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Reimagining Retail

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Traditional retailers are facing different levels of competition from all these new ecommerce brands that have popped up recently, and are now being held to new customer expectations that many predicted wouldn’t occur for years. Because of the acceleration of digital platforms and online shopping over the last 18 months, brick and mortar stores are in a scramble to catch up or risk being kicked to the curb. 

Helping retailers take charge of their digital transformation journey and get in on all of the online action is Sensormatic, which serves retailers with IoT technology to help them with things such as inventory intelligence and accuracy, gathering shopper insights, converting foot traffic, and more. 

Subramanian Kunchithapatham (KS) is the Vice President of Engineering at Sensormatic and he’s been up close and personal with the brands as they implement the new technology that will allow them to compete in a digital world. On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, KS tells us what he’s been seeing in the world of retail and how he anticipates the industry changing in the coming months and years. For example, he gives us the scoop on how Sensormatic partnered with Intel to turn already-installed store cameras into an A.I.-powered Smart Hub — basically an intelligent store that can provide insights into occupancy, foot traffic, track inventory, and even provide a personalized experience for customers if they have opted in. Hear all about that solution and others on this episode!

Main Takeaways:

  • So Trendy: Retailers have a number of new trends to keep up with if they want to compete with ecommerce. Thanks to the rise of online shopping, consumers are experimenting with and discovering new brands more than ever before, which means the customer loyalty traditional retailers have enjoyed is crumbling. Additionally, when consumers do show in-store, they want to do more than just shop, they want an experience. Retailers have to adapt to meet these new expectations by offering new omnichannel and cross-platform shopping experiences to meet customers where they are.
  • Train, Train, Train: To digitally transform any organization means that there has to be an investment of not just money, but time. Employees need to be trained on new technology and strategies for using the data you gather, and the A.I. or machine learning systems you put in place also need time to be trained on the types of data and information they should be gathering and presenting to create the most value. 
  • A Future Full of Livestreams: Recently, retailers have been experimenting with the concept of livestream shopping — a brand will livestream an event and promote items, and those watching the livestream can buy the items right from that screen. This type of interactive and streaming shopping experience is going to become more popular as technology continues to advance and as the younger generation pushes that expectation forward.

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“If you really look at the retail industry per se, it’s the most digitally disrupted industry.”

“Because of the pandemic, you see more need for unified commerce and more need for self-checkout. They like to see that the store is more healthy and safe. Those kind of needs are driving now. Sensormatic as a company, we have operated for over 50 years and we have a very rich heritage of delivering innovative solutions to solve a retailer’s best business problems. Even now, as we are going through the pandemic, we are working on new, innovative solutions, from sensors to systems to software and AI-based offerings. Looking at, how do we help the retailers handle that disruption that has cast in the industry, and come up with new offerings so that they can proceed with their digital transformation journey.”

“When you start shopping online, what you realize is, you may be loyal to your particular brand. Now suddenly you have many more choices. Because you’re not going into the particular store and you’re shopping online, you have many more choices. Now people want to experiment. Because they want to experiment and it is easy for them to experiment, there is a shift in loyalty that’s happening… [where]people want to shift from their brand to another brand.”

“You cannot get to a better inventory accuracy without having an RFID-based solution, at least in apparel retail and some of the other retail categories as well. RFID plays an important role in getting to a higher level of inventory accuracy.”

“[As] part of our platform journey we can take all this data and we can apply artificial intelligence, machine learning models and predict what is going to happen. Then once you predict what’s going to happen, then we can prescribe an action. That prescriptive action, we can deliver it in the retailer’s handheld device or any form, where we can push it to the device saying that, ‘Hey, now your back door is open, or your fire entrance is locked,’ or something like that.” 

“You have to take the complexity out of the retailer. Try to understand the context and then make it easier for them to embrace some of these new technology solutions.”

Bio:

“Subramanian Kunchithapatham (KS) is the Vice President of Engineering at Sensormatic Solutions, an award-winning, global provider of the industry’s most comprehensive set of retail performance solutions. In his role, Subramanian leads retail innovation through emerging technologies and automation, including the company’s intelligent digital operating platform – Sensormatic IQ. With over two decades of experience in transforming organizations with groundbreaking solutions, Subramanian is passionate about delivering technology-driven innovations to help fast-forward the retail industry.”

