Emergence of E-Commerce in Offline Retail Brands ft. Srinivas Rao

Srinivas Rao, a dynamic professional, leads the E-Commerce division of Lifestyle International Pvt Ltd as Sr. VP & Head. With a prolific career spanning over 16 years at the company, he’s been instrumental in shaping the brand’s marketing strategies and achieving remarkable footfall resurgence. His visionary leadership propels Lifestyle’s success in the retail industry. In

Emergence of E-Commerce in Offline Retail Brands ft. Srinivas Rao

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    In this podcast episode, Srinivas Rao discusses the power of personalized marketing. He emphasizes the importance of understanding your audience and tailoring your marketing efforts to meet their specific needs and preferences. Rao shares insights on how to create personalized experiences that resonate with customers, including leveraging data and technology. He also highlights the significance of storytelling in marketing and how it can help build strong connections with your target audience. With personalization becoming increasingly crucial in today’s competitive landscape, this episode provides valuable strategies and tips for implementing personalized marketing campaigns. Tune in to gain insights and learn how to effectively engage and convert customers through personalized marketing.

    Key Take Aways

    The blog “Personalized Marketing with Srinivas Rao” provides valuable insights for digital marketers. Here are eight key takeaways:

    1. Personalization is crucial: Tailoring marketing messages to individual customers can significantly improve engagement and conversion rates.
    2. Understand your audience: Conduct thorough research to gain insights into your target audience’s preferences, behaviors, and pain points.
    3. Leverage data: Utilize data analytics tools to gather and analyze customer data, enabling you to make informed marketing decisions.
    4. Create compelling content: Develop high-quality, relevant, and engaging content that resonates with your audience.
    5. Embrace automation: Utilize marketing automation tools to streamline processes, enhance efficiency, and deliver personalized experiences at scale.
    6. Focus on customer experience: Prioritize delivering exceptional customer experiences to build loyalty and drive repeat business.
    7. Test and optimize: Continuously test different marketing strategies and optimize campaigns based on data-driven insights.
    8. Stay updated: Keep up with the latest trends, technologies, and best practices in digital marketing to stay ahead of the competition.

    Read Transcript

    Srinivas Rao :- I think some of the words are pretty cliched, but personalization done right, can really win in the new era. As a thumb rule, while the mega influencers do contribute significantly to increasing your brand’s awareness, it’s the small and micro influencers that really help in driving a transaction or a conversion. So I feel that personalization is here to stay. And the more brands leverage data and technology, I think they will be able to deliver much smarter personalization in the near future.

    Kaushal Thakkar :- Welcome to The Growth Genius. Brought to you by Infidigit. I’m Kaushal Thakkar, Founder of Infidigit and your Host for this show. Fashion is one of the integral parts of everyone’s life, and Lifestyle and its retail and online stores is the go-to destination for apparels and accessories. Today we have an esteemed guest, Srinivas Rao, who is the Senior Vice President and Head of E-Commerce at Lifestyle. Hi Srinivas, how are you doing today?

    Srinivas :- Hi, I’m doing extremely well. Thank you so much for having me on the show.

    Kaushal :- Srinivas, some of our audience may not know you that well. Please help us with a short introduction of yourself.

    Srinivas :- I have been a marketing professional across several industries, starting from consumer durables, to alphabet, to retail. My longest stint was in retail. But at the heart of it, I’m someone who’s a keen observer of customer journeys and how they are changing with time. I think, I feel, I am someone who is still learning. Because every single day shows new avenues for learning and there’s so much change happening all around us. As an individual, I feel I’m very down to earth, a humble person. I take keen interest in keeping fit. I run a lot. I participate in marathons. I love tracking the stock market. I learn a lot every single day. And that’s a little about myself.

    Kaushal :- Srinivas, another thing which is there, which is, the highlighting factor is about the last 16 years where you have been at Lifestyle. Today, we rarely see people being there in an organization, even taking gratuity from an organization in such a situation, it would be wonderful to understand from a person like you who has been there with Lifestyle for 16 years, that “hey, what is that magic portion which creates such long synergies between an organization and an individual?”

