In this episode of The Future of Retail Asia, Prantik Mazumdar, Managing Director of CXM Group from dentsu international, shares how data can be used to drive the overall customer experience in the mall. With his background as a marketer and investor, Prantik talks about the recent history of marketing in the retail industry, the steps needed to take for malls to utilise an omni-channel strategy, and even dispenses tips for entrepreneurs on growing their startups.
Episode 3: “Personalising the Customer Journey in the New Normal with Data” with Prantik Mazumdar
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IMRAN: Hello, welcome back to the third episode of the Future of Retail Asia. I’m Imran.
JUN: And I'm Jun. Joining us today is Prantik Mazumdar, who is currently the Managing Director of Customer Experience Managing Group at Dentsu International. Welcome Prantik.
PRANTIK: Thank you, thank you guys for having me. Really looking forward to this conversation.
IMRAN: Thanks Prantik. Prantik acts as a Digital Transformation Catalyst in organisations to drive change, growth and impact. Actually he started his journey with Happy Marketer in 2011. He spent a decade scaling them up to be one of the most awarded independent digital marketing services firms today, before a successful exit to dentsu international where he is currently still with.
He has also been a regular columnist since 2015, and recognised as one of the top fifty most influential marketers in the world. I could go on but I think we will stop here.
JUN: Fantastic right? Prantik with 10 years experience in marketing, I think this question will be best suited for you. Previously one of our guests asked this question, which is “How different is retail marketing today compared to 5 years ago?” So, what are your thoughts on this?
PRANTIK: I would probably break that down, when you see the five year period, the last year and a half is probably worth a decade, in terms of change and transformation. Even the life before that. Maybe let me start around 2015, 2016, in the context of Singapore or South East Asia. We started seeing a huge amount of demand and change from our retail clients and people that I know in the retail industry who fundamentally start digitising. The words digital and digitising have different meanings and connotations for different people. Back then, what really digitising meant is fundamentally, can I start digital payments? Can I digitise my loyalty programme? Can I even have digital kiosk ordering, that you might have seen inside a Coffee Bean Tea Leaf or in McDonald’s. I think there as a digitisation process, be it their manual loyalty, payment etc.
At the same time, I think from digital marketing. A lot of the marketing started becoming digital. 5 years ago, we had clients who said, “You know what, we want to open a Facebook page or a Twitter account to do customer service management.”
IMRAN: The good old days.
PRANTIK: Or make our website a bit more e-commerce friendly, right? 5 years ago, that was what the transformation of retail was all about, digitising and fundamental basics of setting up digital assets. If you ask me or if you look around in the last year and a half, thanks to what the pandemic has kind of done to our industries, and I think fundamentally the challenge, or the opportunity rather, is can I make my business omni-channel? Can I have a retail storefront, could be for trials or can I deliver directly? Can I figure out better customer service offline, at the same time can I use a channel like Zendesk to automate my digital customer experience. I think a lot is moving towards omni-channel transactions. A lot is moving around how do I better manage and personalise my customer experience. I would kind of break the five year period into those two different blocks, and that is the sort of trends I am seeing with our clients or otherwise in the retail sector.
IMRAN: Awesome, that’s like a history of digital marketing in one minute. And I was there too, and it was amazing to watch actually. So in this changing marketing reality that you just described right, you can’t have personalisation, you can’t have omni-channel without data. What do you think, in the context, and I think there is another commonality for all of us here in the call today, that you do serve some of the property companies or mall management companies of the world or Asia, and so do we. When it comes to this kind of physical marketplaces, so to speak, what kind of data do you think they should be looking at today? What should they be looking at to adopt into their data infrastructure so that they can embrace this omnichannel that you just described.
PRANTIK: Yeah, you are absolutely right that data is the core to any sort of transformation or any sort of personalisation. In fact, a few years ago, The Economist kind of coined the term data as the new oil. Recently, I have been reading about data as the new soil. Unless your soil, or your trees are rooted in a solid soiled footing, it is hard to kind of grow.
IMRAN: Love that.