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey there and welcome back to Up Next in Commerce, your number one show for all things commerce. This is your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO at mission.org.

Stephanie:

Today on the show, I have the pleasure of chatting with KS, who’s the VP of Engineering for Sensormatic Solutions, part of Johnson Controls. KS, welcome.

KS:

Nice to meet you, Stephanie. How are you?

Stephanie:

Good. How are you?

KS:

Good.

Stephanie:

I’m really excited to have you on the show. I was looking through our doc and I’m like, “There’s so much stuff that I want to talk to,” because I haven’t had too many people on the show, with a focus on retail, so let’s dive right in. I want to hear, what is Sensormatic Solutions and what does your role look like, there?

KS:

Yeah. Sensormatic Solutions is a technology company serving retailers globally. We provide IoT technology for retailers. Right from the edge to the cloud, we have several solutions focused on retailers, on the loss prevention side. How to prevent theft in the store, and the inventory intelligence focused on inventory accuracy. Then shopper insights which is focused on what is the foot traffic and how are we converting the foot traffic?

KS:

The top of all those things, we recently launched a new retail platform called Sensormatic IQ. It’s a connected intelligent operating platform that unifies several systems that we put out for retailers. In addition to that, it helps you to connect third-party systems as well as retailer systems.

KS:

That’s the digital journey that Sensormatic has done, and that’s what Sensormatic does for global retailers. My role is for product development. A lot of technology transformation within the company has been driven by me.

Stephanie:

Over these past couple of years, what does the transformation look like? Especially when it comes to retailers, now probably welcoming technology into their locations, where maybe a couple of years ago they’re like, “Oh, do I even need this? You really have to convince me,” where I feel like, now they have to transform really quickly. Stay up with all these new E-commerce brands. Figure out how to get access to the same kind of data that these B2C companies can get instantly. What does that transformation look like?

KS:

Yeah, if you really look at the retail industry per se, it’s the most digitally disrupted industry, right? There are lot of digital transformation that was happening in retail, much before the pandemic actually. Almost every retailer was looking at digital transformation.

KS:

The primary reason is, more and more online sales happen. When you look at brick and mortar stores, how do you stay relevant in the brick and mortar space? Because of that there was digital transformation that was ongoing with most of the retailers.

KS:

The pandemic, what it has done is it has accelerated the digital transformation. Now if you really look at, because of the pandemic, you see more need for unified commerce and more need for self-checkout. They like to see that the store is more healthy and safe. Those kind of needs are driving now. Sensormatic as a company, we have operated for over 50 years and we have a very rich heritage of delivering innovative solutions to solve a retailer’s best business problems.

KS:

Even now, as we are going through the pandemic, we are working on new, innovative solutions, right from sensors to systems to software and AI-based offerings. Looking at, how do we help the retailers handle that disruption that has cast in the industry, and come up with new offerings so that they can proceed with their digital transformation journey?

KS:

If you really look at shoppers today, what the pandemic has done is, most of the people who have never shopped online, they’re forced to shop online. Now, once you start shopping online, you get used to shopping online.

KS:

Now when you start shopping online, now that is one thing, where the online shopping has increased. Second thing is, when you start shopping online, what you realize is, you may be loyal to your particular brand. Now suddenly you have many more choices. Because you’re not going into the particular store and you’re shopping online, you have many more choices.

KS:

Now people want to experiment. Because they want to experiment and it is easy for them to experiment, there is a shift in loyalty that’s happening, actually. That’s causing troubles for some of the retailers, when people want to shift from their brand to another brand.

KS:

The other trend that you see among the shoppers is, no longer, shoppers want to really come to store and then only shop. They expect retailers to meet, wherever they want to shop, however they want to shop. Whatever time they want to shop, you need to meet them at their convenience, and not a shopper coming into the store and making.

KS:

Some of these trends, what happens is, for you to address some of these trends, then every retailer needs to adopt technology at a faster pace. If you have to shop anywhere you want and then, any time you want and then, any place you want. Then you want that item to be delivered to you, or you wanted to come and pick it up from the store, we call it as buy online and pick in store.

