Creating 360 degree brand experiences

INSYNC is one of the country’s fastest growing retail shop fitting solutions company that offers end-to-end, cutting-edge, in-store display technology that seamlessly integrates physical with the digital

“With so many sales channels emerging, the responsibility of a rack is not just to stack, but also to engage and create aspirations in the mind of the consumer browsing the racks,” Huzefa Merchant, Founder, INSYNC Shop Fittings, Partner Strategic alliances – Safe Enterprises. He has recently been awarded Top 100 Retail Minds in India by the Asia Retail Congress.

Radhika Sachdev
Imagine this scenario.
You walk into a women-wear fashion store, and get drawn to a straight arm, hanger with a LED fitting. As you inch closer, you catch the waft of a soothing, tropical aroma. You draw closer and causally pick a garment off the rack, examine it under the spot light and put it back, but in those few, crucial seconds, a hidden scanner records the “digital breadcrumbs” that you have left behind, and this “intelligence” gets fed into a system from where the store owner can retrieve vital information on what merchandise attracted you, where should it be displayed in the store and how!

The technology that powers this system, and analysis the digital footprints that retail customers leave behind at a store is also used to later match merchandise to the store location and customer demographics of the catchment area, so that brands can then make intelligent choices of what class of products can be displayed at what store to result in maximum sales.

Sounds like a scene from a sci-fi movie?
Not quite. This will soon be a reality at ‘smart stores’ the hottest new trend in Indian retail space, brought alive by companies, such as INSYNC, that are helping top fashion brands draw more footfalls to the stores. Navi-Mumbai headquartered Insync of Safe Enterprises, for instance has provided fit-outs to over 40000 stores spanning an estimated 18 million sq.ft of retail space, across the country. Very soon, everything from shopping bots to interactive mirrors to shelves embedded with sensors, is going to come to India.

How it Started
Interesting, it all started from a small, 100-square feet space, at Mohammad Ali Road, Mumbai. In 1991, a hardware trader by the name of Salim Merchant was once approached by an Australian woman, who was hunting for a small metal grid that she wanted to use for a modular rack that she was planning to put in her swanky new garment store in Bandra.
Salim looked for the grid everywhere but when he couldn’t find it, he rounded up two-three metal welders and had a prototype cast from mild steel.

The rest, as they say is history.
A year later, in 1992, Salim felt encouraged to lease out a 100-square feet space, where he started casting all kind of store grids and accessories. In 1994, he moved his craftsmen to 3000 sq. ft. area that expanded to 5000 sq. feet and by 2000, the company, Safe Enterprises had two factories spanning an area of 45,000 sq. ft. in Mumbai and Pune, employing 250 moulder-craftsmen, besides 150 sub-contractors/cast vendors.

Although the present scion Huzefa Merchant, won’t reveal the exact numbers, he says the company is growing at 30% year on year (yoy) and has five “experience centres” in India (Mumbai, Cochin, Coimbatore, Hyderabad and Indore) besides one in Dubai and Doha each. The company provides end-to-end store fitment solutions, some of which would be on display at the upcoming In-Store Asia, the largest trade fair in the Indian subcontinent for retail resources and investments in store design, VM and in-store marketing, happening at Bombay Exhibition Centre from February 22 to 24.
“Gone are the days when a store was a physical space, where you could look for a product easily. It was meant only as a space for stocking merchandise,” says Huzefa Merchant, Founder, INSYNC Shop Fittings, Partner Strategic alliances – Safe Enterprises. “Today, with so many sales channels emerging, the responsibility of a rack is not just to stack, but also to engage and create aspirations in the mind of the consumer browsing the racks.”

This is a new avenue, an evolution of a store to create excitement around a product, beyond the physical limits of a brick and mortar store. “We are doing this by 360 degree engagement of all senses – sight, sound (music), touch and smell,” explains Huzefa.

Insync has pioneered ‘smart store’ technology that’s pure plug and play and includes everything from back-lit sign ages to digital displays, self-check counters, touch screens, aroma dispensers, and more.
“For an average 1000-sq feet retail area, an investment of Rs 7-8 lakhs in fixtures, and another Rs 1 lakh in digitalization is suffice to turn it into a smart store,” says Huzefa.

Even this investment can be a staggered, and done in a phased manner, under Insync’s ‘Phase Your Stage” model, wherein they first put the back-end infrastructure in place, next the hardware fittings, and finally the digital plug-in.
Presently working with Future Group, Tata Trent (Westside), Metro Shoes, Madura in Pune, and Arvind, Huzefa has had experience of working with a host of big and small formats.

When asked if size can drive sales, he says, “Big formats have their own appeal. You have a higher bandwidth for creating an experience, but if your display areas are properly digitalised, you can also work with smaller, tighter formats and rationalise cost, as rents are very high in some Indian cities,”

“Eventually, it’s not about how much space you have, but what are you doing with that space,” he adds.
Bullish about the growth of the in-store display industry, he says in 2012 the store fitment, or what mainly comprised of supermarket shelving was a thriving Rs 1000 crore industry. Today, it’s grown multiple times.

“Today, we are steadily substituting all our customised solutions for standardised fits, and are happy to note that architects and interior designers are specifying our sizes in their drawings,” quips Huzefa.

This kind of product awareness that is creating a new category is largely the outcome of the six “experience centres” that Insync has set-up in India and abroad to entice Indian retailers switch to better in-store display alternatives in order to create an immersive experience for their fashion brand.
Yet, it’s just a formative stage, and companies like Insync have only begun to scratch the retail surface.

Smart Stores Across the World

  • Amazon opened a new grocery store in Seattle in 2017, will let shoppers buy goods without needing to stop at a checkout line. Sensors track items as shoppers put them into baskets or return them to the shelf. The shopper’s Amazon account gets automatically charged.
  • At a Kroger store in Cold Spring, Ohio, shelves display digitized price tags and information about the products.
  • Perch Interactive, a start-up that is working with chains like Sunglass Hut and fragrance maker Jo Malone, uses laser and motion sensors to detect when a product is picked up.
  • Japanese joint venture Softbank Robotics is testing a 4-foot humanoid robot called Pepper at two Westfield Malls in California. The robot uses facial recognition technology to greet frequent visitors to the store.
  • Neiman Marcus has installed fitting rooms at 20 stores to offer shoppers a 360-degree view of what an outfit may look like.
  • Rent the Runway, an online retailer has a mirror in the store that recommends accessories that go with what the customer is wearing.
  • Home Depot’s augmented reality app lets customers upload a picture of the room on their phone and thumb through thousands of paint and stain colours until they arrive at one that’s just right.
  • Two years ago, Wal-Mart offered a Scan & Go app for shoppers to scan items as they grabbed them from the shelves. At the checkout counter, the customer merely had to scan a code to complete the transaction.
  • Panasonic Corp. unveiled an unstaffed bagging system at a Lawson convenience store in Japan. Shoppers place a “smart” basket with their items on a machine at checkout. The system calculates the bill and automatically bags the items.

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