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February 22, 2019
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Marketing

Freshworks launches a load balancer for handling customer inquiries

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Customer engagement service Freshworks, which was valued at about $1.5 billion in its last funding round, today launched Omniroute, the latest product in its portfolio of tools for customer service agents.

Omniroute is essentially a load-balancer for routing multi-channel customer inquiries. Freshworks argues that earlier customer support solutions made it hard for agents to switch between inquiry types and for managers to efficiently route traffic.

“Modern consumers are able to reach out to brands across multiple channels and devices, and simply put, customer service teams are under siege,” Freshworks CEO and co-founder Girish Mathrubootham explained.

The promise of Omniroute is that it can automatically route a query to the right agent who has the bandwidth to handle it, based on what it knows about that agent’s skills and the nature of the inquiry. And if you regularly want to hang up your phone when an agent asks you for your order number right after you typed it into the system, then you’ll be happy to hear that the Omniroute will surface this information right on the agent’s screen.

Omnichannel is one of the biggest buzzwords in the marketing world, of course, but there can be little doubt that customers do expect to be able to reach a company across multiple channels, be that an online chat, phone call, text message or a Twitter DM (or, for those who still go outside, a sales agent in a store). Companies want to give customers a consistent experience across those channels, but they don’t always have the tools to do so.

It’s worth noting that Zendesk recently acquired Base, a CRM solution for salespeople that puts it into direct competition with Freshwork’s sales tools. Unsurprisingly, the Freshwork team is not overly impressed. “What Zendesk has done with Base CRM is too little too late,” Freshwork CMO David Thompson said. “You need your Sales CRM and Support CRM to integrate out of the box in order for customers to get the benefit. Bolt-on acquisitions don’t accomplish that seamless flow of data between marketing, sales and support.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Movable Ink adds augmented reality to email marketing arsenal

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Movable Ink has always helped marketers create highly customizable, visually interesting emails. Today, the company announced a new capability for marketers who want to introduce light-weight augmented reality (AR) to their campaigns.

Moveable Ink co-founder and CTO Michael Nutt says the company was looking for a way to provide customers with AR experiences with less fuss than most current methods. “Marketers were looking for something interesting in AR, but they wanted to do it themselves without expensive consultants. We had this powerful visual channel already. We combined that with web technologies and put together an offering for our clients,” he explained.

This isn’t highly sophisticated AR, but it does provide a starting point for marketers who want to get involved with it. The idea involves creating branded selfies. Say you are using a vacation company to take a cruise. The company could send you an email a couple of days prior to the trip. Clicking the email takes you to a site where you can take a picture of yourself, superimposed over a relevant background. Users can share these images on social media, thereby acting as brand ambassadors for these companies.

Photo: Movable Ink

 

Movable Ink’s mission involves making marketing emails more interesting so people open them. The AR component is really about increasing engagement, and Movable Ink says that in early Betas, it has been seeing a 40 percent increase in open rates and 50 percent of participants who do open the email, spending more than a minute engaging with the AR experience.

The flavor of AR the company is offering doesn’t require the end user have any special equipment and it doesn’t require the marketers to have coding skills. It’s all designed using tools that work inside any browser with graphical overlays and face filters to provide this customized selfie experience.

Once marketers create these experiences, they can measure and report on them like any marketing email, looking at opens, engagement time, the number of times the camera has been activated and how many pictures have been taken.

The company began working on this capability about a year ago and launched in Beta in October. The product is available for Movable Ink customers starting today.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Warung Pintar raises $27.5M to digitize Indonesia’s street vendors

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The digital revolution in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, continues to attract big money from investors. Hot on the heels of a $50 million round for Bukalapak, a billion-dollar company helping street stall traders to tap the internet, so Warung Pintar, another startup helping digitize the country’s vendors, has pulled in $27.5 million for growth.

Bukalapak is one of Indonesia’s largest e-commerce services and it began catering to local merchants, those who sell product via road-side kiosks, last year, but eighteen-month-old Warung Pintar is focused exclusively on those vendors.

Bukalapak helps them to gain scale through online orders — it claims to have a base of 50 million registered users in Indonesia — but Warung Pintar digitizes kiosk vendors to the very core. At the most basic level, that means aesthetics; so all Warung Pintar vendors get a bright and colorfully-designed kiosk. They also get access to technology that includes a digital POS, free Wi-Fi for customers, an LCD screen for displays, power bank chargers and more.

