It’s time UK stepped up to India’s retail revolution

It’s time UK stepped up to India’s retail revolution

By Tom Adeyoola | 23 December, 2017
Embracing digital is the only way that this can happen, and Indian retailers are on the front foot when it comes to this.

LONDON: When it comes to shopping, we are in an era of convenience, where customers can get what they want, when they want, at the touch of a button.

As technology changes consumer expectations, it’s becoming starkly clear that the retail industry is no longer fit for purpose. With the advance of Amazon and Alibaba, the need to innovate, adapt and offer a more convenient shopping experience is showing itself to be more vital than ever.

The UK retail scene is seeing sales volumes decrease and footfall drop to ever-lower ebbs. This October saw the fastest year-on-year decline in consumer spending in four years as it shrank by 2%, with a 5% decline in high-street spending.

The answer in how to solve the retail industry’s woes could come from looking to Asia. UK retailers can use the example they provide to create a seamless shopping experience that could transform Britain’s retail fortunes. 

Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba has merged online and offline shopping, calling it “new retail”. The height of the hysteria happening on 11November with “Singles Day”, an annual shopping extravaganza. This year, their Chinese shoppers spent $25bn online, which will exceed sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the UK and US combined. Even the second-ranked e-tailer in China,, will also manage to achieve this feat as their shoppers spent $19bn.

Asian success is based on a willingness to embrace advances in new technology—adopting and adapting to cutting-edge innovation. Coupled with a lack of the legacy systems so prevalent in the West, this has meant that the epicentre of consumer spending has shifted Eastwards.

The data mining technology used by Alibaba both instore and online has enabled the retailer to know its customer so well that it envisions a future where it can recommend a product both on a smartphone and on the shelves in a store at the same time, and deliver them together to their doorstep within half an hour, all so that the customer doesn’t need to carry their bags home.

By connecting the physical with the digital, young Asian retailers unencumbered by hefty real-estate are able to invest more in embracing all channels to get their customers over the line. 

It’s not just Chinese retailers that are embracing innovation; Indian retailers are too. One of the country’s biggest fashion ecommerce retailer, Myntra, is seeing huge growth and with it, successfully challenging the likes of Amazon and Alibaba in this space. 

Embracing digital is the only way that this can happen, and Indian retailers are on the front foot when it comes to this. As Ananya Tripathi, Chief Strategy Officer at Myntra said at a recent event at London Fashion Week, “You can afford to ignore the desktop. You cannot afford to ignore the mobile.”

Spurred on by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign, technology is an indispensable part for the modern growth of retail on the subcontinent. By connecting rural areas with high-speed internet, the country is becoming empowered by the smartphone. Close to 300 million Indians are expected to own smartphones this year, more than the US. Digital penetration is growing rapidly: 37% of the population is connected to the internet, but this is growing at a rate of 31% year-on-year, faster than both China and the US.

As the fastest-growing large economy, with the most millennials on the planet, India’s retail space has huge potential for growth. As the middle class grows, and the country goes through rapid urbanisation, people are buying more, and have more disposable income to do so. 

The most innovative founders are focusing their efforts on dominating the smartphone: figures this year suggested Amazon accounted for nearly a third of monthly mobile e-commerce in India, putting it almost level with India’s largest current e-commerce company Flipkart, which owns Myntra.

But instead of allowing Amazon to take hold, home-grown Indian retailers have the opportunity to flourish in their own market if they continue to harness technology. Understanding of the local market is paramount in a country as complex as India.

Innovative UK companies are working with Indian retailers to disrupt the industry, and fuel its growth, but there’s a lesson for the British market here in understanding the new consumer battleground. Dominating the smartphone will be the strategy that defines the next generation of retail success across the world.

The market conditions in India are a seedbed for the next global retail giant, and technology could be the key to cracking the code of maximising the country’s potential.

Tom Adeyoola is CEO and founder of Metail.

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