How can technology enhance E-shopping experience? Experts pour insights

In partnership with Autodesk, AnimationXpress launched a webinar titled, ‘Enhance Your E-shopping experience’ in an effort to understand the post-pandemic consumer behaviour, the e-commerce modalities and the way technology can ameliorate the consumer experience and drive up the sales.

Moderated by Animationxpress India and Indiantelevision Dot Com group founder, CEO and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari, the panel included CaratLane: A Tanishq partnership co-founder and online head Avnish Anand, Godrej Interio SVP (B2C) Subodh Mehta, De Beers Jewellers India MD Sachin Jain, HomeTown chief marketing officer Medha Tawde, Carwale SVP Abhishek Patodi, and Autodesk India senior technical sales specialist, M&W Samit Shetty

Post-lockdown Consumer Behaviour and Festive season

Lockdown has indiscriminately changed the dynamics of various brands and businesses, leading to enormous amounts of strategy revisions pivoting to digital platforms. Even as the dust settles on the new normal with phased opening up taking place, the drastic change in consumer behaviour has encouraged brands to adopt newer technologies to keep pace.

Detailing the experience they had at HomeTown, Tawde shares: “A lot has changed in the last eight months and it has become very imperative for each one of us to be able to pivot our products services to be able to configure them to the new normal.”

The festive season has always been the time for shopping in India. But are customers shopping at the stores or taking to the digital platforms to conclude their transactions?

Tawde reports that it has been a bit of a mixed mag. She shares, “Festival season has opened up well for us. We have seen a lot of consumers coming back to the stores. We have steadily seen a score of consumers on our store as well as on our e-commerce website online shopping. A lot of consumers have shifted to new homes now. So the handover of different homes had got deferred due to the lockdown and the pandemic. So there has been a surge in the demand and the shopping. Whether it is customising for their kitchens or buying for their homes and festives always is about adding those little bright touches to your homes. Furnishing and decor businesses have seen a major uptick. I think it is almost safe to say that we’re almost back to pre-covid days.”

Sharing insights about consumer behaviour in the post-covid times, she adds, “There are consumers who are browsing online, they’re opting for our virtual product demos and they’re concluding their sale online. We also have consumers who are doing all of that and then coming to the physical store to see the product and transacting in the store. Consumers are also coming to the store for shortlisting products and doing a video call interacting with the sales experts on product features, dimensions and transacting online. So it is a bit of all that is happening.”

Echoing the same observation in the consumer behaviour at Godrej, Mehta shares that they saw an uptick in the work-from-home category of furniture. Speaking about the overall rise in sales, he notes: “Definitely the kind surge you see in the kind of footfalls and the auto booking is really unexpected. We see that happening in all the categories. If you go chronologically, Q1 nothing happened in April, it started opening up in May. In Q1, we relied largely on work from home furniture so there were orders, there were visits and enquiries but largely limited to work from home furniture so corporates were very much interested so we saw their work from home furniture almost going 5x. So the categories were subdued. We started seeing Q2 onwards that people started coming in.”

Mehta notes that people have been recently visiting online stores much more than before so visits to online as well as offline have been both continuously going up.

During the festive season, he shares that they have seen a 20 per cent uptick. He attributes it to the ‘pent up demand to some extent as people are getting bored, they have been spending a lot of time at home and they started observing a lot of things at home and they are getting new ideas. The customer engagement has also been focused on that.’

Naturally as the markets have largely gone digital, the retailers are focused on ensuring that they improve the online platform experience.

Mehta shares, “All the retailers are trying everything in their hands to not only ensure that they improve the experience in their online platform, improving UI, UX; having a lot more customer engagement platforms. Most of the promotions have actually been digital due to the absence of print and really not everybody going on T.V. We relied a lot on the digital. We relied a lot on the local digital seo GEO-targeting kind of a thing and we’ve been getting tremendous amounts of leads through that so overall it has been good. It looks like the future is again bright for us”

Automobile Industry

While furniture sales have gone up, the automobile industry hasn’t been behind either. Patodia who deals in the cars reports that the digital experience has accelerated everything and there’s been a big uptick in car sales too. He shares that people are making their buying decisions on digital platforms. 

Speaking about the sales over the last few months, he notes: “What we’ve seen is, over the last year, if we compare the last three months to the same period last year, we’ve seen a 50 to 70 per cent growth in our traffic. Cars are one of the most expensive items that people purchase. It is the second most expensive item after a house and it is a very very involved purchase. A lot of people buy it for the first time, even people that buy it repeatedly, it is once in three to five years at the minimum. They spend anywhere between two to three months from the time they start thinking about buying a car to the point that they actually buy a car. So it is a fairly detailed journey and what you see is that all parts of this journey have moved to a digital channel.”

He also shares that consumers are researching a lot before walking into a showroom. And the customers who are visiting the car showrooms are serious about making a purchase.

He details: “They tend to do most of their research online and once they know their details, that’s when they walk into a showroom. So two factors; one is their demand going up and second is people once they come on to a platform, we work with thousands of dealers across the country and we help them connect with dealers. Given the digital adoption being higher and the walk-ins are not really as high but they tend to be more serious customers, they know that they’ve done their research online and they know what to buy.”

Diamonds shining brighter

In the diamond business too, things are looking brighter with the new normal. Speaking about the factors on which the buying decisions are based, Jain reports, “In the modern context of transparency, we’re all trying to take out the whole mystery of buying diamonds. As we talk about millennials, by the end of 2020, 71 per cent of India will be millennial or younger. So it is not anymore an option for any industry to say now we will be focused on millennials, because that is where the business will be.”

