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Bata India has been aggressively integrating technology into its customer journey, revamping its stores with state-of-the-art experiences such as 3D holographic units and lift-and-learn technology. With Gunjan Shah at the helm, the company is developing a technology-driven roadmap aimed at prioritising customer experience. In an exclusive interaction with us, Shah outlines the footwear giant’s growth strategy and how it is betting on cutting-edge technology to enhance customer engagement and talent development.

While business growth remains central to his role, Shah acknowledges the challenges posed by inflation and market volatility. 

Here are the edited excerpts.

How is Bata India leveraging digital innovation to enhance customer experiences and drive business growth in the rapidly evolving market?

At Bata India, we are constantly looking for innovative ways to engage with our audience and have been integrating technology at every step of the consumer journey.  Over 300 stores have been renovated this year with Sneaker Studios offering a wide collection of sneakers, upgraded music and jukebox innovations to allow shoppers to play their favourite songs as they browse the new fashion and casual collections. In select stores, new experiences are being trialled, like the 3D holographic unit, Lift technology, digital LED screens, and QR codes for online experiences.

We have also revamped our website and expanded our online presence in major marketplaces. Our digitally enabled channels are gaining momentum, and we offer home delivery for products that are not available in stores. We are investing in both digital and traditional mediums to meet changing consumer communication and content consumption patterns.

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We have ventured into 3D OOH billboard advertising, making us the first Indian footwear brand to introduce this disruptive format. The billboard showcases new-age sneaker styles from Sneaker Studio, which offers 300 styles across 9 international brands.

As the footwear industry evolves with changing consumer trends, what do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges for Bata India in 2023, and how do you plan to tackle them?

Casualisation and sneakerisation continue to dominate the fashion trends. The sneaker category has witnessed a 40% growth in demand in recent years, with the rise of sneaker culture globally and an increasing trend towards customizing pairs and designs.

As consumers’ aspirations increase, premiumisation is becoming more popular. The Indian footwear market shows a preference for higher average selling prices across the economy, mid, and premium price segments. The growth of digital and retail penetration in tier 3-5 cities is boosting demand for branded footwear.

However, challenges remain, such as the impact of inflation on consumer sentiment. In today’s VUCA world, volatility is constant, and we must be prepared for the unexpected.

How do you see your role as a leader evolving in the face of a constantly changing business landscape, and what steps are you taking to empower and develop your team to thrive in this dynamic environment?

Business growth remains central. As a leader, my focus is three-pronged: developing talent, processes, and technology. This includes hiring the right talent, strengthening processes, and investing in technology to stay ahead. Also, we aim to embed sustainability in all operations for a healthier planet. 

What steps are you taking to ensure the sustainability and resilience of your business in the long term?

We leverage multiple growth levers – evolving our portfolio, expanding via franchise and distribution, boosting marketing investments, enhancing our digital footprint, optimising our supply chain, and remaining agile on costs. The Sneaker Studio concept in 300+ stores caters to the demand for casual styles from millennials and Gen Z. We’re expanding our physical footprint through franchise stores, MBOs, and SISs, now present in 2000+ stores and 1150+ towns. 

We continue to implement cost-saving initiatives to drive efficiency across the value chain. We are cognizant of our responsibility towards building a better society and are committed to uplifting communities in and around our operations. Our community interventions are aligned with the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a primary focus on good health, quality education, reducing inequalities, and leveraging partnerships for long-term success.

How is Bata India adapting to the changing workplace landscape, and what steps are being taken to boost productivity and enhance workforce efficiency?

I believe technology has been a great equaliser. You can get anything done on your smartphone or laptop while on the go. At Bata India, the whole concept of remote working or flexible work arrangements has been about our employees – how we can make work more comfortable for them and how we can inspire productivity. We have launched a hybrid work policy in a ‘new avatar’ with a focus on enhancing workforce efficiency and we continue to be an employer of choice.

This interview is part of an exclusive series featuring CEOs and MDs of top organisations sharing their perspectives on the ever-evolving business landscape and the future of work. Watch this space for more insightful conversations.

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