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Smartgift Hot Topic: Omni-channel Retailing and the Wisdom of a Traveling Salesman

September 9, 2013

iStock_000025075643SmallIt dawned on me during my latest visit to India how the old face of the country happily inhabits the same space as its new, grand developments. Next to the glitter of ever growing air-conditioned malls with snazzy brands and trends, old world salesmen still make their way door to door selling delicate, opulent, colorful sarees. The ‘sariwalas’ bring their wares into a person’s living room and gracefully unfurl yards and yards of fabric on the floor as the ladies of the household gather around.

Potential customers either nod their heads in approval, or crinkle their noses to signal the salesman to move on to the next sample. All the while, a complex mental algorithm churns about in the highly trained salesman’s mind as they zero in on their critical clientele’s exact preferences. What emerges are recommendations that give their customers a satisfying, personalized shopping experience and upsells them throughout the process.

This time when I heard the call of one such saree merchant, whistling and shouting out about his goods as he rode his rusty rickshaw through the streets, I invited him in. He selected a few bundles to bring in with him and left the others behind. As he began the timeless dance of selling me sarees, I took the opportunity to ask him questions—the answers to which form a natural part of his DNA for generations. When I asked why he picked certain bundles and not others, his reply was a straightforward, “No madam – you wouldn’t like them. Every neighborhood has its preferences, and I can tell even by the car parked in the driveway, what the women folk in that house would like.”

“How many sarees do you have to unfold and show before you know what direction to go in?” I replied.

“Usually four or five. After that I’m almost guaranteed to know what you want, and then it’s just about showing the right one in the price range you would like.”

“And, do you start with the cheapest?” I inquired.

He cleared his throat in hesitation before answering but continued, “In my experience, when I start with the best in a high range and then drop to lower ones, I’m more likely to get the customer to spend more than she had intended, and she buys something that she truly likes. When you ask them about the price they’re comfortable with and then show them sarees, it doesn’t work because they have a number stuck in their head. They have to visually see and fall in love with my other, costlier ones.” Interested, I continued my questions. “What if they like what they see the first time around?”

“It’s simple!” he exclaimed, “I still show a few more in case they change their minds or want to buy more than one.” He had worked out, refined and perfected his sales strategy over the years.

In the world of e-commerce, machines have optimized that manual complex algorithm going through the salesman’s head. Yet, the need to mimic the human, in-store process and give customers the most satisfying shopping experience has never been more pressing. The new breed of shopper wants real interactivity and a highly personalized shopping experience. At Smartgift, we thought long and hard about how to incorporate an effective omni-channel retail strategy and give gift senders and recipients the best possible gifting experience.

Smartgift already helps boost gifting revenues and decrease costs by allowing gift senders to purchase gifts with minimal information about the recipient, thus reducing shopping card abandonment and gift returns. With its upselling and cross-selling feature, gift recipients enjoy the perfect gift and the best possible branded online experience. It bridges the online and offline gap and gives retailers non-intrusive online consumer touch points that mirror the in-store experience and even enhance it. As age-old intuition meets the new world – the stage of magic has never been more enchanting.

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