AI To Impact

PODCAST: COVID 19 | Redefining Digital Enterprises

Episode 9: The Impact of COVID-19 on Consumer Technology & Durables

Listening time: 12 minutes

The Impact of COVID-19 on Consumer Technology & Durables

In episode 9 of the AI to Impact Podcast, Suvodip Chatterjee – Director of Consumer Tech & Durables, BRIDGEi2i talks at large about how COVID-19 has brought unprecedented changes to the consumer durables industry. He explains the global supply chain disruption and the altered buying behavior of people, which set the groundwork for an increase in digital engagements between consumers and brands. While expounding that this crisis is an opportunity waiting to be leveraged, Suvodip talks about how AI and contextual analytics solutions can help the supply side with simulation-based demand and inventory planning methods to ride through the downturn. Tune in to the podcast to know the extent of changes in the consumer tech and durables industry. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Melita Menezes: Hi, everyone. You’re listening to AI to Impact by BRIDGEi2i, a podcast on AI for the Digital Enterprise. My name is Melita Menezes and I’m a consultant at BRIDGEi2i. I collaborate with multiple stakeholders across many global CPG companies, enabling high impact business transformation strategies and guiding them in their analytics journey. In our AI to Impact podcast, we have been chatting with reputed AI and analytics leaders, digital transformation advisors, and BRIDGEi2i business heads to get their point of view on the current crisis and its impact on various industries and businesses. And today, we have with us, Suvodip Chatterjee. He’s the Director of Consumer Tech and Durables division at BRIDGEi2i. And he also heads the customer intelligence over here. He leads solutions, delivery, and product marketing across customer intelligence, digital analytics, marketing effectiveness, and customer experience analytics. Suvodip brings in over fifteen years of analytics consulting experience, helping organizations drive profitable growth through the power of analytics. He brings deep experience supporting high tech e-commerce and retail clients in the areas of marketing, pre-sales analytics, and web analytics. Prior to that, he led digital and customer analytics engagements at Dell, HP, and GE. Thank you, Suvodip, for making the time.

Suvodip Chatterjee: Always a pleasure.

Melita: So Suvodip, right now, are unprecedented times, as we all know, COVID-19 has impacted various industries, businesses, and consumers at large. How do you see this making a disruption in the customer tech industry?

Suvodip: Right. So first of all, let me recognize the fact that we are living in a never-seen-before world. Almost all consumer tech companies are working remotely. We are witnessing a supply chain disruption across almost all consumer products. There’s an increased demand for household care products, and gaming, health care, to name a few. Computers and monitors have seen an increase in average daily sales of about 40 percent. Ventilators, the demand for ventilators, has soared up multifold. Consumers are being discreet in their spending patterns. They’re not willing to spend on luxury items like mobiles, entertainment units, etc.

Melita: Right. Suvodip. I agree that this world that we are living in has no historical reference, and hence it can pose a newer set of challenges for enterprises. What do you think are the top challenges for the consumer tech industry?

Suvodip: So, as a result of this COVID-19 situation, we see a few major themes that are emerging in the consumer tech and durables business, which are kind of changing the way the business was done in the past. To start with it, I think the channels which need physical presence are not being preferred by customers. Right. Stores are closed, salespersons are not available. There is a significant shift in the buying channel towards digital e-commerce. In-store and outdoor vending have shifted towards e-commerce, and orders kind of increased drastically. And the customers are avoiding the risk of exposure.

Recent data indicates that daily e-commerce sales are up by 25 percent in the US and by 33 percent in the UK. So, I think that’s one of the major areas where things are changing a lot. Secondly, brands are also not able to engage with their customers in a meaningful way for various reasons, unavailability of assisted support channels, there’s no face-to-face interactions, the products are unavailable. Hence, there is a rise of digitally engaging with customers. So, the need for digitally engaging is one of the most critical; I would say, focus for all the consumer durables companies.

Thirdly, the entire supply chain process is directly disrupted. Right. The companies are trying to cope up with demand volatility. They need to figure out how supplier networks can be expanded and best utilized. With increasing demand, they need to find ways to ensure reliable replenishment. We have seen a 38 percent decrease in mobile units shipped in February 2020, which is a year-over-year drop due to supplies chain disruption alone. The pre-COVID-19 forecasts are no longer kind of valid as the pandemic has entirely disrupted the market. So a lot of disruption is happening in the supply chain area. Cheaper cost of raw materials, laborers, and lower duties has allowed most of the city manufacturers to either shift their factories to China or are depending on contracting manufacturers there.

Now, as the curve is flattening out and the nationalistic feelings are moving consumers, it is to be seen whether governments will consider to impose restrictions on China-made products and encourage domestic manufacturers are even ready to give up some of the cost advantage for logistics and logistic advantage and domestic interest.

I would say lastly, with the spread of this pandemic, companies are witnessing unavailability of the workforce and even those who have switched to remote working models, they are also facing the challenge. The challenge for businesses is how to engage digitally with the employees. They need to figure out ways on how to balance their workforce with the right skills and also optimize cost. Additionally, there are challenges of digitally recruiting the right people and onboarding them remotely in the light of this disruption.

