Retail Reimagined
Yours, Digitally!
| Episode
47 mins

Data vs. Emotion: The Battle for Customer Loyalty


Learn how retail brands in India can achieve greater customer loyalty with storytelling leveraging data in this episode of Retail Reimagined with Zubair Patel, Chief Merchandising Officer — Health & Glow as he dives deep into buying & merchandising process, omnichannel experience, personalized communication, and how it shapes the overall consumer behavior. This 50-minute episode is filled with success stories & examples of apparel, beauty & personal care brands.


00:00 - 01:02 — Introduction
01:02 - 03:55 — Zubair’s Gate to Retail: The Bandra Shoppers Stop Store
03:55 -08:36  — 2 Core Values that Data Can’t Teach You About Retail & Why?
08:36 - 13:50 — How “Storytelling” & “Cultural Differences” is a Key Factor in Engaging Retail Consumers
13:50 - 19:27 — The Evolution of Buying & Merchandising: From Visualization to Data Interpretation to AI
19:27 - 24:29 — The Nuances & Strategies of Local v/s Global Large Format & Small Retail Brands
24:29 - 32:43 — The Challenges & Opportunities of Moving Retail into Personalized Omni-Channel Digital Realms
32:43 - 41:00 — What Role Does Buying & Merchandising Play in Driving Customer Experience & Loyalty
41:00 - 46:08 — Factors Fueling the Growth of D2C in India & How Retailers can leverage the growth using Data and Personalizing?
46:08 - 51:49 — 4 Practical Trends that Will Shape Indian Retail in the Future


Zubair Patel

Chief Merchandising Officer at Health & Glow

Zubair Patel, Chief Merchandising Officer at Health & Glow, is a retail professional with extensive experience in buying and merchandising, building and scaling omnichannel businesses, digital transformation, business strategy in a leadership capacity.


Jitendranath Patri

Consulting Partner

Jitendranath Patri is a seasoned business professional with over 25 years of experience in the retail industry. He has deep knowledge in retail management, marketing, CRM, and customer loyalty. He works with Xeno as a consulting partner, driving innovation in CRM and loyalty strategies for retailers. Jitendranath also hosts a podcast called Retail Reimagined where he engages experienced retail professionals in insightful discussions.

[00:00:00] Jiten: Welcome to Retail Reimagined and I'm your host, Jitendranath Patri, principal consultant at Xeno. This podcast brings you insightful conversations with CXOs as we embark on an exhilarating exploration of the retail industry.

[00:00:14] Join us as we uncover strategic insights and innovative ideas that are reshaping the way CXOs navigate the evolving retail landscape from traditional stores to digital platforms, and from emerging trends to cutting edge technologies, we dive deep into realm of strategy, customer experience, and visionary leadership.

[00:00:35] Get ready for thought-provoking discussion after everything, stories and actionable takeaways that expower CXOs to reimagine the future of retail. So once again, welcome to Retail Reimagined, where the Future of Retail begins.

[00:00:49] Hi folks, welcome to another captivating episode of Retail Reimagined, with me your host, Jitendranath Patri. 

[00:00:55] My guest today is a CMO, but with a difference. He spent years in the merchandising and category management space, gleaning his experience across apparel, personal care, wellness, and other categories, including building an eCommerce business. So please join me, as I welcome Zubair Patel, Chief Merchandising Officer of Health & Glow to the ship.

[00:01:24] Zubair, thank you so much for taking the time. And, welcome to Retail Reimagined. Yeah. And, thank you and, I'm sure, I'm sure that this is gonna be pretty insightful, the conversation that we are gonna have because I've been just, I was just going through and kind of thinking back, we, we spent nearly 11 years together, right? Correct. And that's the time that I've spent in retail. You were there before. You're, still spiriting, category management here with Health & Glow. So, you've literally seen retail kind of just grow, right, I don't know if to grow transition, whatever, right from apparel to personal care wellness. Yeah. It just, walk us through the journey. What was fascinating. I would like to hear this man. I'm sure the audience is good too. 

[00:02:13] Zubair: Sure, Jiten. So, I got interested in retail when, way back in Bombay in the mid nineties as a young guy.

[00:02:21] I used to see this fascinating store Shopper Stop in Andheri. Glittering in and the night like a diamond, you know? And that was the, probably the first department store, in the country, focusing on apparel, accessories, et cetera. And, My first love, of course, was journalism. I wanted to get into the Times of India.

[00:02:44] That was my plan, but then everything went out the window. Once I saw the store and I was captivated, I, was fortunate to get a role with them and I started my journey, from that one store. I was in operations for the initial part of my stint with Shopper Stop, and gradually was able to see the transition and the growth of that format.

[00:03:09] As it, expanded to Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi. And, along the way I moved from operations to the backend function of buying and merchandising. And, it's been a fascinating, it was a very fascinating time, I think for not just us as retailers, but even the Indian consumer to get exposed to world class retail.

[00:03:35] And, post that, of course I was, I was with a few brands, national and international, and then came back into retail. So yes, it's been fascinating to see the evolution of the industry and I consider myself very, very fortunate to be a part of it. And, what we are experiencing right now as, as it's changing, evolving so rapidly, I think it's the best time to be in the retail industry.