    Srinivas :- It’s a great question and many people ask me this question. And many people, when I actually tell them that I’ve been with an organization for 16 years, they actually look at it with disbelief. But look at it like this. If there are enough opportunities for you to learn if you’re actually in a position to contribute to the growth of an organization and grow along with the organization, both individually and as a professional. If there’s enough value addition. That you’re able to do your job on a day-to-day basis. If you’re learning something new, if you have so many challenges every single day, and if the organization itself that you’re working for allows for entrepreneurship, it actually empowers you. It gives you so much freedom to do what you really like to do. I think there’s no reason for an individual to keep looking at multiple avenues. I think it might be fashionable to keep jumping from one organization to the other, but so long as your objectives are met, so long as you’re completely invested in what you do, and if the organization is investing back in you, I think it’s good to kind of I mean, I don’t see a harm and really continue. So when I joined Lifestyle, there were barely nine stores in the country. And today, when I look back at my journey with so much pride, Lifestyle has grown from about 9 stores to 90+ stores, plus we were obviously not present online 15-16 years back. Today we have a robust online presence, which I’m lucky to kind of be leading. So it’s been a fascinating journey and I’m really extremely proud that I’ve been able to contribute to a significant retail brand in the country today, a brand that’s widely respected and I think it really feels immensely satisfying to have been able to contribute in advance.

    Kaushal :- Wonderful! Thanks at least for sharing that. And to 9 to 90 stores, that’s something which is commendable. And Lifestyle is doing really well. I shopped for lots of apparels from Lifestyle, so thank you for creating such kinds of stores across India. That really helps. Srinivas, the other unique thing which you mentioned was about the e-commerce launch. Please help us understand that journey of the e-commerce launch. How did it happen and if there are any challenges which you were able to overcome during this particular stage. 

    Srinivas :- Yeah, so the e-commerce journey for Lifestyle was very interesting. So we were skeptical in the sense that we wanted to always start a digital journey. If it was a question of when. I think the initial years, possibly around mid-2015 is when we really had a serious approach to actually wanting to launch our e-commerce business. Till then, we were skeptical, we were actually looking at the various organizations that had actually launched the e-commerce businesses and we were actually reading very different things, both in terms of the customers being slow to adopt the digital channels at that particular point in time, not really very strong penetration of internet at that particular point in time, and we were not very clear. But it’s good that around the mid-2015 is when we really took a resolve to launch our e-commerce business. And I think by late 2016, early 2017, we are fully ready and we launched our e-commerce business. And it’s been a great journey so far. Obviously, every single day has been filled with a lot of learning and we continue to evolve. Great launch, steady. Like I said, as we progress, we evolve a proposition and hopefully it will grow from strength to strength.

    Kaushal :- Really nice. Thanks for sharing it. While you wear multiple caps and handle multiple roles and responsibilities, one thing which you would like to learn more is how do you define your role as the Head of E-Commerce at Lifestyle?

    Srinivas :- Okay, I think the definition of the role could be simple, but what goes behind it could be a little more complex. Essentially, you’re managing the digital business for Lifestyle, but it doesn’t really stop there because our digital business is extremely integrated with our offline business. Like you would know, Lifestyle is a very strong retail business with 90+ stores across 50+ cities. For Lifestyle to launch a digital business, it’s really not seen as a standalone digital channel, but really a true omni-channel offering to the customer in a sense that it’s largely aimed at people who are familiar with Lifestyle, who want to experience Lifestyle digitally. Therefore, while the definition looks pretty simple, it’s an extremely integrated role in the sense that you really are offering the customer an integrated experience, a true omni-channel experience, which essentially means that the role works with multiple stakeholders across the organization, right from technology to retail to marketing to supply chain and so on and so forth.