PRANTIK: So you are absolutely right for that. Now I think when you speak of retail, you got to break it into the aggregated malls, the property owners, and of course the retail outlets, the brands who typically rent out spaces. So if I start with the brands and the outlets, I think there has been a lot of activity, a lot of chatting going on about two kinds of data points. For example, if I visit an outlet of mothercare, the question is what kind of data can they collect about me? And fundamentally, just like in the digital space, you can break the data points into two, anonymous and personal data, or in the digital world it is called PII, personally identifiable information, which allows you to identify me as an individual. Now if anonymous data points that the likes of mothercare, as an example, can typically collect is a counter, who enters, who exits. Or rather how many, not who. How many enter the unit, you can collect that. You can collect about the transaction volume for a day. I think the scope for collecting anonymised data is already prevalent, and it is improving. For example, I know some fast fashion outlets, they typically have CCTV cameras and analytics software that kind of tracks which kinds of people are going to what kind of aisle. What is the critical path to the checkout, without identifying me as an individual. But they would probably make educated guesses about a gender, race, age, so on so forth. I think anonymous, there is a lot of scope, and I think a lot of companies are doing that. But I think where we see a movement is what happens, can they kind of classify and identify me as Prantik. A, if I am transacting as a loyal customer, they are going to do that. But even if I am not a loyalty member, you could do that. You could, like with the hotels do, like if you give me some sort of value exchange. Maybe if I am accessing WiFi in the store, maybe they would ask me for my PII information and maybe I will be okay. Or maybe even if I am transacting using non-loyalty methods, you could still ask me for my information and you can gather that potentially. That is a possibility. And of course you got to be very careful with that PII information because of privacy and PDPA laws. I think that is, at the mothercare store level, anonymous and personally identified information are two broad pockets.
Now I think what is the distinguishing factor for a mall is quite different. I am entering a mall typically with an objective of either transacting at these outlets, or maybe eating at one of the restaurants or cafes. The question is what can the mall, as an aggregator, as a marketplace equivalent collect? I think the anonymous data points that malls can, and probably are collecting, are entry, which aisle, which row. I think that sort of aggregated data points are being collected. But I suspect as we move along, malls also, many of them are kind of looking at different business models. Like in the Philippines, when we did some work for some of the malls, one trend that we saw is they also wanted to figure out how can we collect first party information. They would have kiosks, they would have gaming corners. They would have entertainment paths, where again two things are happening. One is you are doing away from mall as a place where you come and transact. Two, becoming a mall where you come and hang out and get entertained or get educated, and in return for that value exchange, you are revealing your personally identifiable information. In Singapore for example, CapitaLand and CapitaStar programmes, they have their own loyalty program. They have the gamified system. Now that is a lot of value, at the same time it allows you to collect information about, not just my personal information in terms of demography, but also my behaviour. Where do I like to shop, what are my eating preferences, so on so forth. We are at the cusp where retail outlets and malls are figuring out their data strategy, but I suspect this has to transform quite aggressively because as you rightly said Imran, without malls collecting data points about customer cohorts, it will be very hard for them to A. personalise B. monetise it more effectively.
IMRAN: Actually you touched on so many things that we need to talk about, let me try and take a step at a time. So you talked about anonymous and identifiable data, and then you talked about how as an aggregator, the physical marketplaces need to evolve. Actually previously I was with an e-commerce marketplace, and I think you probably understand the amount of transactional and personable identifiable data that an online player would have. When we are talking about physical retail, physical aggregators of marketplaces, in your experience, has it been a challenge looking at this kind of data infrastructure. How do we get them to that same level?
