CleverTap recently presented at ZeeMELT on a panel moderated by Peggy Ann Salz, an author, analyst, and senior contributor at Forbes. The session focused on how marketers can harness hyper-personalization to engage and retain shoppers in new ways and open up new opportunities. This panel featured Kirti Varun Avasarala, Chief Product Officer at Meesho, along with Abhishek Gupta, Chief Customer Officer at CleverTap.
At Meesho, Avasarala leads the product management, design, and user research functions. He also has over 14 years of experience in strategic consulting and product leadership. Previous roles include director of product at Flipkart and VP of product management at ShopX.
Gupta has a similarly long track record in understanding commerce and is the Chief Customer Officer at CleverTap. At CleverTap, Gupta leads all post-sales, customer-facing functions and has built a global, customer-first organization dedicated to supporting the success of the company’s enterprise customer base.
Meesho is a CleverTap client, with a goal of making ecommerce in India accessible to all. Founded in 2016, the company has evolved into an ecosystem connecting sellers to consumers and entrepreneurs. Meesho has facilitated purchases from more than 100 million customers, introduced ecommerce to more than 45 million people across India, and enabled more than 15 million entrepreneurs to start online businesses.
With a total valuation of $4.9 billion and climbing, Meesho is the breakout commerce star of 2022, disrupting the Indian ecommerce market and increasing downloads by 5x in 12 months.
Let’s dive into how they not only grew their numbers, but also succeeded in expanding the size of the overall ecommerce market by building consumer confidence in online shopping.
According to Avasarala, one of the key factors in the company’s success was the effort to gain an in-depth understanding of the ecommerce market in which they were operating. Although ecommerce in India has existed for more than a decade, most of it was concentrated in the highly urbanized tier one cities* that tended to have a fairly affluent customer base. This, noted Avasarala, meant that there was, “a huge whitespace in ecommerce when we started growing.”
But, the much larger market is actually in the tier two cities and other geographies far from the metropolises of India. Given that India is such a huge country, this necessarily means that there are far more potential customers than those found only in the tier one metros — hundreds of millions of people in fact, who tend to be in the low to mid-income segment.
And, notes Avasarala, “because there was never an ecommerce value proposition that was strong enough, they were buying from the neighborhood retail stores rather than online.” The company had determined that while there is a desire amongst this population to shop online, the ecommerce apps that were available weren’t offering them the kinds of products and services they wanted and in the range of price points these consumers could afford. So, this was the market they started targeting.
This became Meesho’s challenge and value proposition: how could they offer more of the type of unbranded, longtail items that these customers normally buy and do so at very affordable price points?
They also figured out a few other key attributes of these customers. For example, many users would open the app even when they didn’t have an intention to buy anything, which Avasarala likens to online window-shopping and buying based on discovery and impulse. Also, unlike most urban customers, this more rural population tended to have a lot of time on their hands.
And so, they built their entire app experience with a focus on discovery and browsing, as opposed to search — and this became their key differentiator.
For these customers, shopping is not just a transactional affair, but also a way to have fun — like a form of entertainment. So, they tried to build a lot of engagement and gamification into the app. As a bonus, these elements tend to make the app very addictive and spur a lot of impulse purchases.
Another way that Meesho created a differentiated and highly effective strategy was to recognize that India is a very heterogeneous country, “almost like 20 countries put in one,” says Avasarala. This plays out in terms of how they approach personalizing the app experience itself.
“As you get to the tier two and beyond geographies, there is huge diversity in terms of languages, in terms of preferences, in terms of incomes and price points at which people buy. So, when you have tens of millions of items in your app, how do you figure out what are the few things that you can show to any given customer so that they will buy those items or at least be interested in them? So personalization was the other thing that we were able to crack at scale, which also made the app very addictive,” he explained.
Making their app “almost like the ecommerce version of TikTok” where users browse and suddenly find things that fit their taste and preferences is what Avasarala says led to their success in approaching this very large, previously untapped ecommerce market.
Despite the example of companies like Meesho, and the accepted importance of personalizing the user experience, some marketers still have a very limited view of what personalization means, seeing it as something merely driven by past behavior and past purchases.
According to Gupta, there are two main things underpinning this viewpoint. One is that there is still a misunderstanding of what “personalization” truly means in terms of marketing and in terms of the customer experience. “At CleverTap, we try to solve for that by educating the market in terms of what hyper-personalization means. Because quite often, it’s understood as a way of encouraging a transaction,” notes Gupta. But personalization goes far beyond that. It’s about building a relationship with your customers.
It is this relationship that plays a pivotal role in ensuring user loyalty, longevity and LTV. In today’s hyper-competitive world, to grow and thrive, an app needs to be one of the primary places that customers go for the things they need.
The second of the two drivers is the challenge of how to operationalize an app’s hyper-personalization strategy and efforts. Data is the fuel for hyper-personalization, but what is needed is a way to access, organize and orchestrate this data — and do so at scale — to create genuinely personalized experiences. If you’re an app that wants to engage with billions of users multiple times a day, you must solve this challenge from the get-go.
Oftentimes as well, for efficiency’s sake, marketers want to be able to analyze segments and engage users in a single platform. But sometimes, brands go the opposite direction and implement their marketing and personalization activities in isolation. Marketers are thinking: “Okay, let me analyze this data. And then I will decide which campaigns to launch.”
It’s a disconnected process that’s old-school and unnecessary. With the right tools, it’s possible to create the kind of hyper-personalized experiences that are highly effective for customer retention, and it doesn’t have to be a manual effort. Today, marketers can launch campaigns in real time as they’re analyzing the data and do this in an automated way — and this is an extremely effective and efficient way to increase retention.
And the real time aspect of this is critical. Especially in today’s post-pandemic world, customers don’t merely expect hyper personalization, they demand it. If a company has data on you — whether they’re a giant tech conglomerate, an SMB, or a startup — customers still expect a certain level of personalization based on their behaviors and preferences.
What is required is for brands to be able to bring all of their data together and utilize this data in a real time manner. That is the essence because the in-the-moment context of the user is of paramount importance.
Read the second installment of this post, where we dive into exactly how Meesho was able to discover the unique needs and preferences of this target market and how this drove the app experience: How Meesho Created an App Experience to Serve an Untapped Market (Part 2)