[00:03:59] Could'nt be better. Fantastic. Yeah, I think 

[00:04:02] when you talk about that, I think makes 

[00:04:04] me want to come back. You're in it 

[00:04:09] Jiten: Very much. Very much. So. Anything that, anything that, that, any highlights that came along the way that kind of, of relevance that you think, made a difference or kind of create, 

[00:04:18] Zubair: create a learning for yourself, for you?

[00:04:21] Hundred percent. A hundred percent. So I think the values that we started off with, back then, I think hold true even today. No very simple basic things Jiten, like, no matter how much amount of planning we do at the backend, how many strategies we, we chart out, I think it all comes to play. It all comes to life at the Karam Bhoomi as to say right at the floor shop floor.

[00:04:43] And I think nothing can match, certain amount of time that is spent at the retail shop floor every week, if not every day. And that's something as a discipline I have tried to do. I have done all my, all, all my life, and I encourage all my younger, colleagues, younger team members who join the team to go and spend time at the floor, not just during the probation time or when they're on training, but even afterwards, because that's when you come to see that whatever you've planned, whatever you, you, you put in place as either as a buying plan or as a visual merchandising plan.

[00:05:18] As an assortment plan. As a pricing strategy, is it working, is it not? Data, of course, can tell you, can, can, can help you draw inferences at the surface. But I think the why is something that can only get answered at the shop floor. And that is something as a, as a discipline, I think as a, as a value was instilled way back then at Shopper Stop.

[00:05:39] And, you, I've carried through my life. I think so that holds true. The other thing is, of course, partly related to that is to have key people in the system, with whom you can pick up the phone and you'll get to understand what's happening and why, right.. And these would be colleagues in operation.

[00:05:58] These would usually be even the sales, sales assistants, are, are, are colleagues who are engaging with consumers who are getting the firsthand information of what's happening. What are consumers moving towards? And that is something that data cannot tell you. That is something that, you can of course, a key with the keen sense and a key eye pick up as a trend from information, from data.

[00:06:20] But I think nothing matches, a one-on-one interaction. So that I think is the core, core. I think, take takeaway that I've had over the years. Of course keeping an open mind, whether it's been the fashion industry where every season, every six months, we would, we would look at, new fashion, new trends.

[00:06:38] Sometimes outrageous, right, where logic would say, this is never going to work. But, but again, along the journey I've learned that, if we keep doing the same thing over and over again, we will obviously see the same results. We have to try something different. We've got to push the boundaries.

[00:06:53] And especially in the fashion world, if you don't experiment, if you don't, give credit to what the designers have created. At least to the extent of five to ten percent, right and, just consider that as, as an experimentation, as risk, and of course, buy the safer merchandise, but put at least 10% on risky merchandise and see what happens to it.

[00:07:13] I think that has always been, in my profession journey, I've seen that gives a bit of an edge, right, and it helps. Beauty and personal care, of course, is going through a, a tremendous evolution at this point of time. We'll probably talk about that as we speak, but it's, it's a journey of discovery, not just for us as retailers, but even consumers, 

[00:07:32] discovering beauty and looking at it from a very different lens. People are looking at skincare from a very different lens. There's the birth of D2C brands, and of course legacy brands and new products getting launched almost every month. So, It's fascinating to see, the changes that have happened on the fashion apparel side, which are slightly slower and more spread out over months.

[00:07:54] Whereas on the, on the beauty and personal care side, it's actually weeks, very different, ecosystems, very different norms, very different, therefore challenges and very different, I think, creativity that's required to run different businesses successfully. So yes, it's been, it's been fantastic.

[00:08:13] Yeah. Two things, I think, 

[00:08:14] Jiten: Two points you raised. Very, very important. I think if you really want to understand customer behavior, I think stand on the shop floor. Not shop floor, but actually on the floor. And then I should observe, yeah. But the second part, I think, when you talked about trends and the fashion trend and the collection that you wanted to launch every season, I think takes me back, to possibly the time that I would really.

[00:08:35] I really enjoyed it. And these were, these were periods just before the season started, the season, I think, you would come and present the collection for the, for the, for the, for the month, for the season. And I said, wow. Fascinating. At least you give me a different perspective.

[00:08:51] Take me into a different world. Yeah. So how's, how has this changed? Has it, has this changed over the years? You, over the years that you've been there with, in, in category management, has it really changed what's kind of involvement, transformation?

[00:09:04] Zubair: Has it gone through? Yeah, sure. So, I, I think it all boils down to one very keyword, when it comes to, In fact, I would not even say selling.

[00:09:13] It's about engaging the, the customer. And it could be the internal customer, like, for example, you as part of our marketing team back then and eventually the end consumer who engages with the product and that keyword is storytelling. If I'm able to tell you the story of the product, of the journey, of the product, of the brand, And, and I, I have seen some fascinating stories and let me give you one very recent example, of, of, of, Product from Unilever called Indulekha.

[00:09:44] Now it's an oil which has a, a lot of legacy. It comes, it's, it's made, in Kerala there is a certain procedure and process by which the oil is prepared over a period of days and weeks, and finally distilled and created into a fabulous product, which is very, very efficacious, et cetera. Cut to, let's say the collections and stories that we would see in the apparel world.