PRANTIK: Yes, I think if I look at the region, it has been difficult. I think I am seeing more brands, probably Big being more open to collecting this, or investing in that. I think malls have one more step to kind of go, like I said, there needs to be that catalytic movement or aggregation. And I dare say the pandemic probably will accelerate that as well. Because as physical footfall potentially drops, I hope it kind of comes back to the normal soon, But as shopping habits, consumption habits change, as more things get delivered home. Malls would need to kind of make the most of whatever footfall that they get in. The only way to do that is to collect data and make sense of it, and activate and monetise that data. So to me, yes, it is a challenge that requires championing within the mall organisations, and I am seeing a lot of the large property retail groups, which owns a lot of mall, commercial properties across different regions. It might be easier for them, because they can have a concentrated digital strategy across different properties in the region. They could take a few outlets, a few malls and pilot. There is no two ways that they will have to begin this journey. Yes, it is difficult, in malls there is a lot of sensitivity. But let’s face it, various other offline businesses, if you look at entertainment parks, if you look at amusement parks, if you look at museums. Ultimately they are all physical businesses that thrive on footfall. And they way they are kind of customising this as well, is they are moving to this transformation by collecting user data in a responsible privacy friendly manner. That is the direction malls are beginning to kind of take, and they have to. Because as you rightly said, a lot of lessons to be learnt from the digital marketplace. If you have access to that data treasure chest, there is a lot of magic that can happen.
JUN: I think it is a very interesting topic, when we keep mentioning about data, with this data, we can come up with this kind of analytics, this kind of insights. But the first thing is actually we need to collect the data. Just now, you bring up a very good point, which is that is also one of the reason, we came up with our solution to provide more visibility for retail transaction data, and most important thing without any integration to the POS system, and then we help the shopping malls to collect the data in the first place. So my question for you is, with this data we just talked about. Imagine we are able to collect the data, and Aimazing is able to help the mall collect the data, with this data, how can we use this data to understand the shopper journey in the mall? How this data actually can be used for the CRM system and for the loyalty program?
PRANTIK: Firstly it is amazing what you guys are doing, trying to create this platform.
IMRAN: Thank you.
JUN: Thank you!
PRANTIK: I guess the closest analogy in my head is literally becoming the Google Analytics equivalent for malls and property owners. I can already imagine so many use cases, but I think fundamentally it is a function of value exchange. Now if I am a property owner, and I have let’s say 50 retail outlets. I think one of the biggest value I can give to my retail partners, who are essentially my tenants who pay me rent, is can I understand, like you actually said, the customer journey, or in this case the physical journey as to where they enter, at what time? Where are they walking? Instead of treating every outlet space equal, I would easily know which outlets can potentially command higher footfall on which days. So it allows me that ability to bring in dynamic rentals, I could price my rental better as far as the malls are concerned. If I am collecting my data, you do a lot of personalised activation, saying “Hey you know what, this particular Friday evening I would have a pop-up store for chocolates.” And if I know Imran’s wife loves chocolates, they would get a push notification on their app or email.
IMRAN: And we do.
PRANTIK: Hopefully, he and his wife and his kids can come for a particular activation event, which can hopefully lead to being channelised to particular retail outlets. There is a lot of avenues for helping divert traffic to specific retail stores, malls can play a bigger role in activating different audiences in a personalised manner to create better pull. Today, I don’t see many malls do that today. Like I am going to the mall like VivoCity to watch a movie at GV, and I might walk into a 7-11 before the movie. But if VivoCity, as an example, reached out to me saying “Hey you know what, there is a car show today, or there is an education show today” or “By the way, this particular brand, the Havaianas brand, they are giving out a discount this evening”, as an aggregator, one of the value add to your tenants is, can I create attraction, can I leverage the brand power that I am building as an aggregate brand owner and drive traffic. Can I then divert the traffic and more importantly, I suddenly have the power to look at the different pages in my website and see which is attracting traffic and I can optimise. The whole game is optimisation of the retail space, be it in terms of, I might even get a vague understanding of the chocolate concept I spoke about earlier, is it really working? Maybe my audience doesn’t like chocolate, maybe my audience loves wine. And then maybe then I reach out to Jun Ting and your family if I know you are a wine lover. It is really about optimising, as you rightly said, it starts with collecting and cleaning data. And then based on that, optimising to create that leverage and pull. Which I then can translate that to value for my retail partners, and eventually my customers if I am a mall.
