Raahil Chopra
Nov 17, 2022

India hasn’t utilised e-commerce to the extent we could: Arundhati Bhattacharya

The CEO and chairperson of Salesforce spoke about the importance of merging digital and physical at WPP Commerce on 16 November

India hasn’t utilised e-commerce to the extent we could: Arundhati Bhattacharya
Arundhati Bhattacharya, CEO and chairperson, Salesforce, took to the dais at the WPP Commerce event held in Mumbai on 16 November to explain how Indian brands should use physical and digital retail side-by-side to enhance their customer experience.
She started her talk by stating that commerce is an area where the country can still improve.
“India is still on the cusp of it and we haven’t utilised it to the extent that we could."
Bhattacharya added that while platforms like UPI are seeing online payments increase, the cash circulation in the country is three times more than it was when the Government announced demonetisation back in 2016.
“Have we gone away from physical? Yes, to some extent, if you look at the number of payments that are taking place on the UPI platform, they're just going through the roof. But on the other side, if you have a look at the cash with the people, that too has gone through the roof. The amount of cash in circulation today is three times more than when we went in for demonetisation. So while commerce has improved, there is still huge space to grow," she added.
She then gave an anecdote about how e-commerce has grown in the country.
“About 10 years ago, I remember a South Indian colleague of mine from a very conservative family. She would wear only Kanjivaram saris to office. She taught me that while buying one, you don't usually look at the colour or the design, you have to feel the silk. Now, this lady comes and tells me I got a real deal on Myntra. That’s the day it struck me that commerce is here to stay as the most die-hard people who preferred physical shopping have moved online,” she said.
Bhattacharya added that while the pandemic accelerated the growth of e-commerce, its fading has had people return to physical stores.
Talking about the future of the two spaces, she said, “Physical and the digital will co-exist. This will help brands deliver special experiences to its consumers.”
Bhattacharya went on to explain the importance of user experiences.
“Products and services are easy to replicate and can be done in a matter of three to four months. What cannot be replicated is experience,” she said.
She shared how a brand created a great experience for her while she was in San Francisco. “I have been buying from a particular brand for a long time, so they knew the kind of things I usually buy from them. I called to tell them I have three hours and that I would be coming to their store. When I went in, they had already booked a trial room for me. Inside the trial room, they had a whole rack of hangers with the kind of clothes that I wear. They knew the kind of style that I normally like."
About her overall experience, she said, “For me, it was just a question of trying it and telling them about size changes. I picked up whatever was available and they delivered whatever was not available. That's an experience that I liked and it was a mix of the digital and the physical.”
She urged brands to follow this route as it creates customer loyalty.
“Brands have to work towards it. Creating such a customer experience truly gives you the loyalty of your customer. As you know, one of the biggest problems that we have is the lack of customer loyalty,” she added.
India as a market 
Bhattacharya also spoke about how commerce in India is unique.
“India is very different from the rest of the world. There are many tier two, tier three and tier four cities, which just didn’t have access to a lot of the products. That's where digital comes in. If you have seen the kind of pin codes to which these commerce sites deliver, most of them are not in the metro urban areas. So it's penetrating right into places where people wouldn't see these goods. It's really and truly expanding your market daily,” she said.
She added that this growth from the semi-urban areas means that marketers don’t have to fight for a share of the pie.
“I take a lot of pride in saying this. The pie itself is getting bigger in the country and so it's not a question of fighting for it, it's a question of who's going to fill that pie,” she said.
Bhattacharya explained how brands can create the right experience with the help of data.
“You need a lot of data. You then can put together the data with the execution to come up with that hyper-personalisation. By going digital, you're not going to wipe out the physical space. That will never happen. When I get depressed, my favourite place to go to is a shop. Not only because I know I'm buying something, but the colours, the texture, and the sheer fact that I'm able to feel the products before buying them make me feel really good. You can’t replace that experience and validation,” she said.
Explaining the role of data, she further added, “To have a continuous experience of going from digital into physical, and creating the type of personalisation that make your customers loyal, you need data. This comes out of people shopping or window shopping. Window shopping on digital can be determined from digital browsing. We have a huge opportunity.”
Recent reports revealed that India will surpass China’s population to become the most populated country by 2027. And this population size is where she sees the opportunity.
“In India, demand goes up from the bottom. Even if it sells a small sachet of shampoo, if you put together all the sachets that the Indians are looking at, it's such a large amount. There’s a huge number of consumers out there waiting to have their needs met. You can't do it all with brick and mortar. It's way too costly and not feasible,” she said.
Her piece of advice for brands looking to meet the needs of India was the phygital approach.
“You can meet the needs with more digital. Physical can be then used to create curated experiences of a superior kind. Those are the sorts of things that will ensure that you have a loyal following,” she said.
Bhattacharya signed off with words of praise for the Indian government.
“No other government in the world has created the kind of vicious digital stack that India has. So the government has given us a very solid footing as to how we can go digital. We shouldn't let go of that opportunity. And we should lead the world in creating those specific use cases and services in creating those specific experiences,” she said.
Campaign India

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