It’s a ‘smart kiosk’ concept, essentially.

The project was founded in 2007 by East Ventures, a prolific early-stage investor that has backed unicorns like Tokopedia, Traveloka and Mercari. This new money means that Warung Pintar has now raised just over $35 million from investors to date.

The round — which is a Series B — included participation from existing backers SMDV, Vertex, Pavilion Capital, Line Ventures, Digital Garage, Agaeti, Triputra, Jerry Ng, and EV Growth — the joint fund from East Ventures and Yahoo. They were joined by OVO — a payment firm jointly owned by Indonesian mega-conglomerate Lippo — which has signed on as a new investor and is sure to be highly strategic in nature. OVO works with the likes of Grab, and it is battling to gain a foothold in Indonesia’s fledgling digital payments space, which is tipped to boom among the country’s 260 million population.

A Warung Pintar kiosk in Jakarta, Indonesia

These investors are all betting that Warung Pintar can take off and provide greater functionality for street vendors and consumers alike.

The startup is in growth mode right now so it isn’t fully focused on monetization. The only fee is $5,000 from the vendor, which covers the cost of a new prefab kiosk, while all the tech appliances are provided without fee to help kiosk owners engage with the local community. For example, East Ventures noticed that drivers for Go-Jek or Grab tended to hang around the kiosk store near the VC firm’s office and they were curious how to grow engagement to benefit both parties.

“There are going to be a lot of ways to charge and make money,” East Ventures co-founder and managing partner Willson Cuaca told TechCrunch in an interview. “Once we have built enough, we can manage the supply chain and then figure out of how to make money.”

Indeed, monetization might not be via fees to the kiosk owners themselves, explained Cuaca — who is president of Warung Pintar. Since the company maintains touch points with consumers, it is a commodity that can appeal to brands, manufacturers and others when it reaches nationwide scale.

While there has been promising progress and product market fit in Jakarta, Cuaca and his team see significant growth potential still to be realized.

When we spoke to Warung Pintar just under a year ago, it had just raised a seed round and had been in operation for under six months. Today, the business counts 1,150 kiosks in Jakarta. However, it recently opened up in Banyuwangi, East Java, which, alongside other planned expansions, is aimed to increase its reach to 5,000 kiosks before the end of this year, Cuaca said.

There’s no plan for regional expansion at this point, he added.

The business and model is fascinating but it is conceived and executed in Indonesia, that’s to say it isn’t a problem that could be identified, mapped and solved from the U.S, China or other markets. It’s the type of tech and startup that is helping change daily lives in Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country by population. Home-grown solutions have been rare in Southeast Asia, but there are increasing opportunities that only local players can cater to and now the region’s VC corpus is substantial enough to provide the capital needed.

News Source = techcrunch.com

It’s the golden age of traditional retail, not its end days

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A lot of people that will say that traditional retail is dying. They’ll point to the rising prominence of e-commerce, which accounts for under 10% of total retail in the U.S. and a whopping 15% or more of total retail in China, as diminishing opportunities for traditional retail. But the reality is that, thanks to technology, the future of traditional retail has never been brighter.

Today, brick-and-mortar retailers not only have unprecedented insight as to what is happening in their stores – from customer behavior, to traffic flow, and more, they also have an arsenal of new tools to keep raising the bar for the customer experience. This transformation can be looked at from three angles: Smart consumption, smart supply chain and smart logistics.

Smart consumption is blurring the boundaries of online and offline for retailers and customers alike. With AR/VR technology in offline stores, customers can walk into a store, and virtually ‘try on’ an article of clothing, for example, without ever visiting a fitting room. Similarly, while sitting at home, they can virtually place a treadmill in their living room to determine the best fit. IoT has even made it possible for customers to make purchases from the comfort of their cars. At every step of the way, the goal is to improve customer retention and loyalty.

Equally as important, smart supply chain is helping retailers improve operational efficiency by leaps and bounds. Whereas traditional retail requires a fair amount of guesswork — what will customers like, how many of each individual item will they want to buy, and over which time period — smart supply chain driven by AI and big data means that retailers have a much better sense of what customers actually want, and when they want it. With dynamic information about sales, pricing and inventory, brands can improve their time to market, inventory control and product design, and retailers can make smarter decisions about their offerings, making the most of confined physical retail spaces.