    Kaushal :- Srinivas, there has been a convergence of offline and online retail over the last many years. How do you see this change impacting the retail world?

    Srinivas :- Yeah, so the offering to the customer was multichannel in the sense that retailers started offering a digital experience to their customers. What started as a multi-channel experience evolved into an omni-channel experience, which is now evolving into a hybrid experience. It largely traces how customer journeys are evolving. Customers typically either shop online or shop offline, which then evolved to customers starting their journey online and completing the journey offline, or vice versa, right? So typically, a customer would essentially place an order. They would go and pick up what they’ve ordered for at a store, or they like something they shortlisted in the store and have it delivered home. These are omni-channel experiences that brands are offering, but today it’s actually evolving rapidly into a hybrid experience, in the sense that today the customer is on her mobile, she is looking at something, she’s clicking, and she’s wanting to pick it up then and there. And essentially, what is happening is the best of both worlds, right? If you look at the online world, what are the significant benefits of the online world? There are a couple, or maybe three. One is the unlimited range that the online offers because you’re really not starved for physical space. Two is the ease with which you are able to narrow down your selection. Three is the convenience with which you can close the transaction, so you really don’t have to wait in line. These are the three significant benefits of an online channel. What are the significant benefits of the offline channel? There are two which are extremely significant. One is you are able to touch and feel the product. Two, you’re able to try the product, right? So these are two significant benefits. Now all of these are coming together, right? So physical retailers are offering technology that enables faster selection of products. They’re actually enabling smoother navigation through technology. They’re offering you virtual trials. So essentially there’s a lot more happening in the customer’s mobile. She’s able to actually check out using an app while in the physical store, vice versa, right? While she is at home, she’s able to kind of shortlist something, quickly go to the store, pick it up without having to wait for her turn to bill in the store. So what is rapidly evolving is a hybrid shopping experience and most of the retailers are investing significantly to enable themselves to offer a hybrid experience to their customers. 

    Kaushal :- Nice. Srinivas, how do you see the marketing mix changing due to the advent of online ads?

    Srinivas :- The marketing mix, like you’re mentioning earlier, significant amount of spends has moved online, essentially because more and more consumers are consuming their quota of entertainment as well as news online. And advertising dollars essentially chase eyeballs. And wherever eyeballs are brought effectively, that is where advertising dollars essentially would flow. We do not see a drastic reduction in terms of digital consumption either of entertainment or of news post-COVID. While some spends may have come off post-COVID and returned to the traditional mediums, I’m not saying the traditional mediums are not relevant anymore, but there’s a significant amount of consumption of entertainment and news online and therefore most brands have a significant proportion of their marketing spend aligned to online mediums. And that will continue. It will continue to grow.

    Kaushal :- One other thing which happens, Srinivas, in the online world these days is the influencers. With the advent of TikTok, Instagram, et cetera, these influencers and micro influencers are there across every industry, be it retail, healthcare, finance, etc. How are these influencers impacting the brands?

    Srinivas :- In fact, they’re helping the brand significantly, right? Especially consumer facing brands. And I can talk about fashion. So influencers play a significant role. And if you look at, obviously, there are different types of influencers. There are mega influencers, right, up to micro influencers. Now, how does one really deploy an influencer strategy? Mega influencers, and if you look at the customer funnels, right, there is the top of the funnel, largely aimed at improving awareness for your brand or for your offering. So typically what we see is the large scale influencers work so much at the top of the funnel. The small, micro influencers really work at the bottom of the funnel where it really matters the most. So if you really need conversions, that’s where the micro influencers really come into play. So essentially the micro influencers who are not necessarily small, their ability to contribute to a brand’s growth can be really leveraged well, if you are serious about conversions for your brand, and how do you go about doing it, et cetera. I mean, each brand can have its own influencer strategy. But as a thumb rule, while the mega influencers do contribute significantly to increasing your brand’s awareness, it be small and micro influencers that really help in driving a transaction or conversion, really towards the bottom of the funnel.

