Narvar is the country’s first enterprise platform for post-purchase customer experience. It has collaborated with 450-plus retailers across markets and enables seamless post-purchase experiences to retain and engage customers. Founded by Amit Sharma, Narvar’s investors include Accel, Battery Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. In an interaction with BusinessLine, Ram Ravichandran, CTO, and Tony Navin, global head of global expansion, emerging markets, share their insights into the new challenges Indian e-commerce companies face and their need to change their business strategies to stay relevant in the market. Excerpts:
It is pretty clear that most of the users of e-commerce sites are bargain hunters. Is that a sustainable model for the industry?
Navin: I agree, most of the growth has happened because of discounting, heavy advertising. That is now turning because investors have realised that this can be a bottomless pit. Therefore, investors are now investing in fewer companies but with higher ticket prices unlike earlier. E-commerce players are being forced to re-look at their strategy and business model so that they can focus on building something that is sustainable, economically feasible and viable in the long term. Hence, from a customer experience standpoint what is happening is, discounting is being replaced by services — better services.
How are they bringing this into play?
Navin: One way to do this is to provide all-frill services to keep the customer engaged. Number two, which is critical, and which wasn’t the focus for a long time in India, was this whole post-purchase piece. If you bought a product and want to return it for whatever reason, how can the retailer make it easy for you to do it? It is not just important that the site looks great, it is not just important that it is easy to transact, but it is also important that after I’ve purchased a product, are you taking care of me.
What kind of work does Narvar do for e-commerce companies?
Ravichandran: The focus of e-commerce companies has been around customer acquisition and ensuring that the pre-purchase journey is smooth. We believe that extending the seamless experience post-purchase will lead to higher retention, thereby reducing repeat acquisition costs. We focus on helping our retailers build their brand’s loyal base. Our technology helps stitch together information about the customer experience from various disparate systems to provide a unified view.
Navin: These include brands such as Puma, Nike, Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger, Home Depot, North Strong, Macy’s… all the brands you can think of, their online post-purchase leg is powered by Narvar.
Can you give us an example of the kind of work that you have done for one of your clients?
Ravichandran: When a customer places an order, there are a few things on her mind – whether it is the right product at that price point (for which she reads reviews), when will it arrive, and if I don’t like what I ordered, can I return it? GAP is one of our customers. Right from the time the customer hits the buy button, we let her know about the status of her shipment and estimated time when the order is going to arrive. Any time there is a change in delivery, we proactively communicate to her on the status of the shipment. We also handle the return origination for GAP. If a customer wants to return/exchange what she has bought, she can do this online by herself, or in-store with our in-store kiosk.
How do you enable this?
Ravichandran: We use a combination of machine learning and rules — to allow retailers to override in our platform. We take into account warehouse rules, fulfilment logic and past shipment behaviour, to determine the time of delivery. Similarly, we ensure the items that are returned are eligible, and we can control where exactly the returned items should be dispositioned so that we can reduce costs for the retailer.
What are the learnings from the kind of work you do for MNCs?
Ravichandran: Most companies have communication issues that are more of a norm. Everyone has their own quirks and nuances of how they deal with issues like warehouse delays, but there are a set of problems that are consistent across all retailers. We ensure that there is a unified view of the customer from all the different systems, and that’s what is missing today in all the retailers’ tech stack. Part of it is because there are different systems in different stages of their legacy that need to be interfaced with.
Our other strength is in our data. Since we have about 600 retailers on our platform, we are now able to understand what is the normal expectation that should be set for the customer, such as what deliverability expectations set with the customer are reasonable, what are the return rates on different categories of merchandise. Most retailers know what happens on their systems, but they don’t know how they compare with the rest. For example, what they do not know is if an evening dress is getting returned as much for them as the other retailers and if it is because of fraud. These are the questions we can help answer.
Are there any examples, especially in evolved markets like the US or Europe?
Navin: In the US, most of the online presence is owned by Amazon and they have built stickiness predominantly through Amazon Prime, which is free shipping, prime videos and music and everything. The others have tried multiple routes. For instance, some of the sneaker brands have launched their products for the first time only on their own site and it is not available on other market places and, you know, this concept of sneaker-heads exists in the US, where they want to own the first design that comes out of Nike or Reebok or whatever. That is a unique way of saying, “Please continue to come on our site.”
Amazon’s presence is quite large in the US but big-box retail stores such as Target and Walmart too have their big presence there…
Walmart, Target and all the big-box retail stores have really put in a tremendous amount of effort over the last few years in building their online and most importantly omnichannel. More than just being a normal store they are willing to get you a product of a particular colour, size. Here is a tablet where you can place an order — and it’ll get delivered. People have started having more reasons to come and explore, touch and feel certain products. There are reports about how Walmart’s in-store sales have improved over the last quarter and a lot of it is attributed to digital experience. They get the customers to shop in their stores for purchases made online because they know that these people will pick up their stuff and perhaps end up buying more from their stores.
What are the new trends that are emerging in the e-commerce sector?
Navin: Shopping on WhatsApp is becoming so large now. Meeshow, for instance, is one of the players you should probably check. There are multiple players with which you can essentially shop through WhatsApp because WhatsApp now accepts payments as well. It is a new channel altogether and this is because it is unique to India, especially in tier-two and -three cities. They use WhatsApp regularly as it is easy for them to transact through WhatsApp. They just need a catalogue of all the products and there are players who are trying to evolve and figure that out. There is need from Indian customers for global products. Therefore, China to India commerce is evolving and there are new players who are focussed on those things — be it a Club factory or a Shein and bunch of other guys who get good quality products at an amazing price focussed again on Tier-2 and Tier-3 kind of markets.