But if retailers can’t get products into customers’ hands quickly and cost effectively, then all of the efficiency of smart consumption and supply chain is of no use. It is imperative that behind all of the glitzy offline technology and supply chain algorithms, are extremely efficient logistics.

From smart warehousing, which ensures products get moved out and on their way to the customer as fast as possible, to autonomous delivery vehicles, which make urban delivery more efficient through being able to avoid traffic and follow scheduled routes, to drones, smart logistics work their magic behind the scenes to get products to customers’ doors.

Businesses that embrace innovative technology and invest in it wisely will have a better chance of being a step ahead of the competition and their likelihood of success will be magnified.

Technology is no longer just a support for retail. It is the essential tool for retailers to thrive in the market.

News Source = techcrunch.com

New e-commerce restrictions in India just ruined Christmas for Amazon and Walmart

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The Indian government is playing the role of festive party pooper for Walmart and Amazon after it announced new regulations that look set to impede the U.S. duo’s efforts to grow their businesses in India.

Online commerce in the country is tipped to surpass $100 billion per year by 2022 up from $35 billion today as more Indians come online, according to a report co-authored by PwC. But 2019 could be a very different year after an update to the country’s policy for foreign direct investment (FDI) appeared to end the practice of discounts, exclusive sales and more.

The three main takeaways from the new policy, which will go live on February 1, are a ban on exclusive sales, the outlawing of retailers selling products on platforms they count as investors, and restrictions on discounts and cashback.

Those first two clauses are pretty clear and will have a significant impact on Amazon — which has pumped some $5 billion into India — and Walmart, which forked out $16 billion to buy India-based Flipkart.

Both online retailers have been able to make a splash by tying up with brands for exclusive online sales, particularly in the smartphone space where, for example, Amazon has worked with Xiaomi and Flipkart has collaborated with Oppo. The new guideline would appear to end that practice, while adding further restrictions to complicate relationships with vendors. From February, brands will be forbidden from selling more than 25 percent of their sales via any single e-commerce marketplace.

Walmart bought Flipkart for $16 billion, but already both founders of the Indian company have left [Photo by AFP/Getty Images]

Beyond restricting companies like Oppo — Xiaomi prioritizes its own Mi.com site for sales — that 25 percent ruling is a headache for Amazon, which operates a number of joint ventures with Indian retailers. Those JVs were designed to circumvent a 2016 ruling that prevented foreign e-commerce businesses from owning inventory, but now they seem outlawed.

Cloudtail India (a 49:51 JV between Amazon and Catamaran Ventures) is Amazon’s biggest seller while another major one is Appario Retail, a collaboration with Patni Group. Together, both sell more than 25 percent of product on Amazon, use exclusive deals and are part-owned by Amazon. That’s three strikes.

Those rules will have Amazon and Walmart-Flipkart working to find alternatives, but there’s more with restrictions on discounts and cashback offers, which could massively cramp the appeal of online commerce, which has been to undercut brick and mortar retailers with heavy subsidies.

Here’s the relevant part of the note:

E-commerce entities providing marketplace will not directly or indirectly influence the sale price of goods or services and shall maintain level playing field…

Cash back provided by group companies of marketplace entity to buyers shall be fair and non-discriminatory.

Exactly what constitutes a “level playing field” or “fair” may be open to interpretation, but clearly this update gives offline retailers a route to protest pricing on online retail sites.

The first thought is that these new updates are focused on the core business model tenants that make e-commerce what it is today.

“It will kill competition and there will be nothing for online retailers to differentiate on,” Amarjeet Singh, a partner at KPMG, href=”https://qz.com/india/1508340/indias-new-e-commerce-fdi-rules-may-hurt-amazon-flipkart/”> told Quartz in a comment.

The new regulation is widely seen as a response to concerns from smaller sellers, who feel marginalized and powerless compared to larger organizations. Now, with capital-intensive policies such as discounts, exclusive sales relationships and strategic investment off the table, smaller players will gain a foothold and be able to do more from e-commerce, that’s according to Kunal Bahl, CEO of Snapdeal — a niche e-commerce firm that once competed head-to-head with Flipkart and Amazon.

It’s shaping up to be a very different year for e-commerce in India in 2019.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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