauvik Banerjjee, CTO—as well as K.R.S. Jamwal, executive director, Tata Industries Ltd.—to find out more about TataCLiQ, Digitalist magazine decided to accompany her. Edited excerpts from the conversation with the Tata executives follow:

Manning-Smith: What makes TataCLiQ unique?

Banerjjee: It has enabled the brick-and-mortar model online. When you place an order, the store fulfilling it will be one close to your address, or to the pin code of the location you reside in. Ours is not a warehouse model, but a store based fulfilment one. If you place an order for a blue shirt of a certain brand, for instance, you are informed of the stores nearest to your home that stock it. You can either collect it from these stores or have it delivered home, whichever you prefer.

TataCLiQ also opens up all luxury brands. Retailers across product categories love that. Who wouldn’t want his inventory problem in the franchise-driven retail world solved? People thought we were entering the game late. What they did not understand is that we have the loyalty of a huge pan-India customer base.

The consumer shops online and picks up selected products from a nearby store or has it delivered home. Every part of India has a pin code, so when an order is placed, the store nearest to your home puts up its hand and competes with other stores nearby to fulfill your order. The seller can continuously see the orders and where they are coming from. It is similar to the lodging or the taxi businesses now around the world that own neither hotels nor taxis.

Can you buy anything on TataCLiQ?

Banerjjee: It now has clothing for men and women, electronics, footwear, watches, and accessories, but more categories will be added. Many international brands are also seeking to enter the Indian market through Tata-CLiQ .

Can you elaborate some more on the ‘phygital’ experience?

Pandey: Retail, enabling customers to pick up products from a store or having it shipped to their homes is uni-dimensional, easy to do. In India, many brands do not reach beyond the top 10-12 cities because of infrastructure issues. What we have done, for the first time in the world, is become an omnichannel provider for many big brands.

We can scale brand by brand. It’s better than putting up the physical infrastructure ourselves, which would be duplication. This model removes the physical-digital divide by giving customers a seamless experience across both worlds. Conventionally, customers have one or the other, not both and not seamlessly. So ‘phygital’ is combining the physical and digital seamlessly. We were not the first to go to market. Competition existed, and so we had to bring in a degree of innovation and value.

Does TataCLiQ understand India better than its e-tailing rivals?

Pandey: The Tata group has businesses from salt to fertilizers to automobiles to software, so it understands many aspects of India better. In retail, we have the combined learning from Titan, Westside, and Tanishq, where we touch millions of customers every day. This learning is built over a period of time. While algorithms and data can tell you some things, handling so many customers over the years gives you knowledge and insights like nothing else can.

“Every customer experience is important. The customer is not a statistic. He or she is a living person. The day we have the mastery of trying to make her happy through our offering, through our service, through our end-to-end experience that we provide to her, that’s the time you know multiple things can happen.” –Ashutosh Pandey, Chief Executive Officer, TataCLiQ.com

Banerjjee: We personalize the platform on a daily basis using algorithms. We track web behavior, anonymous user behavior, IP address behavior, where orders are coming from, purchasing history, the demographics of buying for specific products, brands, and the like. Our customer service teams work round the clock, answering queries on orders, product availability, or delivery issues—everything from placing an order to having it delivered. We monitor social media feedback and continuously respond to it, usually within 5-10 minutes. If there is any kind of noise created in social media, we try and ensure that at the end we have a happy customer.

How does the logistics work for a country as big as India?

Banerjjee: What we aim at is a threefold model: traditional, online fulfillment using the large 3PLs, and hyperlocal companies. City-based fulfillment providers do the delivery. They are far more agile than big logistics providers within a city.

How does a live business like TataCLiQ help Indians get what they want, when they want it?

Purohit: Our purpose of existence is to connect buyers from [remote parts of the country] to well-known brands, doing so with the confidence that the product is authentic, delivery is swift, and [the customer has] a great buying experience. What will stand out when doing this is that we take every single customer issue seriously, to the point that we have designed a bespoke metric—a customer obsessiveness index. This index must go up as close to 100 as possible. We are not yet there, but we are on our way.

Jamwal: The Tata founders were visionary when they said that the society is not just another stakeholder but the very reason for our existence. There are few business houses or industrialists who look at society as the reason for existence. The group’s history has been one of organic but structured growth. The plan was not to build a conglomerate but to impact lives, build a nation. This was the ethos of the founded and has been carried on over the decades. That won’t go away.

“India is championing a proper marriage between online and brick and mortar, and that’s where the proposition of TataCLiQ. Its an online store inventory reconciliation with visibility to the consumer from a product attribute, SKU by SKU basis.” –Sauvik Banerjjee, chief technology officer, TataCLiQ .com

Banerjjee: We came here in a Tata vehicle; Jaguar Land Rover is a Tata company. Many trucks on the road we traveled were Tata trucks. Some hoardings on the way were of our consumer-facing brands—Titan, Tanishq, Westside, and Croma. We have Tata Salt, a hugely popular brand of table salt, Tata Beverages with its mineral water and fizzy drinks. It will take all day to list our brands, the businesses we are in.

India is home to 1.4 billion people, and we cannot imagine a single adult in the country who is not consciously or otherwise touching a Tata product every day. We see it as a humongous responsibility, for with great power that comes as $100 billion-dollar business comes great responsibility.

How important is digitalization to the Tata group?

Banerjjee: Let’s put it this way: India is expected to be the third-largest digital economy by 2020, according to data from preeminent research organisations. The digital economy, whether in fintech, IoT, omnichannel, or digital banking, will be massive. With India set to become the third-largest digital economy in the next three years, the Tata group will play a big role in enabling and augmenting it, giving it velocity.

How important is trust in the digital world?

Banerjjee: Digitalization, by its very nature, brings privacy almost to an end. You do not know what the data is being used for. People sometimes may not trust sites that sell all kinds of things. That is why cash on delivery is quite widespread in this country. That is where known brands like the Tata brand, which people trust to do the right things for them as it has done over the decades, count. In our hyper-connected world, people need anchors and trust is one of the biggest anchors. That is the reason for the continued relevance of the Tata group.

“We have realized that most marketplaces have become catalog aggregators vis-a-vis becoming a catalogue authority. That’s the difference in approach that a marketplace can take.” –Vikas Purohit, chief operating officer, TataCLiQ.com

What is TataCLiQ doing to make customers feel special?

Banerjjee: Growth alone is not enough. We are clear that unless the customer experience is at a level where customer falls in love with you, there is no point trying to scale. Every customer experience is important. The customer is not a statistic, but a living person. As broadband percolates across the country, more smartphone users are enabled every passing day and personalization becomes a bigger challenge. That is what we are trying to crack, and it is a great challenge to have.

The day we master the art of making the customer happy through our offerings, our service, our end-to-end experience, multiple things can happen. At the end of the day, we are all customers and we would all like to feel special. The place we are shopping at must understand us as people. That is our goal.

For more insight on where customer engagement is headed, see Customer Experiences Must Be OmniChannel, OmniNow, And OmniWow.


About KC Krishnadas

KC Krishnadas is the editor of FactorBranded, a brand solutions media agency. He has 25 years of experience covering technology at The Economic Times and later as the India correspondent for EE Times.