Say ‘innovation’ and the image that springs to mind is a scrappy, risk-taking startup. As these five examples will show, established, ‘old-world’ companies can be just as agile and interesting. What’s more they have the enviable ability to drive adoption of an innovative practice or idea at scale.
While researching this story, we found many examples of large companies adapting to the curious circumstances caused by the pandemic. Practically everyone shored up content creation – from Unilever launching Clinipedia, a site for cleaning tips and tricks, to Nestle adding more recipes for home-cooks. Even staid utility companies like Tata Power found innovative workarounds for self-meter readings (Take a photo of your meter and submit to a link sent to your phone). Colgate even went so far as to launch a tele-dentistry platform, called DentistsforMe, which offers free dental consultations with 150 dentists across the country.
However, we wanted to pick examples with ideas that could outlive the pandemic and point to new ways of doing business. Here they are.
1. Maruti Suzuki’s Subscription Programme
The country’s largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd, launched a vehicle subscription programme in September 2020. Hit by falling sales during the prolonged lockdown (sales fell to an unprecedented zero in April 2020), this is an innovative way to attract hesitant customers.
For a monthly fee, that ranges between Rs. 14,000 to Rs. 22,000, depending on the model of the car, you can choose to ‘own’ a car for a fixed period of time from twelve to forty eight months. At the end of the period, you return the car to Maruti. With an initial launch in Delhi NCR and Bangalore the programme has now been extended to eight cities in total, including Mumbai, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. While the company has not provided any data about the success of the experiment, the expansion would seem to indicate that the initial response from customers is encouraging.
2. Tanishq Offers An Endless Aisle
Like many retailers, Tanishq turned to video calls for sales during the lockdown. However, it went further and equipped 200+ of its stores with an ‘endless aisle.’ This means that one store can now display products from all networked stores. As a customer, it is now possible to view jewellery from a store in Kolkata, while on a video call with a store in Bengaluru. In this August 2020 interview, Ajoy Chawla, CEO, Jewellery Division at Titan Company says that sales from video calls in 2020 have surpassed Rs. 100 crore.
Tanishq has also incorporated an Augmented Reality application in their ecommerce site, that allows you to virtually try-on select pieces of jewellery.
3. Levi Launches Resale Site
This isn’t strictly an Indian example since the resale site is currently not shipping to India but we hope it will soon. With Levi Resale, the brand announced the creation of a buy-back and resale program called Levi’s SecondHand. Not only can you buy pre- owned Levi’s pieces directly from the brand, you can also earn gift cards by selling your old pieces back to the company.
Resale or second-hand fashion hasn’t taken off in India, despite several well-funded startups making brave attempts. As retailers from Gucci to Levi launch official resale sites, we hope they will influence the attitude towards second-hand clothing in the country and bring it into the mainstream.
4. Emami Goes Direct
The question of selling online directly, and not in marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart, has always been a thorny one for Indian brands. Emami, the company behind brands like Vicco Vajradanti, Zandu and Borosil, took the plunge in 2020 and launched Zanducare, a one-stop destination for ‘Ayurvedic Health and Wellness needs.’
The company’s ambitions for Zanducare seem to go beyond ecommerce. In its annual report for FY 20, it states that its ambitions for Zanducare are to set up an “e- commerce platform of healthcare products and create a digital healthcare ecosystem to connect the doctor fraternity with consumers.”
5. Wipro and TCS Experiment With Gig-style Models
When Wipro acquired IT services firm Apprio in 2016, it also acquired TopCoder, a marketplace for freelance developers with more than 1.5 million users. During the pandemic, the marketplace was used by Wipro to build internal projects. Saurabh Govil, chief human resource officer of Wipro went on record to say, “(If you could) see the speed of the adoption, things which have never happened are happening.”
TCS has a similar initiative called Talent Cloud, an internal portal on which current projects are posted. Employees can then apply to execute specific components of these projects.
This is a radical departure from the traditional method of allocating employees to projects and clients and maintaining a ‘bench’ of free employees. This also means that location will matter less and could significantly impact the way services companies have worked so far.