Mumbai: One of the ways for an established incumbent to win against disruptive innovation is to be ready to disrupt itself.
That’s precisely what textile-to-real estate conglomerate Arvind Group, a company with nationwide presence and several in-house retail brands did.
It grabbed a unique opportunity to create a technology solution by understanding the future of retailing with an omni channel experience.
“The key ask from our board was to make our entire brands omni channel enabled. There were many thoughts on building a digital platform. The easier choice was to outsource. The other alternative was to give the team a budget, and allow them to create a solution. The third option was to disrupt our own selves and create a new entity,” says Mukul Bafana, CEO and Co-Founder, Arvind Internet, the online arm of Arvind Group.
Arvind Internet wanted to understand each of the brands consumer needs, script the right journey to fulfill those needs, acquire the right technology and integrate it to power all businesses.
The task was easier said than done. Arvind Internet chose an enterprise grade digital commerce suite in 2015 and started implementation. However, within a span of four months, it realized that the implementation was going to be painful.
“We were not getting anywhere during the phase 1. The product was very generic; there were plenty of customizations that were required, which meant a lot dependency on the SIs. We were told that phase 2 which was going to take three months would now take a year to complete. The TCO was too high and we would never have been able to move fast. It was a sunk cost,” recalls Bafana.
However, the situation did not deter the team from achieving their goal. With a renewed focus and complete control, they took it on themselves to build the solution. The group companies had some of the most heterogeneous systems, like different ERPs, inventories in some was semi real-time, while in others the master data was in different places.
“We had a detailed blueprint requirement in place that helped us to build the entire stack, in-house, for different services with a modern architecture. The end result was a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform that was loosely coupled and could be plugged in together to each of the brands backend,” says Bafana.
Using the newly built stack, NNNow.com, an omnichannel ready platform for Arvind was launched in May 2016 that enabled customers to see real-time inventory of the store including size and color availability. The site focused on “experiential” commerce by building richer, connected online plus in-store journeys to solve core customer fashion shopping needs effectively.
It had had created a robust omni channel backend platform in India, that was category agnostic and catered to work with any platform. After building and operating this unit till May 2017, Arvind Internet decided to transfer back the technology controls to the respective companies.
So the operations of group’s e-commerce venture NNNow.com was transferred to Arvind Lifestyle Brands, the group’s apparel retailing division. “We had all the micro services ready and it was omni enabled. The idea was that every brand should control their respective content and story-telling,” says Bafana.
Finding its gold mine
While Arvind Internet was building its tech platform ground-up, little did it realize that other brands will show a huge interest to utilize their platform.
“One of the major reasons for this interest was that majority of brands and retailers suffer in India to create an omnichannel platform,” says Bafana.
It was decided to make this offering a proper business model. Last year, the company became an omni channel enabler for large brands and retailers, providing technological and back-end support to them. It works as pay-as-you-go model where all new capabilities are tested in-house before rolling them out for other retailers.
“What we offered was omni channel as a service. We were more focusing on the enterprise journey as a service and not technology as a service. It was not merely a technology stack but supporting services that were required to get real business value,” says Bafana.
Some of the supporting services includes training staff to have a digital mindset, CRM, logistic support, operational expertise, and more.
The company has partnered with brands like Levis, Wildcraft, Mufti, , SOCH, Global Desi, Indigo Nation, BATA, to name a few, and helped them go live with their omni channel services in a short span of time. A fashion brand of a big retail player witnessed growth of eight percent in their stores within eight weeks of going live.
“We ensured that all of them adopted omni channel in a smart manner. Wildcraft went live in three weeks, and SOCH was live in two weeks. Our focus has been to deliver real RoI,” says Bafana citing operational readiness and technology flexibility as key components in this journey as a service. “Also, since our solution is built for retail and super set of retail, customization is not needed, leading to faster roll outs,” he says.
Another challenge with omni channel, according to Bafana, is that there is a lot of esoteric stuff that happens around. “If one implements a chatbot, others too want to have it. What will a chatbot achieve if the inventory or supply chain is all wrong? Creating the operating logic, and helping customers shop better is the key,” he says.
The role of artificial intelligence (AI) will be crucial in this process for personalization of services, making smarter decisions around pricing and promotions across channels, and even supply chain and inventory management.
Stretching wings, going global
The company is now expanding its omnichannel services that enable online sales for offline retailers and brands, to customers in South East Asia, West Asia, and the US. “We are in advanced talks with many brands in each of these regions,” shares Bafana.
The company has over 42 brands on its platform, including 16 Arvind-owned brands. Bagging so many clients and expanding in a short period highlights the demand and need of such a service. Arvind Internet is probably scripting the most ambitious move by a traditional business house into the e-commerce era.