KS:

If you have to enable that, the retailers need to embrace the technology. If they don’t have the technology embraced then they cannot deliver that kind of a customer experience. When you don’t deliver the customer experience, then the shoppers are going to shift loyalty and go to whichever retailer who can provide that experience.

Stephanie:

How do you make sure retailers aren’t, maybe scrambling to keep up, because I’m thinking, a lot of times if a brand or a big company’s lacking or falling behind, and then they start just grasping for everything. “Whatever technology’s out there, I’m just going to do it all.”

Stephanie:

Often times, maybe some of those are just fads. How do you guide retailers on, “This is something you’re going to need for the next 10 years. This is the way of the future versus this, maybe you don’t need virtual reality for everything right now. Maybe that’s a fad and it’s only for certain brands”? How do you guide them around what’s important?

KS:

Yeah. Actually you can divide it into two parts. One is on the shopper’s side, if you really look at it. If I’m a shopper and I want to shop anywhere and everywhere I want, now increasingly, you see that retailers are adopting a messaging app-based shop.

KS:

If I’m on the Snapchat and messaging to you, by the way, on the side, I’ll be able to shop. Even on the messaging app-based shopping, there are one of the retailers, Levi’s who recently launched a Bitmojis. All the emojis, they call it as Bitmojis.

KS:

They dress up the Bitmojis based on the Levi’s collection. As you are in the messaging app, you can pick something and then shop. That’s on the shopping side where they’re looking at, “How do I leverage technology to go shop?”

KS:

When it comes to back end, once I shop, then whatever item I shop, and if I say that I’m going to come to this store near my home and pick it up from that store, that item should be there in that store. You don’t want to have your inventory accuracy. If you don’t have all the right information correctly available, the shopper, when he or she comes to the store, they’re not going to find the item.

KS:

We call this as a precision retail. Sensormatic side, having all the technology that will enable the shopper to get the best experience when they go do the shopping, either in online. If they can do the shopping online, and come to the store and pick it up, or you go to the store and order it, and it gets delivered to the home.

KS:

The retailers need inventory information, accurately for them to deliver the best experience for the shopper. The technology that enables that, we call it as precision retail, because if you don’t have very precise information in the retail operations today, you’ll not be able to enable a better customer experience.

Stephanie:

What are some of the things that you think are pretty basic, that all retailers should have? Inventory management seems like a no-brainer. Also, seems like something a lot of retail locations struggle with. What are some of the other things that’s, you need to have these five things to succeed?

KS:

Yeah. I would say that, definitely accurate inventory is a must. You cannot survive without having accurate inventory. Also, a easier way of meeting the customer wherever they are. If you have to meet the customer wherever we are, you need to provide multiple channels for me to shop with you.

KS:

I should be able to shop from my mobile app, or I should be able to shop from my desktop, or I should be able to come to the store and shop. I should be able to experience. If it is an experiential items, people would like to come to the store, have a very good experience of the item, then make the purchase process easy. Some of those technologies will become important.

KS:

The next one would be self-checkout and mobile checkout. It has become more prominent now because customers do not want to touch, they do not want to interact with the people. They would like to come in, look at the item, and then purchase and have a frictionless checkout. Frictionless checkout becomes an important technology implementation for retailers to learn.

KS:

If you take it little bit as part of an experiential store, you need the higher technology in terms of, you need to have much better bandwidth in the store, for you to have a good, digital experience. 5G technology will play a bigger role.

KS:

Also, experiential stores will have to provide more appropriate content and more appropriate digital experience and digital engagement in the stores. Digital engagement technology is going to be more important.

KS:

I forgot to touch upon, when I said inventory accuracy, you cannot get to a better inventory accuracy without having an RFID-based solution, at least in apparel retail and some of the other retail categories as well. RFID plays a important role in getting to a higher level of inventory accuracy. RFID technology will play a big role.

KS:

If you go further, there are going to be other technologies in the supply chain, and back of the store operations. You’ll see that robots are playing a role. Not every store and not every category of the retailer will be able to leverage, but there are certain categories, robots will play a bigger role.

KS:

Then the technology that will enable ease of last mile delivery and then confirmation to the customer. For customer who are ordering online, they’re getting delivered with one stroke. Again, that becomes very important.