IMRAN: That is amazing. This really brings to mind some of the capabilities that we were sharing with some of our partners. Imagine if we could even do a live 11-11 show, where we could spike the transactions at a peak hour. We could do voucher drops at a peak hour based on certain triggers of certain transactions in the mall. And this is only available if you have real-time transactional data. Consider a live pitch to you, and anyone who is listening right now. This is really magical. This next question is very much up the alley of what we just discussed and I think especially as your role as a digital prophet, if I may so say. What do you think this new omni-channel retail, that you actually alluded to previously. What does that look like? Maybe for the business, maybe for the customer. What would that magical future look like?
PRANTIK: I would always start with the customer or the customer cohort in mind, what is a typical journey. If you look at the retail signs, the likes of the brands like PnG etc. They have this whole concept called moments of truth. And they have a simple three step process, that I shall create awareness about my brand, let’s say a soap, people see holdings and billboards. They are attracted or probably get intrigued. They come to the outlet. They buy the soap. Go home, try it and hopefully they come back. I think that journey is no more linear. It is a circle and loyalty loop. Also what has happened is between creating awareness, be it through marketing, advertising to purchase. There is also an interesting step called the evaluation process, or the discovery process. If you ask each other, how do we get to know more about a particular brand? There is push advertising, print, radio, digital. Or there is passive discovery, through word of mouth, social media, livestreaming etc. When you do understand that customer journey, it is right from finding out about a brand or a particular concept, to actively evaluating and comparing, to actually going down to buy. And by the way, the problem is a lot of retailers tends to think it stops there. Oh Prantik, came to bought the mothercare product, that’s it. Not true. You ideally want to convert Prantik into a recurring revenue, into a regular buyer as a loyal customer. And if not even better, if you can convert Prantik into a brand ambassador or an advocate, so Prantik can tell his friends and more people will come because we know that acquiring customers is the biggest hassle. Hence, can I reduce my customer acquisition cost through organic references. The omni-channel outlets, in the world of retail, if you have the digital natives, I think they are digital first. For them, the use case is can I add on offline space, either as warehousing, either as lost and found, either as a trial room. The use cases, like how you’ve seen probably, Zalora and all that. Especially in Orchard. They have a small little outlet for trials, returning etc.
If someone is going the other way round, from pure offline to digital. I think the use cases for them is massive. When you think of omni-channel, digital could help. Digital storefronts, whether your own brand dot com or a shopping shop on a Lazada, Shoppee, it will help you on the discovery journey, that's one. Maybe you would be partnering with influencers, or maybe you would be doing some livestreaming, which has become so popular. And maybe you have an affiliate network for social commerce. All of this not only adds to a revenue stream, but also it allows you to reach out to markets at scale on steroids. Which just might be in a mall alone, wasn’t going to help you. For people moving to digital, the power of digital to help you do personalise targeted marketing, to create the right kind of discovery and awareness is very powerful. The other side is of course, the whole digital CRM and loyalty piece. A lot of retail customers are still trying to figure this process out. That is where we try to work with them to help them understand, what are the biggest fallacies, or difficultes, or challenges of offline. Let’s say 100 people come to your store. Chances are maybe 5 will buy. What about the remaining 95 who touch and feel your product and go away. If you don’t collect that data, you will never know who they are, or why did they not buy. So you need to figure out digital mechanism of collecting some aggregated data about who are the non-buyers. How can I retarget them offline, or digital, and bring them back. It is more at the top of the funnel and the loyalty part of the funnel, where digital has a huge use case.
JUN: Really, really interesting. Very very insightful for us. Prantik actually has a very interesting background. Besides an entrepreneur, and an expert in the marketing industry. I know that you are also a venture investor. Wanted to check with you, are there any proposals for disruptive technology in the retail sector that actually has caught your attention.
