Aditi Pany, founder of Qalara, reflects on how e-commerce is shaping the retail industry
It’s no secret that e-commerce is booming. For years, retailers have sat idly by and seen growing numbers of consumers turn their backs on traditional brick-and-mortar stores, favoring the choice and convenience of the online world instead.
In doing so, these consumers have been aided by an increasingly sophisticated set of e-commerce platforms capable of meeting a changing set of needs and a desire for unique and personalized products. “Previously, there would have been a handful of well-known brands in any given category,” says Aditi Pany, founder of Indian company Qalara and a retail professional for more than a decade. “Today, it has become more democratic. Platforms like Shopify and others offer a huge selection of brands, each with distinct identities, that cater to even a single consumer’s different needs and interests.
Aditi’s background in retail is remarkable. Having spent time in Silicon Valley while studying at Stanford University, she recalls the feeling of “potential disruption” that characterized the early days of e-commerce. As she says, “I felt like retail had been done in a particular way for decades, and this was an opportunity to embrace a lot of change.”
In 2011, Aditi made the decision to return to India, which would later lead to the launch of a fashion and lifestyle e-commerce business – a business that has since grown to over $1 billion in revenue. and has become one of the biggest e-commerce companies in India. More importantly, though, it’s been an experience that Aditi says has given her a “big picture” view of the retail industry, ranging from traditional brick-and-mortar stores to online merchandising, marketing and to supply chain technology. It was this oversight that encouraged Aditi to launch Qalara – a global wholesale sourcing platform, designed to make it easy for buyers to source products reliably, conveniently and sustainably at an affordable cost.
“The growth of e-commerce has had implications across the entire retail ecosystem,” Aditi acknowledges, reflecting on that experience. “In India today, marketing budgets are split between offline and online mediums, and even the smallest retailers are now reaching out to customers via WhatsApp or other digital means as they seek to drive footfall in their physical stores. Needless to say, digital payments have become an absolute way of life. It’s driven by online, but is now fully integrated into the offline retail space.
“Upstream B2B engagements have also benefited from the move to e-commerce, allowing merchandisers, buyers and sourcing teams to discover products and engage with producers on a digital basis,” she continues. “It ushered in a new era of supply chain transparency.”
At the start of 2020, the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic hit the retail sector like no other. Shutters fell in stores around the world, and the company itself moved online. As Aditi’s comments show, however, the impact on retail was not a complete unknown, but an acceleration of trends already underway.
“Where previously e-commerce was focused on lifestyle shopping, the pandemic has accelerated its spread into the essential shopping category,” confirms Aditi. “With in-store retail impossible, consumers responded to online shopping for groceries, pharmacy and medicine, and other general merchandise.
“At the same time, we have seen the acceleration of hyperlocal e-commerce,” she continues. “Traditionally, e-commerce relied on larger distribution centers located in specific centralized clusters across the country. Today, goods are delivered by and from local stores, which have evolved to be much more than just an end destination, but rather have a role to play within the wider supply chain.
But embracing e-commerce comes with its challenges. For large organizations, a growing disconnect between members of merchandising and purchasing departments and their consumers has propagated a disconnect, especially when it comes to online. As Aditi points out: “Facebook isn’t necessarily cool anymore.
“Sourcing and merchandising methods have also changed,” she continues. “Brick-and-mortar retailers have had a limited number of SKUs, which they buy deep. With e-commerce, the opposite is true: you engage with unlimited SKUs, purchased shallow, with faster turnovers. This does not lend itself to an efficient supply chain. Straddling these two very contrasting environments requires different types of assortment planning. »
Going forward, Aditi expects e-commerce to further shape the retail industry. “In particular, the cross-border supply chain represents the next frontier, with even smaller retailers leveraging it as a channel,” she insists. “Meanwhile, younger generations are driving an evolution in the way we consume as a society, with an increasing emphasis on sustainable and environmentally friendly products. For some parts of the world, like India, it’s a return to a way of life that disappeared not too long ago, going back to what used to be traditional methods and materials, like linen, hemp or natural dyes, and give them relevance in our contemporary way of life. What is certain is that these trends are now gaining traction among retailers.