Stephanie:

Awesome. What are some of the things that hold retailers back from doing this, because I know when I was talking with Joe from Intel, he was saying, “RFID can solve a lot of problems. Also, retailers, it’s hard to get them to do that. There’s so many solutions all around, but it’s hard to get them to actually implement the technologies, to track the inventory, to track traffic, whatever it may be.” What’s the pushback?

KS:

Yeah. I would not call it as a pushback. I would say that most of the retailers, if you’re a brick and mortar stored-based retail, and today, you have lot of business processes, well-defined in the store. How do you operate?

KS:

Now when you implement a RFID-based technology for getting a better inventory accuracy and better tracking of merchandise movement in the supply chain as well, now they need to change a whole lot of business processes on the retail side.

KS:

When they have to change business process, that means it’s a change management in the organization. They need to manage that change more carefully and they need to retrain their employees with the new changed approach on how they are operate.

KS:

All those things takes lot of effort, and it costs money to get the employees trained as well as, and it also takes time to implement the technology. They need more tech-savvy associates also, in the store. All those things will require effort and money.

KS:

Whichever retailer has gone forward, and we make life easier for many of the retailers who wants to pursue RFID-based inventory implementation. I would say that you got a retail industry experts in our organization who can help the retailers to navigate this process very less painfully. Then we can help in, how do you transform the business process? How do you go about implementing it? What are the best ways to do it?

KS:

We bring in lot of best practices in the industry, to help with the retailer, and that’s how we solve. We do have many customers whom we have really helped go through this transformation, and then migrated them to RFID-based inventory.

Stephanie:

What are you most excited about? When it comes to all the things you just listed, what are you really passionate about, that when you talk to a retailer you’re like, “This is the way forward”? What excites you most?

KS:

Yeah. I would say that, it’s really, look at AI technology today, it has disrupted every industry, not just the retail. I’m really fascinated about how it is getting adopted within retail.

KS:

If you really look at it, in the past, almost all the retail stores, retailers have implemented loss prevention security cameras. These are IP cameras for security surveillance. That’s what it was used for.

KS:

Now suddenly with the advancement of AI technology, now you can leverage the existing IP cameras in the store, and then put in … They call it as a Smart Hub. We partnered with Intel and developed an AI edge IoT box, an appliance. We call it as Smart Hub. That box, you put it in the store, connect all the camera streams to that store. Now suddenly the store becomes the most intelligent store.

KS:

You can do whole lot of use cases and whole lot of pain points which you can solve for the retailer. For example, given the pandemic time, we looked at, during the pandemic we partnered with Intel. We have been partnering with Intel for almost two years, and we accelerated this development with Intel and started developing occupancy tracking solution.

KS:

People wanted to have reduced number of shoppers in the store. They wanted to have mask compliance. People should be wearing mask. Then all of the shoppers should be maintaining social distance. All these things are new mandates, and the retailers wanted to maintain the health and safety of the store.

KS:

We quickly accelerated our AI partnership with Intel and developed this occupancy, social distance and mask detection solution in that while. Not only that, now that we have our Smart Hub, the Intel-powered Smart Hub, that Smart Hub enables you to develop lot more use cases.

KS:

Now if you are a loyal shopper to the retailer, and if you’ve opted in and if you’re a loyal customer for that retail store, now since you’ve opted in, the moment you enter the store, I know that, “Hey, Stephanie is walking into the store. She is the most VIP customer. I need to handle her better. I need to address her needs better.”

KS:

We can go and alert an associate to go address to Stephanie because she’s a VIP customer. That’s one option, one example, I’m saying. This opens up lot more newer use cases and newer ways of engaging the shoppers in the store, just leveraging the existing security cameras.

KS:

If you really look at other AI technology, all these stores have whole lot of sensors, and these sensors generate data. We put whole lot of sensors from Sensormatic. We generate lot of data. We generate data from inventory. We generate data about strength. We generate data about foot traffic, plus we have lot of camera-based, vision-based data.

KS:

Now, combining all this data, again we can apply artificial intelligence on the top, machine learning models on the top and deliver very, very prescriptive insights to the retailer. That’s the direction we are headed now.

Stephanie:

I’m imagining a dashboard where you plug in a lot of your cameras. You’re getting these insights. What would that dashboard look like for a retail worker who could just go up and look. It’s like, “Okay, you need to close the door. You’re at capacity, or you need to go and restock this one thing right now”? What does that look like, behind the scenes?