    Kaushal :- That’s good. Really interesting. One other thing which is happening is earlier we used to look at 30 second ads at least, right? With this instagram and TikToks coming in, we are seeing that even the video consumption which the consumers are doing is reducing to 10 to 15 seconds. With this ever decreasing attention span of the consumer, how can one convey the brand story to him or her?

    Srinivas :- That’s an interesting question. I look at it a little differently. It’s essentially horses for courses. It’s just as simple as saying that I have a brilliant idea which is translated into print creative. Now, I have another medium called a billboard or an outdoor tour media asset, and I paste the print ad on it because I have not really thought about it as a different medium, right? So the same applies to any digital medium. Essentially, the brand message does not change, the brand strategy does not change. But how do you adapt the message to suit the medium? That is where the art lies, right? Any story can be conveyed on any medium, provided that we learn the nuances of the medium. And you tailor your message to suit the medium and essentially use the advantages that each medium offers. And therefore it’s really important to understand the medium. But what does not change is the way you think about the brand, your brand messaging, and what is at the core to your brand that doesn’t change. But your messaging can be easily tailored to suit any medium. 

    Kaushal :- Nice! That really helps. Thank you. These changes which are happening on the brand side, Brand Managers needing to get accustomed to the way the consumers are looking at the videos, et cetera, or consuming content overall, do you think that the role of Brand Manager is also changing in this new age of marketing?

    Srinivas :- I wouldn’t say the role of the Brand Manager is changing. As they say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The way I look at it is that the fundamentals of marketing don’t change. They’ve been the same for 100 years, or a little more than that. I think what is the core of marketing is to kind of really understand the customer, understand the customer’s journey, understand the customer’s pain points, the needs, their wants, their desires. So that doesn’t change a significant amount of a Brand Manager’s time needs to kind of be spent there. However, what changes is tailoring a story that you want to kind of tell your audiences about your brand, that changes with the medium. The way you kind of narrate a story changes with the medium. However, what you do with the brand and how you really look at your customers, understand the customers, understand their landscape of what they want, et cetera. That doesn’t change and I don’t think that will change ever, right? The way you go to market, the way you tailor your messaging, those obviously will change. 

    Kaushal :- Those minor things will change within the role, but the overall role almost remains the same instead of putting the money towards the traditional medium.

    Srinivas :- Absolutely! For example, when you have actually narrowed down on your central idea for your brand, the way you go about executing has definitely changed. Today, most new age brands actually start with briefing their digital agency alongside the mainline agency, as opposed to in the past, where there’s one central idea, then there was a big film created, a campaign created, then it is really cut to suit a digital medium. You have your one master film and then you make adaptations and you struggle to make adaptations because certain channels or certain platforms need vertical videos and certain platforms need, right? So that’s very post-facto thinking. Today, most new age brand marketing teams think digital first because that’s where a significant amount of consumers are there, significant amounts of money are being spent, and therefore the way execution of brand ideas are happening, that has changed. It’s similar to in the past, we used to have one national creative in Hindi, and English used to get dubbed into regional languages. So similarly you have today one master film which is poorly getting edited or snipped into multiple creative units to suit digital platforms which really don’t work as well as brand creative assets that are really thought of with digital first being part of their overall plan.

    Kaushal :- In terms of the future, while we spoke about the present with this particular thing, what do you think would happen in the coming years? What would be the future growth drivers for retail?

    Srinivas :- Future growth drivers for retail, in my view, will completely be led by how brands leverage data and how brands leverage technology, right? Okay. I think some of the words are pretty cliched, but personalization done right can really win in the new era. When I say personalization done right, it just is not about knowing your name and where you live, it’s about deeply having a very, very intimate relationship with the customers and really being able to support in their decision making with data, with various avenues that are available today, brands can leverage. I think if in the next few years, some of the changes, if you would kind of really ask me, will be led by brands that actually leverage technology very well, that leverage data very well and serve hyper personalization to customers, right? So that, I think, is the mantra for brands to succeed in the next few years.

