Sanjay Parthasarathy, chief executive officer of Indix, has a vision to transform retailing by creating a digital index of all of the products in the world.
Yes, that means billions of products.
Prior to founding Indix, Parthasarathy dedicated 19 years at Microsoft where he rolled out “.Net” and helped grow the software giant’s developer business. Parthasarathy is also a former professional cricket player in India who led Bill Gates on his first tour of that country — which later led to investments of operations in India by Microsoft.
Today, Parthasarathy is “seeking to index all of the world’s billions of products and do for products what Google Maps has done for location and Facebook has done for people.” Here, Parthasarathy discusses his vision and why retail is in trouble.
WWD: You seem to think traditional retail is broken. Why?
Sanjay Parthasarathy: There’s no question that consumer shopping and buying habits have dramatically changed over the past decade. This is particularly true for the Millennial generation. Now, shopping isn’t about a destination. It’s about an overall experience. But traditional retail is slow to adapt to those habits. Many retailers are anchored to the old way of doing business and see innovation as either too painful or too expensive given their old models.
It’s not that traditional retail is “broken.” It’s just becoming irrelevant. If retail wants to be around in 20 years, the system that’s in place needs to break itself. Some traditional retailers are innovating and changing their commerce model, but it’s not a pervasive shift or investment. Forward-leaning businesses embrace innovation and real change and are creating completely new models for commerce.
WWD: What does it take to “fix” retail?
S.P.: Fixing traditional retail requires innovation. Retailers need to change where and how people discover and buy products. They need to stop thinking about how to drive people to a destination and start thinking about how to get the product to where customers are (or want to be). This requires a huge shift in mind-set and business models and an investment in technology. It also holds retailers to a higher standard of knowing product information inside and out so they can match customers with what they want to buy.
WWD: Why is technology so important to tomorrow’s shopping experience?
S.P.: It’s not just about any technology. It’s about the right technology. Think about what retail would look like with a single index of all the world’s products that could be used to connect sellers with buyers based on exactly the product they need or sell. It seems impossible given there are well over a billion products on the Internet today, each with dozens (or more) of different attributes. It’s an impossible task to tackle without machines. But it’s a reality with powerful technology — namely machine learning and data science — and vision, creativity and commitment. Data science and machine learning give us the ability to automate so much of the heavy lifting traditionally required to find insight within heaps of data. Innovative retailers will find a way to weave this technology into a more delightful shopping experience for both buyers and sellers.
WWD: With product information everywhere, isn’t there a risk that everything becomes a commodity?
S.P.: Transparency to product information actually ensures the opposite will happen by enabling a better customer experience. Indexing the world’s products creates a shift from e-commerce to “Me”-commerce. With an index of all of the world’s products, consumers can easily find, evaluate and buy what they want, when they want, from wherever is most convenient. The Internet will become the stock market of goods and services where brands and consumers can identify and trade products. Brands will become even more focused on “why consumers buy” while merchants prosper by creating rich, personalized experiences for shoppers.
WWD: You’ve said the “Internet will be the stock market of goods and services.” What do you mean?
S.P.: Today, brands and retailers set prices. In the future, the market will set the prices. Just like the stock market, customers will have more access to product information before buying or selling. Value will be determined based upon more transparency of information — from reviews, to availability, to price, to the “shopping experience.” Those are what will determine a hot product (much like a hot stock).
WWD: Won’t that cause a race to the bottom, where the lowest prices win?
S.P.: Improved access to product information is about more than just finding the lowest price. It helps consumers and tomorrow’s innovative retailers make informed decisions based on a number of factors, including variants of the same product, manufacturer exclusives, market feedback, and so much more. Ultimately, creating a central marketplace for all of the world’s product information will provide complete transparency in the retail economy and transform the overall shopping experience for consumers.