KS:

Yeah. Actually, take the example of an occupancy. If the retailer can specify, what are the allowed occupancy you want to permit in the store, and then configure that in the system. Then the cameras of the entry and the exit can keep counting how many people are walking in. We can also put a display at the entrance. It can show a red or a green indication.

KS:

Green means, the shopper can go in, and the red means, shopper cannot enter until it turns green. That’s a simple indication. What happens is, there’s whole lot of dashboard. Once you have all these data, you can create a whole lot of dashboard and provide.

KS:

More and more if we look at retail, they don’t have enough resources to take care of the store efficiently. The pandemic has put lot more demand on their associates, to do more work, because they need to ensure the health and safety. They need to take care of several other things in addition to their job, which they used to do before.

KS:

Now nobody has so much time to look at dashboard and come to a decision. We saw this need, much ahead and that’s where we have put together a strategy and executed our strategy to launch the Sensormatic IQ platform.

KS:

Now what happens is, as part of our platform journey we can take all this data. We can apply artificial intelligence, machine learning models and predict what is going to happen. Then once you predict what’s going to happen, then we can prescribe an action. That prescriptive action, we can deliver it in the retailer’s handheld device or any form, where we can push it to the device saying that, “Hey, now your back door is open, or your fire entrance is locked,” or something like that.

KS:

If you see that in this particular hour … Let’s say I have the historical data of this street. From the historical data I can tell you that in this particular hour, there is a possible organized retail crime can come and hit this store at this point in time.

KS:

I can send an alert to this retail as a protection manager saying that, “Hey, you’re likely to get hit with an ORC crime today. You may want to take a preventive action, and these are the possible preventive actions you can take.” You can prescribe exactly, where the retailers need not look at the dashboard and deduce that information and come to that conclusion.

Stephanie:

Well, that’s good. It seems like it would be so difficult to come up with prescriptive outcomes for retailers. I’m thinking about these models that you built in the background, and you’ve got one that has seasonality. You have another one’s being hit by the pandemic in a bad way. The other one’s in a good way.

Stephanie:

How do you think about training these models in the back end, so it works for everyone and gives outcomes that’s not just being trained on false data that’s, maybe a little blip?

KS:

It’s a very good question actually. Now what happens is, there can’t be two differences. Not every retailer will have the same model. The nature of AI itself is like that. You need to retrain the model based on the context.

KS:

It’s not a long time. You take two to three weeks of training in that environment. Collect data and retrain the model for that outlet. That is one. That’s bound to happen, when you deploy it. The other thing is, other interesting thing you’ll see is, take the example saying that, for retailer A, I say that, “This particular hour, you’re likely to get a ORC, crime event happening.”

KS:

Retailer A and retailer B, both are likely to get hit with an ORC at a particular time, but retailer A might respond to that differently. They may want to respond to that differently, whereas retailer B might be want to respond to the same prediction differently.

KS:

One might say, “Hey, I want to shut down that entrance for an hour.” I’m just telling hypothetically. Another might say, “I want to push all the high-value items that are closer to that entrance, to the back of the store.” You can take two different actions for the same prediction.

KS:

That’s why any prescriptive action we work on, we need to work closely with a retailer to understand what is their context. For that context, how do you have to respond, and then put that prescription into the implementation for them. It has to be a joint coworking with a customer to make it happen, actually. To make it successful.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. It seems like every retailer needs an in-house data scientist who can plug in a few inputs of, “Okay, we’re running a local ad campaign this week. It’s going to be very different. There’s a parade coming on by. Everyone’s going to want my Matcha tea.”

Stephanie:

Being able to add their own little inputs that, maybe a model cannot pick up on. You always need human input into any kind of model.

KS:

Yeah. That’s true.

Stephanie:

Yeah, but the training part seems tricky, when it comes to thinking about, how do you implement retail workers and make sure they’re thinking in this data-oriented way? How do you train them? Seems like a hard problem for retailers.

KS:

Correct. That is where technology companies like ours can play a major role, I would say, that you have to take the complexity out of the retailer. Try to understand the context and then make it easier for them to embrace some of these new technology solutions. That’s where we have to do all the heavy lifting, and support our customers.

