Sreekanth Chetlur is a CX/Supply Chain/Digital Executive/ Keynote Speaker with over 10 years of digital, e-commerce, and omnichannel experience across four industries: Retail, Logistics, Real Estate, and FMCG. He has been fortunate enough to work for start-ups and multi-billion dollar enterprises and play leadership roles and provide great customer experiences that solve genuine problems
Q1. In the e-commerce landscape, how has the journey been so far? As the head of e-commerce and omni channel communication, what are some developments in e-commerce space that you feel are significant?
It has been quite the ride; I have been in this space for over a decade, across multiple territories. I first started off in India and have worked with e-commerce platforms like Yebhi.comand limeroad.com. I kick-started my journey with skills in supply chain management, backend operations, and customer support. After that, I moved to Dubai, worked for the Landmark Group, one of the biggest business conglomerates in the Middle East. They have their presence in 31 countries including Africa and India.
It was a completely different experience due to it being a distinct western market from my current one (Indonesia). The main objective at that time was to bridge gap between the brick and mortar (B&M) and the e-commerce sector. It was also about how one can drive an integrated omni channel experience for the customers. I enjoyed the work culture because I realized' retail is here to stay'. This statement is a topic of much debate and discussion—considering the happenings in the west, especially the US, UK and other mature European markets where stores are being shut and businesses winding down.
"It is time for other retailers to make the digital transformation towards the new age of retail"
In the East, there is still penetration and immense opportunities for retail to flourish in growing economies. One of those is Indonesia—one of the fastest growing e-commerce economies in the world and the biggest in South- East Asia. Customer Acquisition has become a key aspect for the businesses to scale up due to bottom-line costs. To be sustainable and scalable, companies have to boost the top-line and to achieve break-even profitability. This is why it is interesting to work with businesses that have the retail experience already built-in. For example, driving web traffic and digital transformation for retail stores is extremely critical to establish windfall impact on retail businesses. Digital transformation also helps to drive sustainable growth— ensuring to keep cross-margins upwards rather than the growths in top line.
Our current goal is to prevent operating expenditure from skyrocketing and work towards leveraging company assets. Especially in the retail space, one needs to leverage existing assets to drive incremental value instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, not only for the customers but also for businesses concerning P&L (Profit and Loss). This sustainable growth plan is also scalable and it will take retail to the next level.
This is the paradigm shift between the initial five years and the last five years of my work life as I witnessed the changes regarding online businesses. It has changed how I approach the metrics the company is after. I am also fortunate to witness the economic growth in developing territories. When I started in India, It was just the beginning of e-commerce because even Amazon was not a player at that time. Same story in the Middle East as well, there was not any major growth in the e-commerce sector. Now, in Indonesia—once again e-commerce is in the early stages yet there is room for massive growth and untapped potential—not just for e-commerce sector but for the general economy as well. It is time for other retailers to make the digital transformation towards the new age of retail.
Q2. What are some of the technological advancements that have helped you in your journey to better understand e-commerce and effectively deliver solutions to your clients?
Let me differentiate, my time in pure-play e-commerce platforms involved teams founding multiple companies and building things ground up. Currently, my time in retail involves—entering into big billion dollar enterprises holding a lot of heritage and legacy and using that to transform the business for the better. From a technology standpoint, Tech is evolving and changing rapidly—nothing remains fixed but there are certain fundamentals that always remain the same. Fundamentals like 'how people also need to be evolving, changing, and adapting alongside tech innovation around the world. 'I worked on plenty of open source projects on java in my time working in pure-play e-commerce sector. One of the examples was Magento—an open source platform, which I worked in my initial years, had its own suite of experts.
In terms of solution partners, one could collaborate with anyone and it was an open book for someone to build whatever he or she wanted on a massive scale. Retail scene is a stark contrast to that because there is a difference between being a product company and a technology company. When I was running with the pure-play e-commerce players, it was more about how to leverage tech to enhance customer experience. This concept is one of the fundamentals that will never change.
I would definitely call our company a retailer rather than a technology company. This does not mean we shy away from experimenting with new technologies to improve customer experience as all big businesses require full visibility to sustain them. Businesses need to take advantage of their visibility to add incremental value to retain profit and enrich customer satisfaction. Technology solutions should be deployed to have unified view of the products and the customers. These two critical elements will bridge the gap between B&M and e-commerce. To explain how technological landscape is different in retail, there are a few examples pertaining the above two key elements in big businesses.
First, there are technology solutions, which can manage orders using out of the box algorithms. Tech logics and Machine Learning can monitor availability of inventory across thousand of stores or (n) number of stores and warehouses. Having a unified data repository in a single system together with algorithms that can also work with prior defined business logics can result in faster, cost effective knowledge in routing. This single view of inventory prevents loss of opportunities and also boosts e-commerce P&L—ensuring a healthy inventory turn around. It also helps to avoid product stagnation, aging. Tech can aid in liquidation and margin erosion—keeping existing partner relations amicable as they are holding onto such inventory.
Second advantage of adopting tech solutions is about customer experience. Tech enables having a unified view of enterprise wide customers and their interactions on multiple platforms. There are at least 8 to 12 customer interactions before a customer completes his or her purchase. Be in the store or social media or anywhere else—knowing the customer, the user experience and mapping it with a healthy loyalty system can help retailers acquire visibility.
I am fortunate to be part of some fantastic loyalty programs organized by our company. The key point is to marry the knowledge of customer interactions and a universal view of inventory to maximize profit. So, this is just a simple example of how technological advancements have revolutionized the retail industry. Tech allows us to leverage on previous retail expertise and use that to route business accordingly. It can also enrich customer experience—having a lasting impact on top-line and bottom-line of business P&L.
Q3. What are some of the notable skill sets that you feel entrepreneurs should develop to better align themselves with the digital transformation that is going on in the current enterprise landscape?
I wish there was a clear answer to this question because there is no single rulebook or a repository to gain respective knowledge on digital transformation. It takes good amount of time and networking—to acquire insights on this particular topic. One of the easiest or interesting ways to do this is to collaborate with multiple system integrators like Accenture, Infosys, and TCS as they hold the expertise for working across various technologies and geographies. By having this kind of interaction, gaining knowledge on particular industry or domain, keenly observing the technological changes in the world and analyzing related case studies can be extremely helpful.
Every business is unique as it can have diverse people from different geographies and varying business objectives. As previously discussed, some fundamentals do remain constant. It can become easier once knowledge oft hose fundamentals is understood. With so much of data available on the web, the chances of making the same mistakes as others are less. In case of new mistakes, it can lead to massive learning potentials. A close relationship with multiple technology partners can unravel ample insight on changes around the world and adapting to those changes for respective business needs.