PRANTIK: To be honest, I have seen, and I must put this into context. As a potential investor, it is a large gamble or investment of opportunities that I see. I must be honest that there are some that are extremely futuristic, or in Singapore, we typically look at deep tech opportunities. They may be producing clean hydrogen, they may be about specific use cases of blockchain related identification. On the other side, you might see FinTech or InsurTech. In retail tech, we are seeing that the technology or the use cases are not very futuristic, or not very fascinating in a relative scale. What I am noticing is whatever that is coming out, is very realistic. The applications are near real time, and if customers start adopting and start using them, the value could start coming in in the next two to three months, just like you guys are doing. One where I saw where their use case was around retail CRM. One use case was about just for F&B, as simple as how can I digitise. They have created a platform, I can happily share. Their first use case is hawker centres. You might have heard of the Singapore brand called WhyQ. They are basically into digitising SMEs in Singapore, Malaysia, starting with hawker centres. Even they are physical retail outlets. Typically in Singapore, you would appreciate that they are generally not tech savvy. These guys have created a very nice seamless platform, which allows the hawker centres’ aunties and uncles to aggregate demand and deliver food. Which is something they couldn’t do because they can’t afford the commission rates that some of the other apps charge. So WhyQ provides them with the POS terminal, they provide them with the mechanism to showcase their menu, get demand. There is a delivery person that aggregates demand and delivers. On the other side, they are also helping optimise the supply chain. Whether you are selling chicken rice or char kway teow or whatever, you still need raw materials. On the other side, they are providing the tech platform to procure goods from your Sheng Shiongs or NTUC FairPrice at scale. It is a very simple aggregate tech for an industry that needs a lot of digitising and automation. So it is good to see that. That is one example that came to mind.
The other one is a bit more futuristic and sci-fi, is robotic use cases in malls, could be in food courts or restaurants in terms of serving. I think I have seen this in hotels. There are a few startups that I am seeing here, be it SESTO, be it Botsync. They have created wonderful automated robots that baisclaly carry goods. Assuming in your store you can’t have too many people because of the pandemic or because of regulation or because of costs. These robots basically can be programmed to beautifully, efficiently carry goods from one place to the other, in an efficient manner. Many of them have added a personalised touch in terms of music, noise, all of that. These two that I am kind of a partner and investor at, I also looked at, the one I mentioned. The example where they are helping you track the in-store analytics, or in aisle analytics of who is spending how much time at what aisle. What is their eye level? Which aisle or which product are they looking at? I think that real-time analytics has been very useful not just to the retail outlets, but to the brand that is selling as well. In classic shopper marketing you would want to wonder, which aisle should I place, how much premium do I pay for getting aisle A vs aisle B. These sort of analytics, which is aggregated non PII, I have seen a couple of solutions there as well. Barring the usuals of retail payment, digitising payment or retail CRM, which has been in vogue as well.
IMRAN: That is fascinating. In bringing these new technologies into the market, your role as a catalyst says it all. You are working with a lot of large companies, they are facing a lot of change. There are a lot of considerations, people, processes, systems. How do you think these disruptive tech companies should be thinking around going to market? Should they, for example, go and work with a dentsu, like you guys. Is that the way we should go to the market? What is your advice to these kinds of companies?
PRANTIK: As dentsu, always happy to work with some of these future facing product companies. If I am one of these companies, I think the first thing I need to acknowledge and tell myself, and something that a lot of these tech startups probably don’t see is, technology is not the answer. Technology is part of the answer. If I am sitting in the middle as a systems integrator or an agency. I see the malls and the retail outlets. A lot of tech solutions have been there. When we look at working with malls or retail outlets, are the framework that we used is essentially, there is a few components that are critical to such transformation project. I will put people first. People, process, then technology. There is this PPT framework that we try to talk to our customers about. Who in your company is going to be the champion? Do you have the right people to thereafter implement and manage this, whether in-house or through an SI or an agency partner. The people and the orchestration of people in teams, in hybrid or in house or as outsourced partners, that is very critical.