Stephanie:

Cool. I want to talk a bit about … I was reading an article about how you guys, and you were shifting the company from this hardware model, to moving to a more SaaS model with your products, but also Outcome as a Service model.

Stephanie:

I want you to touch on that a bit because I though it was super interesting. You hear the world where everyone wants to be a SaaS company, of course, right now. That’s the way of the future, but the way you explained it, I thought was really unique and interesting about how it’s outcome-oriented. I was hoping you can touch on that, a bit.

KS:

Yeah. Definitely, as I said, Sensormatic has been transforming our portfolio across the board, right from sensors to systems to software to cloud. We did do most of our hardware portfolio. We can ensure that, now, even if you have bought it in the past, we can go back to the customers, some of our old hardware.

KS:

We have a mechanism to connect our old hardware, IP-enable them and connect to the cloud. We have invested quite heavily in terms of, how do you IP-enable all the hardware and take the data to the cloud? That’s done.

KS:

Now we do get the data for our loss prevention portfolio. We get the data for inventory, and traffic portfolio. Almost all of them have a SaaS offering, and we actively sell all our SaaS offerings in the market.

KS:

Now, we also built a data lake on the top of all our SaaS offerings. Now, we get loss prevention inventory and traffic data coming into the common data lake. Now that I have the data, which I can correlate between traffic to inventory or traffic to loss prevention. All those correlations, you can do and come up with predictions and then prescriptions as well.

KS:

There’s still, all the SaaS offerings, like any other Software as a Service, we deliver that. When you talk about predictive prescriptive offerings, now what we can do is, the example, previously I gave. You don’t want the retail associate to spend time analyzing the data and trying to keep the business context in mind. Then try to solve whatever is the business problem that he has to solve.

KS:

The only way the retail associate is going to solve the business problem is by taking an action. That action is an outcome, and it’s for a business outcome. We will be able to go, analyze the data on behalf of our customers. Based on their context, by taking their contextual input and then come up with a predictions and prescriptions that are specific to that particular customer.

KS:

When they act on those prescriptions, they’re going to get a business outcome. So you can ensure that whatever business outcome they are trying to solve, you can enable that using our technology.

Stephanie:

Got it. Very cool.

KS:

When you’re able to do that, you call that as an Outcome as a Service, where you say that, “Okay. Now I’m not talking about technology. I’m not talking about SaaS. I’m just going to deliver a set of outcomes, and then that’s what you’re buying from us. For us to deliver that outcome, we have to use several sensors, systems, software, AI model, everything, to get to that outcome.”

Stephanie:

Yeah. I love that. I think of so many different consumer SaaS companies where it’s like, you buy it, you get into this subscription. I’m locked into a year. Then it’s like, you don’t really use it. Sometimes you don’t even know how to.

Stephanie:

I think of some of these big BI tools where you get in there and you’re like, “I don’t …” Then you’re locked in. It’s so nice, entering into a mindset of, “I’m going to actually have something that shows me a solution right away, how to act on it. I don’t have to put on my data hat and start analyzing it and figuring out correlations. I’m going to have something at least guiding me on where to even start thinking about that,” which is awesome.

Stephanie:

Do you see any new shifts or things popping up right now, in the world of retail that, maybe you weren’t even expecting a month or two ago?

Stephanie:

You’re like, “These are some new requests that are coming in from clients, where they’re trying to understand X, Y or Z, or they’re trying to understand this new omnichannel world.” Is there anything new that, now you’re like, “We need to build this. We need to get on this right now”?

KS:

Yeah. I would not say as it’s directly coming from the client, and I will just tie it back to the shopper behaving trends that we are seeing. How that’s going to be the norm in future, and then how it’ll shape the retailer.

KS:

If you really look at it, everybody is looking for a unified experience. I should be able to buy online, and then pick it up in store, or curbside pickup.

KS:

Now, BOPIS and curbside pickup, we see that many shoppers, for the first time, they experimented with buying online and picking it up from store or curbside pickup. We have seen some surveys, one from Sensormatic, one from NRF and another from McKinsey. All these surveys indicate that more and more shoppers will go for BOPIS or curbside pickup-based fulfillment.