Citing a research, he shares, “We found out that at a physical store where a consumer goes to buy diamonds has already gone online minimum nine times to see the category. It is not necessarily e-commerce but it is about information gathering, knowing the right questions to ask and bringing in more transparency and that has been very interesting. And as the markets opened up, at that time we saw a lot of pent up demand. Tier two, Tier three and Tier four markets have been consistently growing and that has been very interesting. The consumption in tier three and tier four markets is just phenomenal.”

While Jain believes we need to focus largely on the millennials, Anand has a nuanced take on the matter. Anand feels that what we may not come across in the research is the recommendations made by the elder members of the families even though the purchase is made by the millennials. 

He elaborates, “We keep talking about the millennials but I can tell you that grandmothers or the mother also play a big role in jewellery buying decisions and I see a lot of millennials who still tell us that I have bought this but I will still check with my mom before, I wanted to be sure. So jewellery is a category where most people are still not sure of the quality and the certifications and the things like that and they tend to rely on the person in the family who has bought a lot. For a long time, we’d been under the impression that we should not be chasing the 60 or the 50 plus but every woman in India of that age is having a smartphone with great internet connectivity and spending a lot of time on Facebook and Instagram and they’re the real influencers in the family. They might not even buy so your regular marketing methods of attributions might show that these campaigns are useless but there’s enough qualitative research that has shown us that the mother-in-law suggests to her daughter-in-law who saw it on Facebook or Instagram.”

Technology revving up the e-commerce experience

Predominantly a software company that has been catering to films and post-production VFX studios, Autodesk has seen a bourgeoning rise in the demand from the brands and services. As the services have largely gone digital, brands have sought to improve the user experience with photorealism, 3D-renders, modelling and other advanced technologies.

Autodesk’s Shetty notes, “We all know that Indian e-commerce business picked up quite late. We were all inclined towards going to the shop, getting their products like gold, cloth or diamond. We wanted to see physically and then buy it. But in the past, about a year and a half ago or two, the online business increased and it became more mature because of youngsters being very active on smartphones especially during the pandemic. We come from a technology company Autodesk, we’re very popular in the animation and visual effects industry. So we’ve always been catering to film studios, films post-production who do visual effects and animation but we heard a lot from the e-commerce business. The reason was they wanted to give a photorealistic feel to the products that they can’t shoot and put it online.”

Speaking about the demands of the consumers with regards to being able to experience the product virtually, he shares, “Because they know that every individual who is buying online would go into details to check; “hey is it the same what I am seeing?, “is it the same as what I will get when I buy this?” So in order to give them a better user experience, most of the e-commerce companies have gone 3D digital. To make sure that certain things that really need to showcase detailing, they have to be made in CG and be portrayed to the customers, and it is not that we’re cheating or something. Even with photographs, when we speak to the e-commerce business they say, “hey we clicked these pictures but we lost some details, we can’t give the details which we want to show to them. So the other way is to replicate digitally and showcase it to the customer so that what they see is actually what they’re going to get.”

“It is true that people are trying to incorporate technology, specifically 3-D, because as coming from a technology company we have also enhanced our product which will help companies get better output faster output and photorealistic output.”

Brands embracing technology

Agreeing with the assessment, Mehta shares that 3-D rendering has become an important part of the sales experience. While pandemic has only accelerated the demand, he feels that the need for this technology has always existed.

He shares, “3-D rendering has become very important. It is not that people started thinking about it after the pandemic. If you see in home furniture, the cost of retail is very high and the variety required is very very high so you can’t display everything in a physical store. So I think the physical stores are coming down and it is being replaced by virtual-display. 

Medha chips and adds that it is critical to help the customer visualise the furniture in their space. She shares that while they have eight to 20 mock rooms at their physical stores, they are planning to accelerate their digital roadmap in order to try and replicate the experience of a store digitally.

She shares, “One of the critical things that we’re going to accelerate on our e-commerce roadmap is that how can we replicate that online. The effort is in the direction of a 3D room planner depending on what the colour of your room is and what kind of furniture works for you or which sofa is your type; does the beige sofa work against an orange wall? so right from that to be able to recreate a virtual mock room which is like the one in the store and giving a virtual experience to a consumer that is something that is going to be very critical for us.” 

Jain feels that in today’s times, a virtual try-on is a standard offering at every jewellery e-commerce website. He shares, “The way I look at it in the future with internet speeds becoming one GB per second download capacities and hardware evolving, I think the whole virtual space and how products will be seen, shared and experienced, I think it is going to be a whole different ball game all together.”

Autodesk’s digital solutions

Sharing a case study about a jewellery offering abroad, Shetty shares they were able to help customers sit in front of them and allow the jeweller to customise and design jewelleries. He shares, “You can bend this or emboss an alphabet. Drawing was the oldest fashion where you could show them but just imagine that because of the power of 3D, you can bend something and make it like an alphabet. Not only that, 3D has developed so much that you can give the feel of gold, copper, silver, platinum or diamond instantly. Things start looking like gold or diamond that very second.”

Rendering has been a big challenge in the industry but the technology has come a long way from the time when it took ages to render a single frame. Giving examples of their technologies like Shotgun and Arnold, Shetty explains, “We’re seeing GPU rendering is becoming more popular because of faster rendering. Nobody wants to wait for even five minutes for one frame to appear in front of them. So GPU rendering is almost real-time. The moment you leave the cursor, the output is right in front of you within a fraction of a second.”

Simulated experiences are becoming the need of the hour whether it is a car or a room or the jewellery and that’s where we feel technology can help improve the consumer experience, thereby driving up the sales.