Brick & mortar won’t be dead by 2023

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Extreme comments or views are often a huge hit or miss.

And Niti Aayog’s Mr. Kant’s futuristic sounding comment about how brick and mortar businesses in India will be dead by 2023 was a huge miss, in fact to the point of sounding immature.

Coming from a school or college student in a metro, that would have been ok, given our views are often influenced or limited by what we do and see in our immediate surroundings. And the recent explosion in the number of apps and online services would certainly give a lot of people the impression that that’s how the future will be. But not so fast.

The US has been several years, if not decades ahead of us in terms of some industries and technologies as well as innovative business models and businesses themselves.

As of December 2015 in the US, ecommerce retail formed a tiny 8.6% of total retail. The rest of it happens offline! So ~100% of businesses or only retail ones moving online by 2023 seems like a fantasy.

There are some significant differences between the Americans and us. To start with, they’re one-fourth of our population, living on a land that’s three times the size of India!! Years ago, one could have argued that that itself should’ve led to a majority of businesses serving customers online, to cut the long distances customers need to travel to buy even the basics for home. But that’s exactly the opposite of how things are happening there, as we speak. Though no doubt, technology has played a critical role in simplifying business for them, given the relatively lower manpower levels as compared to us.

Now let’s look at it from a physical store or service point of view.

In the states, a college girl working part-time can single-handedly manage a standard sized clothes store without breaking a sweat. Running between the cash counter, answering customer queries in the clothes section, to checking if the customer trying something in the trial room needs anything. Technology, be it tablets to order faster, or pager-type devices alerting you at your table that your meal is ready to be picked up at the counter, all make it for a more logical way to operate, given the light manpower models and limited manpower. Indians on the other hand, while in many ways far more capable, but perhaps given our sheer numbers, affordable manpower, efforts to reduce unemployment, etc., often find ourselves hiring more people than we need.

Driving across some of those bridges to New York, you either use an E-Z Pass device, or through coins into an automated basket at an unmanned toll crossing. Every time I drive by the Bandra-Worli sea-link in Bombay, there are around three people at every toll lane, one taking the money you hand them, the other inside the booth printing out your pass/receipt, and the third handing it to you.

A few years ago, heading a regional arm of a robotic solutions company, I remember speaking to an industry colleague of mine who worked for a mid-sized auto ancillary company. I was exploring the possibility of having a part of his company plant automated. He stopped me mid-sentence, and in no uncertain terms told me that they don’t need robots. He said, “we’ve had about 2 crores worth of robots gathering dust for over 2 years now, because our plant workers won’t allow it on the production line.” And for a progressive, carefully-run, mid-sized company to have ignored a sizable investment like that; doesn’t the idea of most companies being completely online in seven years sound like a pipe dream.

One of the youngest from the online era, Amazon, wouldn’t be opening physical stores now, if they already were one of the first people to sell online.

We in India are nearly the largest, and almost the youngest population in the world, and our country has never looked more promising from a technology, innovation and progress point of view. But I don’t see anything of the sort Mr. Kant mentioned in his comments happening ever. And it perhaps doesn’t have anything to do with technology either.

It’s probably our inherent need for human interactions, that will never make brick and mortar businesses go out of demand.

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I’ll look forward to your views on this. Also, hit the ‘Follow’ button if you’d like to receive more such posts from time to time. You can also connect with me on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Websites: www.ateamstrategy.in & www.thinkateam.in

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The Superior Sex

5 Comments

The timing of this post, right after the so-called ‘Women’s day’ is purely coincidental.

For one, I don’t even know what ‘Women’s day’ is supposed to mean. If we ‘full-of-ourselves-men’ don’t have a ‘men’s day’, then except for commercial businesses to make a killing, I really don’t quite get it.

