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IT's UniverCell appeal: Sathish Babu

Shubhra Rishi | Jan. 16, 2014
In the last 13 years, that gap grew into UniverCell, a Rs 1,000-crore mobile retail chain, with 450 stores in 300 locations, that sells three times more phones than any of the other large retailers in the country, says Babu. But now Babu is faced with another challenge: To ensure mobile retailing stays relevant in the age of e-commerce--and grow UniverCell into a Rs 10,000 crore company by 2020. IT, he says, was key to getting UniverCell to where it is today and it will help it get to the next milestone.

CIO: How else are you leveraging new media to acquire customers?

Sathish Babu: We have been an early adopter of new media. From e-mail and SMS-based promotions to Facebook, we have come a long way. Today, we have a dedicated team that monitors our Facebook community, which is 5 lakh strong. We introduce new contests and offers and promote them on social media. For instance, on children's day, we wanted to encourage kids to come to our stores and participate in a tablet contest. So we promoted the activity using social networks and received tremendous response. All this was made possible without TV or radio. We also collected a tremendous amount of information on consumer behavior based on likes, dislikes and feedback from our customers. We also have a loyalty program called Payback where our customers can earn loyalty points by shopping at our stores.

CIO: UniverCell is strong in the south. Do you plan to expand to other geographies?

Sathish Babu: Very few retailers from the south have expanded to the west. It's the south where the actual retailing happens; while in the north, it's mostly discount retailing. There's no customer experience involved and the market is mostly price-based. It's the mall-culture in the north that's encouraging retailers to get organized. As far as the south of India is concerned, today, we have a presence in towns as small as Srikakulam (pop: 1.26 lakh) in Andhra Pradesh. In other parts of the country, we have already entered new markets like Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad. We plan to open 100 new stores this financial year, out of which 25 stores will be set up in the two cities (Mumbai and Pune). Consumer interest has been very encouraging. We also have plans to expand to northern markets in the next year.

CIO: Wouldn't that put you in direct competition with stores such as Chroma?

Sathish Babu: Today, UniverCell has about 450 stores in India. The truth is that we sell three times more phones than any of the other large retailers in the country. We are not dealmakers but we want to create a specialized experience for customers and that's what sets us apart. We are a telecom specialty retail store and we understand our customers far better than anyone else.

CIO: How else are you ensuring ever-increasing growth?

Sathish Babu: Mobile retailing is such a dynamic market and you have to continuously come up with innovative schemes to stay relevant. That's why the UniverCell brand gives its customers a variety of options. We started by letting customers simply buy off-the-shelf. Then, in 2009, to reignite the interest of consumers, we launched a touch-and-feel concept store called UniverCell Live. Apart from allowing customers to use and experience 'real' phones, the stores also had download kiosks and virtual gaming zones. Today, we use both formats of the stores.


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