India is a nascent retail market and use of technology in branding in retail is almost unheard of. When the Industrial Design Division of Tata Elxsi decided to try its hand at retail design (not so much in space design as in branding for products ina crowded retail store), there was no doubt that technology would dictate this creative foray too, as with everything else that the company has been doing. “In a multi-brand store, the product has to get visibility. Engaging the consumer has also become a big issue. The only way to do this is through use of technology,” says Anil Narayan Sondur, General Manager, Industrial Design Engineering (IDE), Tata Elxsi.
This essentially means engaging the consumer with one’s brand using technology. Radio frequency identification (RFID) and personal identification through biometrics, which are playing a major role in retail processes in other countries, will soon be used in Indian supermarkets too, says Sondur. RFID can help capture customer data and track material movement. Earlier, cards without RFID would work and help only when customers would come to the cashier and present their cards. With RFID, the cards can be sensed from a certain proximity and hence, interactive displays can be set up within the store that will recognise the customer and help in the buying experience. Globally, retail is tracking its customers and their buying habits through image processing that recognises people and their usage of the outlet.
Tata Elxsi has worked with the complete engineering design of one of the Marlboro point-of-sale units – storage and display across all variants. This was to design advertising and branding for its products in the automatic dispensing system seen in supermarkets.
Most retail stores abroad are unmanned and would require a centrally controlled branding system. Tata Elxsi designed various levels of advertisements for the dispensing system that Marlboro could electronically control from its offices. In India, though this kind of work is still not in demand, Tata Elxsi is now helping set up interactive kiosks for clients with Musicon, a company providing music content, where consumers can download music from a kiosk to either a mobile phone or a similar wireless device. This kiosk can then be used for branding by any consumer products or services company.
Though IDE plans for retail are yet to take off in India (Tata Elxsi is in talks with several leading retail players, says Sondur), the company’s work brand and product development services span a range of industries: FMCG (GSK, Unilever, Sara Lee, Emami), transportation (Tata Motors, Jaguar, Ford and even the Light Combat Helicopter for HAL), consumer electronics and appliances (Whirlpool, Kenstar, Unilever) and medical devices.
In fact, in several cases, Tata Elxsi’s designers have changed lab equipment into products that consumers can use. Narendra Ghate, Senior Manager at IDE, recalls the time Unilever in India showed them a large piece of lab equipment that had to be converted into a mass-use water purifier. The end product had to be affordable and user-friendly, allowing effortless cleaning and replacement of consumables.
The result was Pureit, which transformed the way Unilever viewed the “water business, and now having sold 20 lakh pieces, has made water a major business category,” says a smiling Ghate.
Similarly, IDE had a mandate to design a handheld computer to be used by the masses. The device had to be simple with touch-screens and durable batteries. The end-result was the Simputer, a rugged and robust product that enables the end-user to perform many functions with ease.
In the case of Junior Horlicks, GSK came to IDE with a proposition to ‘stir kids’ curiosity and encourage them to drink the beverage.’ After extensive research, it was decided that animal characters would excite kids tremendously and IDE designers chose elephant and lion characters. “But we used technology here to make the characters more attractive for children,” says Sondur. Through the use of ISBM (injection stretch blow moulding) technology, IDE’s designers created sculpted bodies of the animals for the packaging of the product, which, apart from being a success in the market, also won the World Star award for packaging innovation.
Across the world, FMCG and consumer product companies are trying to enhance consumer engagement in the retail point of sale and coupled with technology, this could be more effective. “The rapid development in image processing, display, and wireless technologies can be brought together to provide a completely customised experience to the consumer of a brand of products,” says Sondur.
The scenario of trying to enhance consumer engagement with a brand will also be playing out in the Indian retail space in the next couple of years, and Tata Elxsi would develop its technology-based design offering to help its customers achieve this. “We have done quite a bit of work in product design and now want to extend that capability into retail,” says Sondur.