For brands and marketers, is online separate from offline? Yes, but smart brands are realising that it is just another channel for brand engagement and generating sales. In many ways, the online side of a business can add a lot of efficiencies and reduce operating costs, improving the overall performance of a company. The key is to go beyond the buzzwords and to look at e-commerce as just another part of commerce.
For example, for an entirely offline business such as the wholesale sugar business, what role does Internet and mobile have to play? A lot actually. Accordin to Siddharth Agarwal, Founder and CEO, Mobicule, a mobile enterprise solutions company, even for pure offline companies, bringing in mobile and Internet technology based around the existing networks is enough to lead to a two-fold boost in efficiencies, which will in turn lead to similar improvements in a company’s bottom line.
He said, “Using software like ours can help any large network work more effectively. For example, one of our clients is Mawana sugar. In their business, farmers collect sugarcane and deposit it at a collection center. These are mostly open tents in fields, where you can’t place a computer. The collection center can be equipped with a cheap phone with GPRS to send information on the amount of cane deposited, where the cane should be moved, send any data that the company finds useful. Earlier, this would have required a man to call the office and then someone writes it down and then passes it on, but with the use of new technology, the entire process is automated, needs less people, and moves faster, all of which help the company to perform better.”
Agarwal further said that there was a lot of scope for efficiency in the Indian industry. He noted, “Most businesses still operate in a very old fashioned way when it comes to their distribution networks. Using mobile technology, a sales person can become much more effective when working with distributors. They can take orders, do price check, stock check and advise on payment schedules, and we have seen this lead to a 20 per cent boost in sales through greater efficiency.”
At the same time, moving from offline to a mix of offline and online services also has its own challenges. Reasoning Global eApplications Ltd is an online competency provider, which enables small companies to enter the online space. It’s VP, Marketing, Jeetendra Joshi, said, “We offer a customer facing technology, which has been deployed at all levels of e-commerce, from small mom and pop operations to companies like Videocon, Godrej, D’damas, Nakshatra and Victorinox. What we are seeing is a significant movement online and now everyone is interested and wants to be a part of this new wave of growth.”
The key is to take a holistic approach and develop an entire ecosystem, which handles discovery, payments, logistics and technology. Joshi said, “We have a product which partners with Google, HDFC, and Aramex to bring an entire supply chain online. Introducing people to this ecosystem has brought a lot of improvement, beyond just providing the technology and then leaving people on their own.” Such integrated approaches are key to a strong online presence and can help specialised products gain reach in a way that offline methods never would.
Bata is another good example of an offline brand going online and finding success. Manoj Chandra, VP - Marketing, Bata India, is very involved with his company’s online push. He said that the company had seen both value and volumes increase online and Bata had a very integrated approach which used the Internet for both brand building and e-commerce, and aside from their own e-commerce site, the company is also present on multi-brand websites.
Chandra further said, “Customers care about brands more than channels. If you can make their brand journey simpler, they will take the new channel. We’re not leading by discounts, but instead offer our full catalog online, while a store has physical limits on stock. We offer search and comparison online, and we can use our online presence to drive offline buying up as well. The important thing is to realise that having an e-commerce store will not cost your brick and mortar business, but will only help it grow, and then taking the time to understand what you can give the audience, and how you can give it to the audience. At the end of the day, it is like any other business, and people must approach it as such.”