[00:10:08] Whether it was, creation of, a certain, culture where certain brands would come in with a certain legacy and therefore, how do you, how do you, how do you convey the culture? How do you convey the legacy of the brand and the product into that one style, which is showcased? So that was fascinating.

[00:10:27] I think that's something that, that as a, as a buyer and as a merchandiser, if we attuned to paying attention to that. What is the story I'm trying to convey over here? What, what is going to captivate the customer into saying, Hey, I want to buy into this. I don't want to buy the product, but I'm going to buy into the story and the product is representative of that and I'm going to live and experience that.

[00:10:50] And that's fascinating because, you can engage, with, with amazing frequency, you can engage with a variety of subjects and topics and you can engage, a wide number of people across the length and breadth of the country. Our, our nation is, is so vast that it is, it's often, and, coming back to the hardcore business, while there are certain, I think, Certain part of the assortment would work across the country.

[00:11:16] One has to build in regional nuances. For example, certain colors, engage eastern consumers in a very different way as say, the consumers in the west, certain prints work in a different part of the country and would not work at all in a different part of the country. Certain silhouettes, whether it could be trim or fades, whether it could be short sleeves, whatever, would work very differently.

[00:11:40] And needless to say, fabric basis, so encompassing the whole of India into one assortment is brilliant, and that's what is, is, is so enjoyable about this role because what you create with, let's say in fashion apparel with six months and eight months, in advance, would need to take care of the needs of the consumers and engage with them and tell the story to them six and eight months down the line and, come to the beauty and personal care industry.

[00:12:09] There is, so much that's happening on skincare, on makeup, on hair care, and there it's about, engaging with consumers with different concerns. So there's a lot of storytelling that one can do. In fact, there are, I, I've been amazed with the number of D2C brands that have got launched in the hair care segment taking care of curls.

[00:12:29] Mm-hmm. Now, so many Indian women and men have got curly hair. And all these years they've been using the same products that everybody else was using, but their hair needs a different kind of care. They need a different conditioner, you need a different shampoo, you need a different serum. And, and that's, that's engaging, 

[00:12:46] so there's tremendous storytelling that can happen over there. So I think as a, as a, as a planner, it's very important for us to have that key element and whenever one plans an assortment and say, what is the story I'm trying to tell? What is it I'm trying to convey over here now? How is it going to engage with a consumer even when there is no assistance?

[00:13:05] And I think that should be the end goal. Super, Excellent point and storytelling. And I'll come back to it little later because I have a very, 

[00:13:11] Jiten: Sharp question to ask you. But before I go there and I get there, in all of this, how, how much 

[00:13:17] Zubair: of data do you really 

[00:13:19] Jiten: leverage data and analytics in, in at least currently, 

[00:13:22] or how is it even, done in the past 

[00:13:25] Zubair: when you, when you're planning and you are 

[00:13:26] Jiten: doing this kind of assortment for different regions, for different, personality types and so on and so forth, because I at least sense, I already see things go getting far more relevant, far more personal that way, right 

[00:13:38] that's personalization, not from very 

[00:13:39] Zubair: marketing 

[00:13:40] Jiten: perspective, but you're literally personalizing their tastes, correct? Yeah. So 

[00:13:46] Zubair: how much of data do you really, look into? 

[00:13:48] Jiten: Do you, do you leverage data 

[00:13:50] Zubair: and then rely analytics? For sure. I'll go one step, before that, Jiten, and just talk about the evolution or the different or different ways in which the buying and merchandising function has been represented in different organizations. So, I have been part of teams where the buying and merchandising teams were different, distinct, where the buyers would, engage with brands, manufacturers on product. Keeping in mind, trends and forecasts would ensure that, engaging product is, is brought in, the parameters that they would look at for performance.

[00:14:29] The buyer would look at, first and foremost would be, of course, the product sell to, how much have you sold at full price, et cetera. How much has been, had, had to get discounted, and also give inputs. On presentation of the product, on, on planograms in the case of, front end, but also visual merchandising, 

[00:14:46] what's the story that you wanna convey, et cetera, the merchandisers on the other hand would be largely the, the, and of course, today, even buyers have to be number driven. You'll never be a good buyer to device, but the merchandiser would be the watchdog of profitability, making sure that the product has come in at the right time, got allocated to the right stores.

[00:15:06] If certain stores are selling, options and SKUs faster, how do we make sure that the merchandise is moved and it's optimized to make sure that the full price sell through is optimized? Make sure that you kick in with promotions and liquidation at the right time, and therefore you reduce your residual inventory as much as possible.

[00:15:22] Also looking at, at, at shifts in terms of data, right you say there's certain, fits. Certain fabrics, certain colors are outperforming selling faster, therefore, you plan that much more and therefore keep giving inputs to the buying team. Now, that's where the buyers and merchandisers work in tandem.

[00:15:39] It requires a lot of openness from both sides to and, and respect I think for the inputs that are coming in. So the merchandisers might need to step out of the comfort zone and say, Hey, you know what? You are experimenting with this particular fit, with this particular fabric, et cetera, a little bit more.

[00:15:56] But maybe there's some value that the buyers have are bringing in because, they've got a little bit of a forward, thought to it. At the same time, the buyers have to also accept failures along with successes, with a pinch of salt and say, okay, I got it. It didn't work. Let's, let's not get in love, fall in love with the merchandise.