Next is in terms of processes. It is very critical to figure out what are my goals, what are the KPIs, what are the processes and SLEs. Those people need to make aware of the process of how do you leverage this technology and what is the tech stack? Also, what the malls and the retails outlets, where we come in. And when I say we I mean dentsu or any such agency or SI partner, is to advise them also on the tech stack. It is not just one piece of tech that would suddenly create magic, the new tech has to work with legacy systems. You might need a few other technologies in your stack. If you need a data stack, an analytic stack, maybe a data visualisation tool or data orchestration tool. That is where a role of a partner or an SI or an agency comes in. To the tech startups that I work with, it is very important for them to be cognisant as they are new, they probably created technology and that’s step one. I would definitely say that sure, you can always try working directly with the malls as long as you have the relationship and the brand and the credibility. But maybe given the early stages, one might be better off working with some partner, because the partner has been long in the game, has sticky relationships. The partner probably has more consultative power to advise, because the partner may have been working with the mall or the retail brand for a while. And anyway, the partner needs to integrate the different pieces. And as a young startup, you may not have the resources to take all of the sales, marketing and account management elements into your PNL. Maybe initially you should focus on the product roadmap, and usage and customer service. Some of the customers that I have been speaking to have been doing that, unless you are B2C. If you are B2B, in most cases, it helps to go with some sort of expert partner.
IMRAN: Wise answer.
JUN: Great! We will be closing this episode with some of the questions that we always like to ask. What would be one advice to both mall manager and retailer?
PRANTIK: My advice to any physical offline business, retail or mall. Give me a chance to say two. One is of course, be obsessed about data. Not just about collecting data for the sake of it. But data you collect, clean, activate and monetise. Without that, it’s going to be a challenge or a difficult future. Second is about, look at business models. For centuries if not more, the retail business has been about transactions. I want something, I go to a shop, I buy, I come out. A lesson to be learnt from the digital world is maybe there is an opportunity to reframe that into a subscription recurring avenue business. Transaction should be a byproduct. For example, in some markets, Toys R Us for example. They are looking at, hey can I turn this into an entertainment centre, where kids and parents. Or parents idly come and drop their kids and pay me a subscription fee, just like an entertainment centre. What is happening here is the use cases changing. You are still transacting, you are making revenue, but it is not transaction led. It is transaction plus subscription. More than just money, it is the engagement model. The use case is not more just transaction. Retail businesses and malls, especially malls, there is so much space in the corridors and the aisles. How can I figure out entertainment and education or edutainment opportunities to draw crowds to create the recurring model. To create that pull. These two points are what I would, at a broad high level, suggest to any offline businesses. It is to reframe the business model from transaction to something else, and be obsessed about the whole data play. To try and make your business omni-channel and to drive personalisation across omni-channel.
IMRAN: Nice, and the last question from me is. Do you think that physical retail is still king and why?
PRANTIK: I think physical retail is very very relevant. It depends on which category etc. The reality is a lot of your generic FMCG goods etc, the digital storefronts have done a fantastic job. I don’t think I have stepped out too much to grocery stores because RedMart, Lazada, FairPrice, they are doing such a fabulous job. There are categories, whether it is a learning centre, whether it is a museum, whether it is luxury goods. There are certain categories, can it not happen offline, certainly. There are people buying cars and houses online. Everything can happen online, and hence this softer element. The physical touch, the physical experience of trying something, test driving something, or entering a store just to enjoy maybe the smell, maybe the sight. Some of us may have seen recently on Facebook and or Linkedin the new Zara outlet, where they have used wonderful design to make the whole experience as though you are going to a concert. Physical is still extremely critical, and it should continue to have its place in society as long as the model shifts, because it needs to cater to the new mindset. There has to be engagement driven, which is a function of entertainment, which is a function of some sort of pleasure beyond just transacting.
JUN: I think that is all the time we have for today. Once again, thank you Prantik for talking to us.
IMRAN: Thank you Prantik. For our listeners, feel free to drop a question or comment, even if you want to address it to Prantik, we will make sure that he gets those questions and comments. Do that on our Aimazing LinkedIn. You can follow us there or listen to the podcast on Spotify. With that, thank you again Prantik and stay tuned guys for the next episode. Cheers.
PRANTIK: Thank you so much, Jun Ting. Thanks Imran and team for inviting me to be part of the Future of Retail Asia. It is amazing to see what you guys are working on and hopefully very soon the adoption skyrockets. Thank you.
JUN: Thank you!
IMRAN: Thank you Prantik!
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