Now, back to the post. I’m going to risk my neck here by stating that, usually (usually, not always!) men tend to be more savvy with machines, electronics and mobile phones, as compared to women. Agree with me on that? Now, I’m not trying to belittle women in any way. But maybe women are very specific about what they want, and they focus on the essentials. They understand those areas about machines or gadgets, without bothering much about ‘what else’ a machine is capable of doing. We men on the other hand, curious as ever, go to great lengths, often breaking and fixing gadgets, just to get answers to ‘why’ or ‘why not’. I have noticed that with things ranging from cars to computers to mobile phones, and so on.

Long story short, there’s something amazing I’ve observed. I’m not sure if it’s a local phenomenon, though I doubt it is. And that is, that despite men being more curious about gadgets, especially in their younger years, sometimes tend to grapple, often disinterestedly, at a later stage in life, with technology. Their wives on the other hand, tend to become more alert and grasp new technology better as they get older. Older men boldly declare cluelessness, while several older women tend to put in the extra effort to pace up with technology. It could be to serve a bigger purpose, like wanting to FaceTime or Skype with their children away at college, or stay in touch with friends or relatives on WhatsApp for that matter. I find that to be a really impressive trait that I’ve noticed in a lot of older women. Aren’t women way smarter then?

And I don’t think the best operations professionals could organize and schedule processes better than the average homemaker can. If you knew the number of factors they simultaneously keep track of, while making a seamless and hassle-free environment possible for family members, it’s almost unbelievable.

I say let’s march all the housewives to run our industries, and they’ll revive businesses and economies long before you and I can figure our way around the kitchen.

So I think we blokes should have one day as ‘men’s day’, and let women have the remaining days. They definitely deserve it.

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Insight by Helenka

The Future Indian PM

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Technology played a crucial role in winning Barack Obama his first, and securing his second term as US President. With that, I think it was evident that a capable leader and change maker must have the power of new age technology and media on his or her side, to connect with the constantly changing and eternally curious new-age citizen.

Back home, while most political parties and politicians have funds enough to bail out small European countries, few have new age tech on their side. Most, if not all parties, have been channeling their energies and efforts towards luring the masses with quick fix incentives, little carrots, so to speak. It makes it easier for them to secure the adequate numbers, instead of having to showcase their capabilities before well-educated and probing audiences.

But with the internet and smart phones finding their way through the obscure terrain quicker than electricity, clean water and government schemes ever could, it is just a matter of time before focus shifts from using public or personal funds to bribe voters with television sets or cars to win votes. The need for politicians then, would be to prove their track record and showcase their abilities to an aware and well-informed voter base via a medium of technology that the voter prefers.

Currently, Narendra Modi of the BJP seems to be the only strong contender for the PM seat who has the ability to pull off a campaign that is riding on technology. Be it his awareness of trending topics globally, the presence of a tech team backing his election campaign, or his Guinness World Record creating 3D interaction across 53 locations, he definitely is doing it right on the tech front. His plan to analyze an estimated 140 mn Indian mobile internet users by 2014, or his strategy to target a very small but distinct base of key influencers instead of going after the herd, shows a well-thought out tactical approach to election management,

Modi has managed to impress a lot of us with his awareness, future-looking and progressive India oriented thinking, his ability to walk the talk, and the innumerable developments across several fronts in the state of Gujarat; thus making him a compelling contender for the big post. But the occasional allegations against him show that he too has his share of skeletons in the closet. And unlike the United States, where two of the best candidates distill to the top of its two political parties, the Indian scenario is relatively much more complex. And while I am fairly clueless about the political scene in the country, the in-fighting within the numerous political parties, multiple potential candidates, each with their own agenda; the mess is all too evident to miss, even by the uninterested.

What the 2014 elections will bring to our battered economy and scam-riddled reputation, only 2014 will tell. But the way I see it, it is clear that technology brings with it, forward-looking supporters and change-makers. So, while it might be easy for primitive-minded politicians and parties to hire tech teams at any cost to bring them up to speed with the likes of Modi, only a good leader who doesn’t look at technology with hostility, will be able to take the country forward.

And sooner or later, such an ideal and capable leader will emerge, wisely using technology as an enabler, to shine through the herd, and to gain the trust of disillusioned citizens by constantly staying connected with them. And as long as India produces such leaders, we still have hope.

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