[00:16:15] And that's cock error that, a lot of buyers do get. So you believe in your, in your range so much that you say, no, it'll work. It'll work. Let's not discount it right now. And so, so taking those calls and being a little dispassionate about it. The other scenario is where both these functions are merged into one entity, into one mind, which is the category management role, 

[00:16:35] where the buyer and the merchandiser is one entity where the person needs to actually have the left and brain light, right brain working in Chatham. And, Of course there are pros and cons to it. You don't have a check and balance in place. Your check and balance is yourself. And we are all human beings.

[00:16:52] So, but the benefit is that at least it's a seamless thought, right. As you are planning for a particular, product, you are also planning for what depth I should buy it for, where should I allocate it? Where will it work? What action am I going to take? What's the next line that's coming through, which will take the up and so on, so forth.

[00:17:10] So, both the scenarios work together, I think work effectively. There are pros and cons to both, but that's been, that's, that's, that's been primarily how it's been. In terms of data of course, there's enough and more information that becomes available Jiten, and I think then never has been a dearth of data. Today of course, data is more richer. But it's the inferences that one draws right and the insights that one is able to call out from it. Going forward, I think with, with, more AI driven data, I think the inferences and insights might become that much more, easily available. Trends might become that much more visible and conscious for us as buyers and merchandisers and category managers to take cognizance of and action on.

[00:17:51] So there are colleagues of mine who say that you know what's going to happen AI, et cetera, but, I think it's only going to enable us to do our jobs better. It's not something that we've got to, the human element of this, of this role is always, has always been there and always will be there.

[00:18:06] And that's an art. I think buying and merchandising is not just a science, it's also an art. Balancing the science and art of it both is key. Super. Absolutely. I think you hit the nail. You couldn't have hit the nail on the head more harder. 

[00:18:20] Jiten: Yeah. One another fascinating thing that I, I want to ask you right from a format like Shopper Stop, you go to a brand and you would come back to another large, department store, like a Central, this transition between the large format store and, and brands. Was it, was it, what is kind of, differences that you had to, overcome or, was it similar? Similar, 

[00:18:40] Zubair: So, it's been fascinating to be on both sides of the table actually. So from, representing and working with a large retailer where, you have your consumer across the country to buy for, to plan for, to service, and, brands become, an integral part of that plan of servicing that consumer and balancing the strategy between a national brand and a local brand.

[00:19:07] Taking care of local, demands, local nuances. And at the same time, exposing consumers to fashion and trends, which is one step ahead, which they aspire to, has always been something that one can do very comfortably. As a retailer, you can pick and choose and kind of put together your, your assortment and, as I said, experiment a little bit.

[00:19:30] Let's say keep a lot of merchandise, which is safer, and then you have your staple. So formulate your strategy by, by, by building brands. For brands on the other hand, I think, when I've, when I started working with my, the first brand that I was, that I worked with after Shopper Stop was W. W was just starting off way back then in about 2000, I think.

[00:19:50] And fascinating concept. How do you make Indian, Salwar Kurta Dupatta which, every Indian consumer would've been stitching, for a fairly nominal cost. How do you make that into a branded comet? How do you introduce, how do you make it work well?, and I think nothing better, nothing more functional than an Indian Salwar Kurta Dupatta, which I think the knitted Churidaar was one of the first innovations that W had brought in back then, what, a slimmer stool instead of a traditional dupatta, et cetera.

[00:20:21] But working out a size matrix for the Indian consumer across the length and breadth of the country, again, was, was a challenge, which, which was taken on and the branded very, very well with it. And I remember I, another colleague, we took this large suitcase filled with samples, and we went and met four retailers.

[00:20:39] The leading retailers at that time, to our surprise, we got an acceptance from all of them. It also was testament to the fact that one, there was need for a product like that, but two, there was also acceptance from the other side, openness to say that, okay, let's try this. So I was for a change selling to a retailer, and since I knew what would be, what the retailer would be looking for, you'd be looking for a certain stock turn.

[00:21:03] You'd be looking for a certain profitability, you'd be looking for certain addition value, addition to the assortment, which I bring to the table as a brand, which is different from what you have and how am I going to bring more consumers, more customers to your stores. That was, that think that definitely helped that perspective was someone that, that eased, our entry into multiple formats.

[00:21:23] And then of course I've worked in the Middle East, which was all about scale. 300, 400, 600 stores at that time was unthinkable, at least in an Indian context. I'm talking of early 2000. And that's when one understood, managing inventory. When maybe, holding two months, three months of inventory tops, which included, in transit, on ships, which included in store, which included in warehouse fabulous inventory management and scale.

[00:21:52] Cutting back to coming back to India. That was when international brands were coming into India. Consumers were opening up, their minds and wallets to trying better products, to trying brands. And, retail of course has evolved from then to now, but it's been fascinating. Almost every stage there has been some evolution that has been happening.

[00:22:15] And, moving back into a large format, working with larger, companies like Aditya Birla and Arvind and Raymonds, et cetera, was again, so it's been fairly seamless for me personally to say, and I think working on both sides of the table has also helped understand what is it that, that the retailer or the brand is looking for, and what is it that, how can one work together and pick all the boxes?

