Vikram Bhandari, Founder and CEO of Yantra
With over 25 years of experience in professional consulting and entrepreneurship, Vikram leverages a diverse set of capabilities to lead the strategy and development of companies across Retail, Software, Hitech, and Manufacturing industries globally. As an entrepreneur steeped in innovation and transformation, he combines his bold vision, operational rigor and innate market understanding to support high-growth businesses.
Vikram is a Board Member and Advisor to some of the most dynamic and admired companies across the globe. His ambitious goals and views are the key drivers to Yantra’s growth. His teams are responsible for creating, designing, and implementing meaningfully differentiated products that diverge in the way they’re conceived, built and implemented. Yantra is the one of largest Oracle NetSuite and SFDC consulting firms globally.
Vikram is married with children and resides in Silicon Valley, San Francisco.
How will you describe your journey with 25+ years of experience in professional consulting and entrepreneurship, advising executives in various streams, and being primarily responsible for successfully building a full services Business Consulting, Engineering, and Systems Sonsulting firm from the ground up?
Starting as a technology enthusiast back in the 1990s, I worked for enterprises in different verticals. With those experiences, I found the “hiccup” in entrepreneurship, or what I call the “infectious entrepreneurial bug,” compelling me to provide strategic consulting to improve management and operations for several businesses.
The year 2003 marked the first milestone in my entrepreneurial journey when I joined Trianz Inc., a technology company helping businesses to achieve digital transformation. In just four years of its existence, the company expanded to 400 members. The achievement fostered my belief that people are the most significant asset for any technology consulting company. I began building my team, not just high on numbers but also on expertise and business acumen, and founded Yantra six years later in 2009.
Yantra was formed to offer business value that goes beyond solutions, services and technical advice. I built the company’s foundation based on the philosophy of an entrepreneur at heart: The true gains of business transformation cannot be unlocked by those who merely sell technology, but by those who understand the nuances of business and offer solutions that enable visible, measurable and progressive value.
Besides Yantra, I have also founded and nurtured several other ventures and successfully built global consulting companies from the ground-up in Silicon Valley, India and Japan to keep my passion and entrepreneurship journey going.
What do you think of Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast, which shows that 2022 holiday retail sales are predicted to grow by 4% to 6%?
While consumer demand for retail shopping during the holiday season is increasing in the US, there is seemingly a cut down on holiday spending for Canadian consumers, according to another recent report by Deloitte. However, Canadians plan to spend an average of $1,520 this year, which brings promising opportunities for retailers. They will shop early and hunt for deals to stretch their holiday budget.
As the peak period is coming, the competition becomes fiercer for retail businesses of all sizes. A mix of difficult market forces, including economic and social issues, impacts consumer trust and brand loyalty. Moreover, many of our global retail clients report that their return window is now extended to January 31st this season, which means the holiday season might be longer and more stressful for retailers.
Therefore, they should be equipped with the right business strategies to optimize their operations before, during, and even after the holiday sales in order to attract, retain and improve consumer trust and brand loyalty. These strategies need to become practices to adopt in the long term, not just limited to the holiday season, to increase business resilience in any economic turbulence.
What methods can retailers employ to make the most of technology in their operational management in order to deal with market and consumer changes both during and after peak season?
A thoughtful technology strategy can help retailers succeed this holiday season by evaluating the business situation, addressing the pain points and finding solutions, especially when it comes to online sales. Technology today enables retail businesses to track their operations in real-time to ensure smooth e-commerce sales campaigns.
This requires a sophisticated stack of technology that goes along with the customer journey. Products should be presented to customers from the moment they search for them on Google by optimizing SEO strategy and leveraging data to deliver personalized results. Investment in developing a robust recommendation system gives business owners more control and confidence, even when facing out-of-stock products, to keep potential customers on their site.
The booming era of e-commerce brings opportunities to reach more customers across the globe, yet poses more burdens to retailers when it comes to the costs of returns. Processing free returns for customers can be time-consuming and expensive. Therefore, many industry players are investing in technology to make online returns as seamless as possible. This, along with the website and app’s customer service team, helps minimize returns at the start of the customer journey by offering buyers the ability to pick the best product and size.
How, in your opinion, can enhanced operations assist promote brand loyalty and provide the greatest possible customer experience?
High product quality and good customer service are not the two most important criteria for consumer satisfaction. Retailers need technology to empower themselves to win brand loyalty this holiday season and beyond, especially now that e-commerce is in the race.
Consumers expect an optimized experience and convenience while shopping, either online or in-store. Omnichannel capabilities have become vital to meet evolving consumer expectations.
By leveraging data analytics and other advanced technologies like AI or ML, retailers can learn and understand their customers’ needs to provide them with a hyper-customized experience. 81% of U.S. shoppers appreciate when brands reach out to them in personalized ways. This can also be applied to boost new product launches or fill in the gaps between online and offline sales channels for buyers.
Furthermore, as we see the power of cloud-based customer data platforms, we often recommend our retail clients take advantage of these platforms to control the inventory process to avoid over/understock, and make sure to deploy relevant and timely promotions.
Which operational difficulties can retailers encounter after the holiday season? And what are the potential solutions to those difficulties?
As I mentioned above, this year, we see the possibility of returns becoming the major pain point for retailers due to a longer window for returns. It is estimated that $114 billion of products and gifts in the US market were returned in last year’s holiday shopping season, with a total rate of returns reaching 16.6%. This rate is 6.6% higher than in 2020 according to National Retail Federation, and is expected to increase this holiday season.
In addition to this, learning from last year’s lesson, consumers now associate holiday shopping with delays and uncertain product availability, which pushes them to shop earlier. Therefore, many retailers are trying to fill up their inventory to avoid any potential supply chain disruptions and to maintain a seamless customer experience. This, however, lies the threat of overstocking since there have been slight shifts in customer behaviors given the persisting inflation and potential recession.
To avoid this, retailers should have the right strategy to leverage the power of technology while being mindful of how consumer sentiment has shifted and how to meet their expectations.
What strategic advice would you like to provide retailers to assist them keep ahead of the upcoming economic crisis and avoid making mistakes?
Retailers should equip strategic thinking to operate their business and plan ahead, with technology being one of the most powerful tools that can empower their potential. Enhancing the customer experience and retaining brand loyalty while driving better overall financial health is the ultimate goal.
They also need to understand the market shift to forecast demand and manage labor and inventory. Especially during peak season, anticipating delays and setting expectations with customers is crucial. With the current market volatility, the brands that have a better grasp on the needs and wants of today’s consumers will be the ones to thrive in the long run.