KS:

This is going to be a norm. You’ll have to support it. not everybody is implementing it today, but you’ll see that more and more retailers are going to go and implement that way. The other thing, other interesting trend we have seen during the pandemic is livestream-based shopping, where you do a livestream of an event. Then as part of the event, you wear all the fashion clothes that you want to promote. Then people who are watching the livestream can click on the items and then they can make a purchase.

KS:

Okay, now we saw Walmart do in partnership with TikTok. We saw also, Nordstrom do an event like that. More and more retailers are experimenting with the livestream. I believe that in future, more and more retailers will try to embrace this livestream-based shopping, more than what you see today. I can only dole out some examples now, but one or two years down the line, you’re going to see more and more happening in that side.

KS:

The other area, also catching up is, there are retailers who had big format stores. They are shrinking the format to the smaller format, or experience-only stores. You don’t see many doing that, but you see few retailers doing that.

KS:

The experience-only stores, you have items you’ll not be able to buy. You’ll not be able to pick the item from the store. You can go to the store, you can experience the item, touch and feel. There will be lot of digital experience to augment that.

KS:

Then at the end of that experience, if you decide you want to buy it, you place the order. The item will get delivered to your home. That’s an experience-only store. That’s another concept that’s just picking up.

Stephanie:

Yeah, but the shipping has to be good on that, because to me, I feel like so many shoppers are like me, where they need it quick. If I’m going shopping somewhere, I’m like, I probably want it that day. I love the idea of, the inventory’s there for you to try on and see what fits, and get the experience, but I also want it that day, if possible. One-day shipping. Is that so much to ask?

KS:

I get it. Yeah, I think there are some who’d like to experience, and then they’re okay to get it delivered to home. On the same day, if it gets delivered, that’s again, that’s why we call it a precision industry. They have all the inventory. If they have everything readily available in that area, they may be able to deliver few on the same day. Right-

Stephanie:

Yeah.

KS:

… if they go down this path. Smaller format is like, again, bring in more digital experience. Don’t consume too much space, and provide a more digital experience. Then stock and operate with a smaller format. That’s another trend that’s happening.

Stephanie:

Yeah, which is nice because it feels like there’s a lot more opportunity to beta test and see what could work at a much smaller scale than, maybe a couple of years ago, where these retailers are like, “Go hard. Open up a big shop. Have all this inventory.” Then they’re like, “Darn, didn’t really predict that well. This might not be the perfect location for it, or there’s not as much foot traffic as I might have thought, because Blue Bottle just went out of business,” or whatever it might be.

Stephanie:

It’s nice to be able to have a little testing ground, and then pivot if needed. Consumers are actually okay with that model, I would think, where, maybe back in the day, they weren’t.

KS:

Yeah, yeah. Also, you see another interesting trend that’s happening is, now for retailers who are embracing the omnichannel experience where their shoppers can buy online. They’re converting some of the stores into a fulfillment store. That’s what led to BOPIS.

KS:

Another trend you’ll see is dark stores, where they’re converting some of the stores to be, completely a fulfillment center.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

KS:

There is no store experience there. You only go to that store to pick the item that you’ve ordered and then walk out, actually. That’s another trend that’s happening actually, to support the unified commerce experience.

Stephanie:

Yeah. What kind of industries do you think are fit to pull that kind of model, because I feel like there are some stores where … Is there ever a good experience when you go on to certain stores you’re like, “It’s probably a hard no for this kind of store. I just need to get what I need to get”?

Stephanie:

What kind of industries do you think, it would work well to just have your store as a fulfillment center versus the Urban Outfitters of the world, you need the full on experience?

KS:

I think if you really look at, Whole Foods converted one of their stores into a dark stores.

Stephanie:

Wow. Whole Foods is an experience though. How could you do that?

KS:

The problem is, it depends upon what you are comfortable purchasing online, without experiencing. Then if you have that, then you can go and pick it up. You know all your standard items, what you normally buy, and you have experienced it already.

KS:

Now you don’t want to waste time going into the store. You just order it. I don’t want to waste time and go pick it up, and walk out.

Stephanie:

Got you.