[00:22:39] Jiten: Yeah. And I remember, I think, during the time that we were there, I think, I think you had started working on, an online transition, right. So how did was it a very different kind of experience? How did you really draw upon all the learning that you had to kind of create that or move into that, realm, the digital realm?

[00:22:59] Zubair: That was, a very challenging, opportunity. And of course I think that was exacerbated by COVID. All of us, were locked down in our houses and, we had to reach out to our consumers and, even every traditional retailer who had not really dabbled into omni, was, so to speak, compelled to take that step, and I think it, it was inevitable that COVID only, I think, fast forwarded what was, what would have eventually have happened. And what is today the case? Because you have to be connected and to your consumer offline, online, today consumers, discover online and purchase offline. They also discover, offline and purchase online.

[00:23:39] So the consumer is seamless between offline and online. It's only imperative that, that every retailer, every brand is, is accessible. Whether it's to their own formats or to other platforms, but reachable and accessible to the consumer. So it was, a very interesting project. And we had, apart from of course, our own private label, we had large, number of partners who were, keen and willing to go online with us, to service the consumers we were servicing through our stores.

[00:24:09] But yes, I think getting, content, getting the, the visuals, getting the images together, making sure that they're all, in the format that we required, coordinating between different teams. I think that was the biggest challenge. I think coordination between the buying and merchandising teams, indirectly through the brands coordinating with the marketing team, yourself and a few other colleagues.

[00:24:30] And we used to work on our weekly strategies on what are we going to do. One fight of course, is that, we were at that point of time, still grappling with, the profitability aspect of online right, because the online consumer is used to buying at discounts. And then how do you, as an offline retailer who don't necessarily need to sell on discount, how do you traverse that journey?

[00:24:51] Of course, from then to now, I think there's been a lot of clarity of thought of execution that's come across. People do work with season minus one, season minus two on, online, on their online arms, and offer the full price merchandise in their offline stores, and some sense has kind of fallen into place.

[00:25:09] But yes, that was fascinating, I think , as a project, as an initiative to take on and successfully launch. So yes, I think, today I think it from get go, being omni is, is a must. Yeah. You'd know that, you've been, working with so many brands and retailers, it's, it's no longer a choice.

[00:25:29] Jiten: Absolutely, that really is interesting. I think you, you kind of just beautifully, weave it through and which is bring to my next question is as, as a merchandising officer, as a merchandising head, how do you usually, how do you envision the journey of omni channel right now? 

[00:25:44] Zubair: So, for an offline retailer, Jiten. And again, I was speaking to a few colleagues in friends in the industry, who are with the other large retailers. The omni business, brings, broadly speaking the equivalent of one or two stores business. So I think it's important for an, an offline retailer, I'll speak from an offline perspective to understand that one is first and foremost in engaging the consumers in an offline manner. You are an offline retailer who's also available online. One cannot compete and one cannot go all out, and take on the, the larger players head on. And it's not a level playing field because you can never offer the, the amount of discounts that are being offered.

[00:26:27] You can never offer the kind of assortment that is being offered. What you can do though is you know your customer best. You got data of 15, 20 years of, let's say Jiten, as my customer. I know the brand of shirts that he has evolved into from, let's say, 15 years ago to today. I know his family structure.

[00:26:49] I know the, I know what are the occasions in his life. I will leverage that information and reach out to him. In a much more, active manner than just a CRM platform. So using Omni to leverage, build, enhance loyalty, I think is what, and stickiness with the format is, in my opinion, and I might be wrong, in my opinion, the best strategy for an offline retailer, because today you can stay connected with your customer base in a much more, in a much more active manner than let's say in the past. And, personalization, I think that's something that I wanna talk about from the beauty and personal care perspective as well. But also from, the perspective of even fashion. How do I personalize products for you, for your special occasions?

[00:27:42] What if I can, the next time Jiten wants to buy a pair of trousers from me or denim from me, how do I make sure that I send it to him in the length that he wants? How can I add value and give you a monogram shirt on your birthday? How can I give you a prompt, on what product your son or daughter would like?

[00:28:05] Not just remind you that there's a birthday coming up, but say, Hey, this is what your son might like. So here's something as a prompt. I think it's, it's the opportunities are endless. Clearly what I've said is just scratching the surface. There'll be enough and more intelligent minds like yours Jiten, who will come up with many, many more creative ways of, engaging with consumers.

[00:28:26] But I think that's the, that's the point. I think, every offline retailer has got a rich database of consumers. And I have been fascinated, many times our colleagues at the front end. And I remember that there was this one, colleague, and I'm talking about in 1995 - 96, his name was Anthony, and he was, maybe a five and a half foot short , but powerhouse guy, he used to sell suits in Shopper Stop in Andheri.

[00:28:53] And, normally to sell in a, in a Suits and Blazers section, you'll have, you normally would've guys who are, five, six feet, six feet plus, guys who can handle consumers and the product, et cetera. And service consumers with ease. But here was this powerhouse guy who people used to come to asking by name saying that if Anthony is not there today, I will postpone my purchase and I'll come later. He had his tiny little booklet in his pocket where he used to have the names and numbers, and I'm sure many, many, many, many, one, many of our colleagues at the front end have that. But I'm saying that's the power that was customer loyalty at its most basic level. And, these were, these were very famous lawyers and doctors of the city who would want to be serviced only by him. And of course that was then. And here is today, when there is so much of information available and you can not only know what the past has been for the consumer, but you can even predict what he would go for next.

