Retailers Association of India (RAI) is the unified voice of Indian retailers. With some major developments in the retail industry, we sit down with Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO of the Retailers Association of India and discuss his take on the growing industry and the role RAI is actively playing.
Q: Give us a brief idea on the history of RAI?
A: RAI was started in the year 2004, mainly because we felt there was no real national level association available for the retailers in the country. This was at a time when I think the retail industry was going through various challenges, from an advocacy perspective. We wanted to come together as modern retailers and talk about a couple of things that will make the industry healthier and take care of the advocacy side of it. There are numerous laws getting created in the country, but barely any that could really support retail. We now have more than a thousand members with us and we could accommodate a lot more. RAI consists of three parts that add value to its members. Firstly we work over advocacy issues, sometimes with the government, we also engage with various international associations in order to know what’s happening in the retail industry and see if it can be relevant to India. The second part that RAI looks over are the learning initiatives, which hope to develop people in the industry and take them to the next level. Lastly we engage in events and various industry creation activities. Connect, Converse and Collaborate is what we follow. These are the three things that really helps retailers with their business.
Q: When did you get involved with RAI?
A: I got involved with RAI practically from day one. When RAI was just getting setup, I was a part of the Shoppers Stop Group and was heading the Crossword bookstore chain. Crossword and Shoppers Stop, both, were members of RAI at that time. I would come in and get involved especially around the learning initiatives of RAI. In the year 2009, I was completely inducted in RAI as the CEO of the Retailers Association of India.
Q: What are the events RAI organizes throughout the year?
A: We do various types of events targeted towards industry creation. Every event is supposed to help the industry in creating a new bench-mark and raising the retailing standards in the country. So there are three large events that we hold at a national level. One of them is the Retail Leadership Summit, which is a marquee event we do for retail leaders. It happens in the month of February and we also try and bring in some of the best retail leaders from across the globe to be a part of it. The second thing that we do is around technology in retail. This is mainly because, retail as an industry grows multi-fold when technology is imbibed in the business. The third event we do is around people and retail. So unless people in retail are really brought to a different level of engagement, retailing cannot be what it is or cannot get better.
Q: How many members does RAI have and what’s the criteria to become a member?
A: About 10 years ago, we started with a mere 50 members, but now we stand at a thousand. I think our first milestone is to try and make as many members as possible and bring them value. We have a criteria of having members that give cash receipts to every customer and we want to keep that going, but we do not want to exclude those that don’t offer cash receipts. I think it’s the matter of keeping to the principles of retail and ensuring that there is a particular standard that members can maintain.
Q: Share some proud events in the history of RAI?
A: Multiple things have happened after the RAI got set up and I would like to think that the RAI’s success depends on the sense of ownership that members feel towards the association. The plastic bags /cover initiative is definitely something we are proud of. For many members it resulted in savings. For some it was Rs.1 crore plus and a few lakhs for others, but it is still a huge saving. We have also helped impact the government to get a few things up and running. It could be things around the FSSAI Act, around the Labor Act in the country or even around the structuring of retail policy. We have had a lot of success on the Learning Initiatives front. When the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) got set up, they invited us to set up the Sector Skill Council for Retail in the country. We promoted a company called a Retail Association Skill Council of India, ‘RASCI’ to enhance Sector Skill Council for Retail. Last year in fact there were two lakh seventy eight thousand people who got certified under the National Skill Development Corporation scheme. We also tied up with Indira Gandhi University to create graduates. We tied up with the management institutes to create Post Graduate Program in Retail Management (PGPRM). We have had more than 5000 people who graduated from the tie-ups we have done. So there is whole lot of smaller wins that we keep having almost every week.
Q: Does RAI focus on promoting retail on a particular channel (E.g. Store Retail, eRetail, Catalogue TV, etc.)?
A: It’s an exploration phase. Globally we have always known that retailers have to approach the customers in the channels that the customers like to engage. Be it ecommerce, be it TV retailing or even mobile commerce, all these are various forms and various channels of doing retail business. Our commitment to retail is in any form and any kind of channel. I don’t think we owe alliance to only one channel in any form whatsoever.
Q: What’s your view on the interplay of regional retail player’s v/s national retail players? Will they be able to co-exist in future?
A: Many times when retailers expand they seem to think that they can gulp India at one go. India is a complex market – different languages, different ways of living etc. We always say that in India consumers change every 100 km, the language they speak changes, the religion they follow changes, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, everything changes. So there is a lot of space for regional specialists in retail. So I think there is a big regional play available, many retailers come to us about this factor, and we think if they can make a profitable business in their region, they should, rather than trying to gulp the entire country.
Q: What are the changes you are seeing evolving in the way consumers interact with retailers and vice versa?
A: Retail is about knowing the consumers. We just had a discussion about how the film industry is trying to make everything into small and bit sized capsules so that people can take that in, because the ability to get the attention of consumers is constantly changing with the evolution of technology. It’s time for the retailers to get their share of attention according to the availability of the consumers and not the other way around. The other part that I see is that knowledge is becoming huge in the minds of the individual consumers. Many times, customers know more about the product than the retailer, so unless the retailer enables the people selling their products at the front end to have access to this information, there are chances they might lose these consumers. The third thing that I think will be a big change is the way in which customers would like to work with the retailers. I don’t think the customer wakes up in the morning and says I won’t shop online, I want to go to the store, etc. Most times it starts with looking at the screen and it ends with the need to touch and feel the product or inquiring about it if they know the product well. So retailer processes have to innovate for that. The last part, which I think is important, is a concept called ‘Never say Never’. I don’t think in today’s day and age any retailer can afford to tell their customers “I do not have this product”. Any retailer who is able to provide the customer with whatever he or she wants, at the time they want it, would be a winner in the market place.
Q: What can we expect to see from RAI in the next 12 to 24months?
A: One of the largest initiatives for the RAI would still be on the advocacy front. I think we have seen state governments now wanting to take decisions around retail. Retail doesn’t come under a specific ministry. So advocacy is important. There is a need to make the retail industry healthier from within. This can be done by giving them the ability to get better spaces, the ability for them to get better understanding to carry out multi-channel, the ability to get better people, to get better merchandise, etc. This is going to be the main front for RAI. I can say that in another three years’ time many of the retailers in India would also want to start thinking about going outside of this country, and be present elsewhere. I think at that juncture RAI will have to take a more active role in internationalizing of Indian retail. I think it’s a matter of time.