Melita: Very valid observations there, Suvodip. Some of the key themes that we can see perhaps have an uptick as e-commerce, or there’ll be a major shift towards digital channels to engage with customers. And perhaps most important would be the dependency of the company on their manufacturing and sourcing networks in specific regions that have perhaps caused a major supply chain fallout. How do you think the industry mitigates these challenges going forward?

Suvodip: Very good question, Melita. I think that the CTD sector could mitigate most of these challenges by embracing digital transformation and allowing AI and analytics led contextual solutions to power their business in each of these focus areas. To name a few, in the digital e-commerce area, there can be significant improvement for an omnichannel shopping experience, improved clickthrough rates, and conversions to drive revenue. Better retargeting and personalization, and also allowing next-best-product recommendation in cases of product unavailability. This goes a long way in boosting customer experience and sales. Brands can also engage with customers digitally by embracing digital transformation. Companies can actually analyze their channel suits, their requirements based, and also drive NPS. They can have a better understanding of user search intent companies along with optimization of the website, driving traffic and leads to their website. They can also see the benefits of investing in chatbots and enhance the effectiveness of online support content. There may be areas where few products are unavailable, but identifying the next best similar product and creating a personalized awareness about the same to the customer would be the key. Right? Also, from the digital employee engagement perspective, moving to digital tools and systems for employee engagement can also help companies empathize with their health and safety concerns.

Companies can actually achieve dynamic resource utilization basis project comments, which will be a win-win situation for clients and employees. They can actually create exhaustive learning catalogs, coupled with let’s say video training to upskill, reskill, and help their employees to help in the learning curve. In addition, a survey measurement tool for employees can be added to measure the employee morale and take appropriate action. On the supply chain side, a complete re-orchestration would be needed from demand predictability perspective, inventory management perspective, as well as logistics perspective.

Melita: So, I see that these enterprises would be embracing digital transformation and perhaps allowing AI and analytics led contextual solutions to power their businesses in each of these focus areas. Perhaps, then Suvodip, what role would AI and analytics play in enabling their journey?

Suvodip: Right. I think there is a significant focus to improve omnichannel personalization across devices, channels, and that’s where AI and ML will be significantly leveraged to provide a seamless experience right. Both aggregators and OEMs will scale up the rescue availability in their D2C and online channel. In case of product unavailability, brands are leveraging AI to identify, as I said, the next-best-product, which is most similar to the product that is unavailable and recommend the same to the customer through their digital marketing touchpoints. I would say AI-based multi-channel communication and self-serve features, live chats, voice boards, and others are some of the new features being introduced by the companies to improve digital customer engagements. On the supply chain side, companies are actually using simulation-based demand and inventory planning methods to manage supply chain risk, and take dynamic demand patterns into consideration.

Melita: Some great ideas Suvodip. As there is an expression right, you don’t waste a crisis! So perhaps during this crisis, we can also turn it into an opportunity for companies to ramp up their digital transformation journeys. And they can enable that by deploying smarter solutions to solve complex business problems. And like you rightly mentioned that they could have a better recommendation system perhaps improved forecasting tools and broadly, AI and analytics like contextual solutions to power their businesses. Thank you, Suvodip. It was a pleasure talking to you.

Suvodip: Thanks, Melita. It was indeed a great conversation with you.

Melita: And thank you so much for listening to this episode of AI to impact podcast. That was a very interesting conversation that we had with Suvodip, Director of Consumer Tech and Durables, at BRIDGEi2i. If you found this interesting, do subscribe as we will continue the conversations with business experts and thought leaders in the upcoming episodes. They will be discussing the business impacts of COVID-19 on various industries and how their journey would look in the future. Once again, thank you so much for tuning in. Bye-bye, stay home. Stay safe!

2020 will long be remembered for the pandemic that wreaked havoc on the global economy and disrupted communities and businesses in unprecedented ways. In our latest podcast series: COVID19 | Redefining Digital Enterprises, we will be interacting with several thought leaders, BRIDGEi2i Business Heads, Domain Experts, and reputed AI and analytics leaders to understand the various challenges emerging out of this crisis and the way forward for enterprises in the new world order. Tune in to know more!

Meet the Speaker

Suvodip Chatterjee Expert Speak

Suvodip Chatterjee, Director – Consumer Tech & Durables

Suvodip heads the Consumer Tech and Durables vertical at BRIDGEi2i. He focuses on supporting Enterprises in their transformation journey using innovations that combine advanced AI applications with technology solutions. Suvodip brings in over 15 years of analytics consulting experience, helping organizations drive profitable growth through the power of analytics. He’s an expert in supporting hi-tech, e-commerce, & consumer durables clients in CRM, marketing, omnichannel customer experience, pre-sale analytics, and web analytics. Suvodip holds a Master’s Degree (M. Stat) in Statistics from the Indian Statistical Institute. In his spare time, Suvodip pursues his other passions – traveling and music!