[00:29:47] Jiten: Absolutely. 

[00:29:48] Zubair: So I think that's, that's where I think the power of Omni can be leveraged. Taking CRM beyond a step taking loyalty to the next level. 

[00:29:57] Jiten: Super. Yeah, I know. And I think you are one of those, a few, Non-marketing people who I always, enjoyed working with because you were very, very focused on that, saying, Hey, what, what can we do? Right?

[00:30:08] Yeah. And I like the fact that you brought in the storytelling thing, right. And today, I think, I think CRM is really missing this thing. How do I build compelling story to tell my consumers? Yeah. To tell my customer base, right, to ensure that it creates that much more stickiness. It creates that more personalization. It creates that stick, that relevancy. Yeah. And, and then the fact that you've brought in that over a period of historical data can, how can I use that.

[00:30:35] Zubair: Correct. 

[00:30:36] Jiten: To really, really, make it that much more, interesting for the consumer? For the customer? Both. I think, at the flow level, obviously, if that can be done instead of a notebook, can I have a digital pad or something that, with all that data and points, or even through the communication that, the brand does with the consumer. Yeah. And I again, and then I kind of, I just wanna weave it to my next question with, in know, merchandising, what kind of a role does it play in driving customer experience and loyalty? 

[00:31:08] Zubair: So, one of my, one of my favorite CEOs used to often say that the role of the backend team, especially that of the merchandising team, is like that of a football coach.

[00:31:17] You can plan, you can strategize before the final match. You have your charts, which, which player is going to play in what position and at what time. And likewise, right, we plan our season, we plan the brands, we plan the assortment. And once the season is launched, the game is on. The fun lies in the coach, not just playing a passive role when the game is on, but playing a role from the periphery. Along with the players. And we've seen some of the best coaches in the most animated manner, sometimes they even have to be called out to the refree saying, hold on, you're stepping onto the field, step back! and but, but they're in it, they're in the game. So the coach plays the game with the players even though he's not on the field. And I think that's the role of buying and merchandising. You don't just, you don't just set the game. You don't just set the assortment for the season and say, okay, go play. You play the game along with the players and you do that of course, by feeding in information, by thinking like an operator, by looking at which style is working in which store. Has my product been displayed properly? Is my planogram enabling the store? Of course, with all the all thoughts, and then ensuring that it's working and then evolving because, of course, and, and nothing in life is perfect, no plan will work to the team. So what do you do? You evolve your game, you improvise and working with the operations team on working and improvising and saying, okay, the assortment is, these tiles are not working, let's do a transfer. Let's do a markdown. Let's take some action at the right time.

[00:32:51] Ensure that the product life cycle is met, ensure that, if a product is selling off faster, how can I react quickly, maybe in a more proactive manner and ensure that I refill and, prolong the length of the option. Some best sellers, how do I take them forward into the next season? So that's what I'm saying, your role is that of a coach who's constantly with the operations team, who's constantly working, with them on making sure that their targets are met of course, targets of course, combined, but I'm saying that the daily target is met, which of course takes you to the month and the season. It's a collective objective, I think.

[00:33:29] Making sure that the store operating profit is met is equally a responsibility of the buying and merchandising team, and, which is why our store level understanding is very, very important. Understanding of the SOP or the profit as we speak is in my view important. At the same time, ensuring that the operations team are able to understand that if there is a new trend.

[00:33:50] I'll give a very funny example. At one time, this was some years ago, larger sized products, oversized products were cutting into trend, longer length, t-shirts, slightly larger sleeves, et cetera. And we found that when these options and styles were just about introduced, let's say, a brand usually would have about maybe a hundred and fifty, to hundred sixty options, in a 300, 400 square foot shopping shop. We had about, I think 15 or 20 of such options. There was a new trend just coming in and we realized that while certain stores are selling it well, in certain stores, there is zero business. And that's when, when you get down to a store level understanding, you understand that.

[00:34:28] Hey, what's going wrong here? How is it that there are no takers for this, for this fashion trend, so to speak, you know? And then you have a conversation with the store team, and then you have a conversation with the department manager, and then you have a conversation with this, with the guy who's actually on the counter, and you realize that that guy has thought that it was a defect.

[00:34:46] He thought that all those T-shirts, all those, the garments were oversized and it was a problem, and he'd taken the entire stack and pushed it down out of the sight of the consumer waiting that when the sale comes in, it'll probably cover at a discount, and then whatever doesn't sell will get liquidated.

[00:35:01] Now that's the problem when the story telling breaks down, then as a coach, you're not playing attention to that one single player who's going weak and saying, Hey, hold on. What's going on over here? And you then work together to say that, okay, I've given a planogram, this is how it's got to be displayed.

[00:35:18] This is your trend of the season, et cetera, and how you take it forward. So it's, so the role of B&M, of course, needless to speak, I think is of course delivering profitability. You deliver your stock turns, you deliver your margins. You keep your, dead inventory under control. You keep your returns under control.