    Kaushal :- And personalization, when we speak of this offline, it’s very much easy to implement. Online it becomes a little bit challenging while we see some of the platforms already doing it to an extent. How do you think this personalization is going to happen online more efficiently? Is there some secret sauce to that as well?

    Srinivas :- On the contrary, it’s a lot easier to personalize your experience when you come onto an online platform, because the entire app, the entire storefront can be personalized for you, right? Because I know a lot more about your browsing habits when you’re on my platform than I know really about what you do in the store. So in the store, in fact, you actually make a transaction. I really don’t know which are the isles you’ve visited, which are the garments you really tried, or which are the fragrances you tried and which watches you really like. I really don’t know much. However, when you are in the online store, I really know exactly what your level of interest is across every single category. What have you really shopped for in the past? What are you likely to shop now, right? In fact, most brands are not personalizing to the extent where if you’re really buying the wrong size of a shoe, they’re actually sending you a prompt saying, “hey, last time you bought a UK7, are you sure you want to buy UK8. Or they also tell you that, “listen, you’re buying a certain brand of UK6, but actually you might want to try a UK7, right? So personalization has actually been leveraged very well by most brands, but there is so much more work to do for every brand to make a customer shopping journey even more meaningful and more rewarding for the customer. So I feel that personalization is here to stay, and the more brands leverage data and technology, I think they will be able to deliver much smarter personalization in the near future. 

    Kaushal :- Happy to see that all those small, small details of a user transaction, or at least the journey which the user went on, the store is being tracked and like we said, data is being used. Thanks for sharing that as well. Srinivas, that brings us to the last question for this particular show. Let’s say, imagine you have been watched right now by millions of people today, live. What is the most important learning of your life that you would like to share with these new edge marketers of today?

    Srinivas :- Okay, it might sound a little cliched, but there are two. One is the customer at the heart of whatever you do and keep things simple. Like I said, it does sound cliched, but very often, and ever so often especially, we are really guilty of running so many things that we really forget what the customer really wants. And all of us have been guilty of this. Very often, especially for retailers, the sinful act of standing on the retail floor and actually having a conversation or two with a few customers actually gives us so much insight, which is really a goal of mine. And there’s no substitute to really having these conversations and it really helps in shaping your brand’s strategy, right? And while it sounds so simple and I know it sounds good, but ever so often we don’t do it true. And the other thing is trying to keep things simple. We actually complicate our lives and our customers’ lives by trying to do too many things. And really it doesn’t matter, I think trying to keep things simple and having the customer at the heart of whatever you plan to do, I think these two things are extremely important. Sometimes it might sound cliche, but in my view and my learning, I think is extremely, extremely important.

    Kaushal :- That’s very crucial. And the customer has to be treated like a king. And sometimes in the online world people forget about it. But yes, at least meeting them sometimes is going to definitely help the marketers. So thanks at least for sharing that particular message as well. Thank you, Srinivas. It was really a pleasure having you on this particular show. We learned quite a few great things: value, addition, keeping customers at the heart of the addition, keeping customers at the heart of the overall activities, keeping the things simple. So there are wonderful takeaways for us in this particular show. So thanks a lot for being on this particular show with us.

    Srinivas :- Thank you Kaushal, for having me on the show. I enjoyed this conversation and thank you so much.

    Kaushal :- Our pleasure! Thank you so much for joining us on this episode of The Growth Genius. I hope you learned more about growth and marketing from Srinivas Rao. And if you are a corporate leader, I hope you bring in a culture of entrepreneurship and freedom that helps your team members stay well connected for many years with your organization. Please share your key takeaways in the comment section on the YouTube chat window. Thank you. Now go out there and create growth for yourself and your organization. Thank you. See you next week.

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    Emergence of E-Commerce in Offline Retail Brands ft. Srinivas Rao

    Emergence of E-Commerce in Offline Retail Brands ft. Srinivas Rao