KS:

There are items that are very standard. There’s nothing much to experience, go down this path. There are items that you have experienced once. Now you like it and you don’t want to change anything. You’re certain about it. Go order and just pick it up. Those are the areas where it’ll pick it up.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Yeah. Got it. Do you think live streaming is actually going to penetrate the U.S., because I still just don’t … I feel like, actually, people here are getting burned out from live stuff. Clubhouse was big, everyone liked it. Now everyone’s like, “Oh, so much work. I have to be on the entire time. I have to think hard and really jump on that deal, if it is live.”

Stephanie:

It just feels like we all got in this stressful rat race of everything live. Now it seems like people are pulling back to the more, at least TikTok. Little bit more preplanned, Instagram, Pinterest, of really think about and be more mindful about their purchases.

KS:

Correct.

Stephanie:

Do you think that’s coming here?

KS:

It is coming here. I feel that the Gen Z, even today, it is … If I go to my son who is 18 years old, I can never take him to a retail store. They still prefer to shop everything online. They would like to see it online.

KS:

For a certain segment of shoppers, there may be a segment of shoppers who’ll still be interested in shopping through livestream or shopping through the app. There will be certain shoppers who still feel comfortable, because we all grew up in an age of going to the store, and experiencing it and buying it.

KS:

We are more in need for a socially, going out and interacting and getting it. Such shoppers will continue to go to the stores, but there will be a segment of shoppers who’ll continue to buy through livestream. Even if everything becomes normal, 100% of stores are open worldwide, there may be a segment of shoppers who’ll shop, I feel.

Stephanie:

Okay. Yeah, that’ll be interesting to watch

Stephanie:

All right, well, let’s shift over to the lightning round, if we can. The lightning round’s brought to you by our friends at Salesforce Commerce Cloud.

Stephanie:

This is where I ask you a question, and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready? Yeah.

Stephanie:

Okay. What’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for you?

KS:

Oh. Anybody who helps me. I grew up in a world of gratitude. Anybody who does any remote help, I feel nice about it. Even small things, I feel very nice about it actually. It may not be a bigger thing.

Stephanie:

Okay.

KS:

There are a lot, actually, if you really ask me.

Stephanie:

All right.

KS:

I would say, I’m blessed. Every day, I get so many gifts in terms of people helping me.

Stephanie:

I love that. What’s one thing your kids have taught you, that made you shift your idea on E-commerce or retail? You talked about live streaming, but what else have they taught you recently, that you’re like, “Whoa, mind-blowing. Never would have thought about it that way, but you’re 18, so you know everything”?

KS:

Yeah. If you ask me, I cannot buy a shirt or a pant without getting a feel for the cloth or fitting. Without getting a feel for the apparel. My kids will not even blink their eye in terms of ordering it. By looking it online, and ordering it online.

KS:

Even after they receive it, and if it’s not good, they don’t mind quickly returning it as well, actually. I find that as a hassle, but I learned from my kids that, it’s a way of life. The first time I could sense that E-commerce is going to get adopted in a big way was from my kids, I would say.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. What’s one thing, or piece of technology that you don’t understand today, that you wish you did?

KS:

The technology of 5G as well as, currently, people are talking about 6G. I used to work in a telecom industry. I used to play close attention to these two technologies. The pace in which 5G took, caught me by surprise. Then I had to go catch up.

KS:

Now I’m getting tuned to all the 6G news which people are pushing. Now I’ll pay more attention so that I don’t do the same mistake I did with 5G.

Stephanie:

How do you stay on top of all of the E-commerce trends? What do you read? What do you listen to? What do you do each day, to stay on top of that?

KS:

Yeah. I subscribe to a lot of … Now today, gathering information is not a problem at all. I subscribe to all kinds of thing. You get McKinsey, Deloitte, Sears-based retail and so many other retail subscriptions and technology subscriptions.

KS:

Best time for me to catch up on that is mostly in the weekends. I spend couple of hours looking at all the things. That’s how I catch with the technology and the trends.

Stephanie:

Well, KS, this has been such a fun interview. Where can people find out more about you and Sensormatic Solutions?

KS:

Thank you. Thank you, Stephanie. It’s a pleasure talking to you. Hope to talk to you again.

Stephanie:

Yeah, yeah. Tell me where people can find you though? Where should people look up Sensormatic Solutions?

KS:

People can find me in LinkedIn, and the company, Sensormatic Solutions’ webpage as well, they can find me.

Stephanie:

Amazing. Thanks so much.

Episode 115