[00:35:34] You keep the markdowns as much as possible under control and look at full price sell through no doubt about that, but I think the way to go about it, is, I think, making sure that you are playing the game on a daily basis with your colleagues at the front end and not just for, I often tell my team members that as buyers and merchandisers, we actually live in three time zones.

[00:35:55] We don't just live with the seasoned merchandise that all the product that is on the floor right now. But we also have to ensure that our site is on the product, which has been brought in, in the past, let's say a season ago or something, which has brought in say, 2, 3, 4 months ago. And what is going to come up and what's going to engage and what's going to create aspiration for consumers in the next 2, 3, 4 months.

[00:36:16] So you actually have to live in three time zones and, it's wonderful. I think as buyers and merchandisers, one has to intrinsically be a planner. I mean, one cannot be great at is at work, at forecasting, planning and in your personal life, procrastinate, everything. It just can't happen, you know?

[00:36:35] As a person and I've seen this, I've seen that some of the best people, in this function are those who are able to plan ahead and think, a lot more ahead and of course, keep an open mind. I think that's very, very important. Collaborate. Again, it's a function which cannot be done in isolation.

[00:36:52] You are dependent. You are interdependent on operations, you are interdependent finance, you're dependent logistics. You're independent on marketing. We used to have tons and tons of conversations on how to make things work. 

[00:37:04] Jiten: Absolutely, absolutely. 

[00:37:05] Zubair: On loyalty and so on. So you work together.

[00:37:07] I think collaboration is very, very important. And having an open mind is important. Not taking things personally again is also very important because look, everyone's there to do a job. Everyone has good days and bad days. We are all human beings. But many a time. My personal approach has been that even if I'm, engaging, it's always the point, the point that the person is making, the point that I'm hearing being made is more important and it might be right and I might disagree with it, but it is and, I think working in a collaborative way, nothing goes beyond that. 

[00:37:37] Jiten: True. True. Yeah. 

[00:37:39] And one quick question before, before we, I get my, the last one for of our conversation is today you have D2C brands and suddenly you, I you realize that D2C brands are also going offline.

[00:37:50] Correct? Yeah. So what is it, what is it telling? Is it saying that, hey, and then, offline, Brands' predominantly offline or retailers were predominantly offline, also, also going online, so what is it? 

[00:38:02] What is it telling? You know what it, what is the takeout there? Is it think digital first. What is it?

[00:38:10] Zubair: So I'll speak a little bit about the beauty and personal care industry because it's fascinating me for a few years, and of course, needless to say, it's a 15 dollar industry in India and expected to double by 2030. I don't think any other industry right now in retail is growing at this fast pace.

[00:38:29] And of course there are certain trends which are fueling this. I mean, Indian consumers are exposed to more and more, beauty trends. Middle class consumers are spending more on their appearance. I think that's fascinating. We are looking at close to 1200 D2C brands launched in the last five years.

[00:38:46] Jiten: Wow. 

[00:38:47] Zubair: And, I mean, I don't see which other sort of retail industry has had so many D2C brands coming in across makeup, skincare, hair care, et cetera. A lot of international brands, of course, needless to say, are stepping into India and while physical retail is dominant, and I'm talking about India across tier 1, 2, 3, and maybe before, needless to say, I think consumers are consuming not just in a traditional way, but also online. And that's where a lot of consumption is happening. It's fueling the growth in such a way that there are, as you said, D2C players today stepping in with their own stores. There are, business partners of our, for example, Velvet who's looking at almost 60,000 sugar that is almost, 60,000 touchpoints across the country, across kiosks and stores and department stores and, multi plant outlets.

[00:39:35] And that's the size of the market. I think India is poised for a very, very large leap. Consumption has been fairly nascent today. People are consuming not just makeup, but looking for other things. We are looking at, clean beauty people want, in fact, in at Health & Glow, for example, we've got consumers walking in asking us for, which are your clean beauty brands?

[00:39:54] And that is fascinating because they know that I don't want, minerals, I don't want thalates, I don't want sulfate, I don't want pyramids. People have been asking for cruelty free products, vegan products, and, that's an opportunity which is massive. The, I think the role for a retailer though, is going to be, using data, using information that's available off the consumer, and using AI tools to create personalized solutions.

[00:40:23] And I think that's the way forward. Personalization when it comes to skin, and for example, at Health & Glow, we've got a very active, skin analyzer tool where within a matter of a few minutes, you click a picture, of the consumer, you take a selfie, your skin tone is analyzed, and on your skin there will be certain parts where, you, you either have an oily skin or you have a dry skin on the face.

[00:40:44] You also got a combination skin. Certain parts of your face would be dry, certain parts of your skin, let's say the nose might be oily. Hence, what are your recommended products? What is mandatory for you? What is optional for you? And what is, so it's, that's the way forward. I think personalized solutions using technology and the assortment, of course, at your disposal to create, a great reason for the consumer to keep coming back. And that's loyalty. When you use a product which is recommended by, let's say, a tool and you use it for a period of, let's say, 90 days, and you see that it's, it works. Your belief and relationship with that format, with that retailer goes to the next level.

[00:41:26] Jiten: Absolutely, and it's great way of engaging. I think it's a fantastic also, engaging with your customer or your, part of engaging with the loyalty, your loyal customer, 

[00:41:35]  Hundred as as, 

[00:41:36]  In engaging in the. 

[00:41:38] Zubair: We have had who've taken the test. Have, and again, I'm sorry, I'm not trying to promote this, I'm sure multiple formats will have their own, their own solutions, but there are consumers.

[00:41:49] I think that the true. What do they say the proof is in the, in coding, when you see that a product has actually worked on reducing your acne, on reducing your pigmentation, on reducing your, dry spots on your skin, on reducing wrinkles and reducing lines, and your skin looks fabulous.

[00:42:07] I think that's the twist, that's the turning point, you come back and you not only use it for yourself, but you also recommend it. And in fact, people who come back with, bringing their family members and saying, you should try this, it works. 

[00:42:17] Jiten: Super. Yeah. So, you've seen. I don't know retail through a lot, cause much before, from the late nineties, early two thousands, pandemic, post pandemic. Yeah. So what are trends do you, do you anticipate that will shape the retail industry as we go forward from your perspective, 

[00:42:38] Zubair: Sure, sure. I think the, the biggest trend, and this is again, proven in multiple studies worldwide is, engaging, with consumers, engaging with customers who we know with personalization.

[00:42:52] At the risk of sounding repetitive, I think there is no other alternate to it. Because the access that consumers will have to the same product, to the same SKU will be through multiple ways, right. Today, the one, let's say the black shirt that you're wearing could be available to a consumer across multiple retailers, across, in store, offline, et cetera.

[00:43:13] But I think it's gonna be very interesting, important for us to take that to the next level with personalization. I think, consumers are going to look at seamlessness in access, to brands. They're not going to be limited to any one channel or one format of retailing. You will want to shop offline and online.

[00:43:29] I think that seamlessness between both is there. And lastly of course, slightly more, intelligent, way of buying and merchandising, with AI powered technology, which will ensure that we get a little bit more accurate and we get, we therefore reduce waste stage. I think that's something that, what, what is the function for?

[00:43:49] Honestly, if you ask me a good buying and merchandising plan, a good plan ensures that you not only meet your profitability goals and targets, but you also reduce wastage. It's a fact that a lot of apparel goes into landfill. What if that the role of buying and merchandising using intelligence, is going to reduce wastage, you know?

[00:44:10] And I think one last, trend, which might pick up in India, and we'll have to wait and watch is going to be about reusing products, I think we still is at a very nascent stage. And, cultural nuances aside, we have to see how it takes off as a concept in India. But, yes, today people do still spend lacks of rupees on a garment, which you'll use one day in your life.

[00:44:33] But I don't, I think that time is not far away when we might, have a flourishing, reusing, reusable, sort of, industry as well. So I think these are the few, things that we can look forward to on the horizon. Certain fundamental things will remain the same. But, all the intelligence of what we have in the past combined with what's going to come in the future, it makes retail still a very, very fascinating time to begin.

[00:44:57] Jiten: Absolutely. I think, and as you say, I envisioned how the entire thing just dovetails into a beautiful story and how can you use a story to, engage the customer with it. So, and the points that you made, like one, of course retail, the basis of retail, will always, Stay. And, be relevant even today.

[00:45:16] Zubair: Correct. So I, one of the things I wanna mention is that sustainability, I think people are post covid. I've seen this both in the beauty and personal care industry as well as in the fashion. People have become conscious of what they've been consuming, so you might consume less, but you want to consume a little better.

[00:45:31] There is also a certain, at least among Gen Z's, there is a certain awareness of is a brand aligned to my set of concerns, is the brand looking at sustainability, is the brand looking at, has it got any recycled material? I know of, certain friends who have just launched their own D2C brands, which are 98% recycled.

[00:45:54] It's phenomenal Gene. Of course there's in the bags in the industry of luggage and bags and handbags and backpacks. But I think that's the way forward, I think people are going to align to brands which are more, and it's already happening, in fact, which are more in tune with their own values.

[00:46:10] And, brands which communicate this, and not just lip service, but actually stand for it and even declare and say, this product has 80% recycled material. I'll feel much more comfortable as a consumer buying into a product like that, knowing that it's adding to sustainability. 

[00:46:27] Jiten: True. True.

[00:46:28] I think what I hear from what I've been hearing in the last half an hour or so that we've spoken, I think, how, while retail has got so many functions, how each function is interconnected. Yes. And especially, how even a function like category management is actually enabling better customer experience and, helping drive and ans loyalty, through personalization. 

[00:46:54] Zubair, thank you so much. I think wonderful speaking to you , and good to reconnect with so many years. Yeah. And I recollect all this conversation we used to have. 

[00:47:04] Zubair: Absolutely, pleasure is all mine, Jiten. I think what we are missing right now is standing next to a coffee machine.

[00:47:10] Jiten: Absolutely. 

[00:47:10] Zubair: But I have mine and I'm sure you have yours as well. So its as good as it can come. Lovely talking to you. 

[00:47:18] Jiten: Thanks. Thanks.

Retail Reimagined is a podcast series that features CXOs from the retail industry who are at the forefront of digital transformation and customer-centricity.

Yours, Digitally! is a digital personalisation podcast dedicated to leadership & marketing teams of retail brands who are looking to shift from conventional marketing to digital personalized marketing like Amazon, Spotify & Netflix have already done.




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