The way businesses operate has been altered irreversibly by the COVID-19 pandemic, in all sectors and industries. In some ways, this shift is good, as an accelerated adoption of technology has been fuelled by the pandemic.
Retailers have increasingly shifted to e-commerce to survive in these times and to support that shift have needed to adopt technology and data-driven solutions. The need to understand shifting trends and customer sentiments has become more necessary than ever, so data analytics cannot be overlooked. Holistic marketing strategies and approaches are necessary for staying relevant.
Some companies have managed to do better than most in adapting to the times, and Ferns N Petals is among them. FNP earned 500 crore rupees in revenue in FY21, which is a 30% increase from FY20.
In this exclusive interview with Analytics Steps, Mr. Saif Ahmad, Vice President Engineering - eCommerce, Ferns N Petals, talks about the company, their integration of technology, and their strategies during the pandemic.
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Ferns N Petals has been renowned as India’s largest gifting portal and has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a single flower shop in Delhi in 1994 opened by Mr. Vikaas Gutgutia.
Mr. Saif Ahmed describes the company as a pioneer and adds that their growth through the years has been a purely organic one.
“Ferns N Petals is a pioneering brand that has totally revolutionized the concept of flowers and gifts in India and has been the main driving force behind the sophisticated and organised flower market that stands today…
...With the undying efforts of Vikaas Gutgutia, the brand has added a new dimension to the flower gifting culture in the country. It goes beyond saying that the brand has built a portfolio bringing delight to customers and delivering exclusivity above all else.”
FNP now has grown into so much more than flowers and has 10 verticals under its umbrella-
FNP Retail and Franchising
FNP Cakes N More
FNP Weddings & Events
Wedding Design Hub
FNP Floral Touch- UAE
These deal in everything from the original flowers to full-out event planning, cakes, social issues, and more.
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FNP managed to turn things around pretty quickly after the pandemic hit in earnest. They are a lesson in the business of how to rethink and adapt to suit unpredictable scenarios.
Being an omnichannel business, FNP had its retail business brought to a complete halt in light of COVID-19. This led to rapid brainstorming and innovation, and the idea of Digital Gifts. FNP brought so many new features to the market and encouraged the existing features with the most potential to cater to this new market- those who were stuck indoors.
“During the initial lockdown days we were quick to realize the need of launching technology-enabled virtual gifting which includes gifting options like Guitarist-on-call, celeb wishes, digital caricatures etc…
...From digital gifting—musicians on call; live music played by professionals; personalised video messages for any occasion and reason; and making customised e-posters—to performing the last rites and planning out new verticals, the pandemic was extremely tough, but it also taught FNP different ways to grow the business.”
They anticipated shifts in customer behavior like an increased consciousness of wellness, hygiene, and immunity, and shifted their business accordingly. They also say that their business in India took a much greater hit with the pandemic compared to their other locations like UAE and Singapore.
FNP describes “Talent & Technology” as the two pillars behind the success and reputation of the brand. Their focus on technology and their commitment to having the best talent in the business are factors that aided their survival in the pandemic. They assigned new job roles and hired new people with skills suited to their new strategies.
“Technology has always been the backbone of the Ferns N Petals business.”
Even before the pandemic, the retail sector, like so many others, was on the road to digitization. The pandemic simply served as an accelerant. FNP has always kept up with technological advancements and integrated them into the business.
“Entire Technology landscape for Ferns N Petals (FNP) can be visualized under a few layers i.e. Core Platform Engineering splitted into Backend, Middle and Front tiers, Cloud engineering, Data engineering & Data science and R&D & Innovation.”
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FNP is supported by modern technology at all tiers, from the architecture of its platform to product development and marketing.
“The backend of the core platform for FNP has been developed on Microservices architecture written in Java Spring Boot, along with various other Java based technologies and services to handle problems like workflow and rule engines besides usual e-commerce structure. The middleware of FNP Technology architecture is spread in Message Oriented, Object based, CDC and Database based middleware applications. The frontend of FNP is based on Micro-front by decomposing frontend App into semi-independent micro-Apps."
The use of data science by FNP is perhaps the most fascinating of it all. FNP seeks to capitalize on the opportunity of optimizing the supply chain and customer experience with the help of data-driven algorithms and engines.
“For FNP, Data Engineering and Data Science have been a critical part of the overall Technology roadmap and vision. FNP is led by a futuristic team who believe in building for tomorrow hence we have been investing hard to build data-driven capabilities by leveraging Data Science for various objectives such as CDP, Inventory Management and Projections, Supply-chain and Logistics routing optimization and so on.”
Their Customer Data Platform was recently implemented for a better understanding of the customer base. Any business following an e-commerce route can find benefits in CDP, which was their motivation. The CDP generates a 360-degree profile of the audience by using a collection of data from various channels and sources enriched with attributes.
The benefits of CDP for FNP are described as-
It leverages to build 360-degree profiling of the consumers
It allows in serving FNP consumers better with the help of a personalized and rich user experience which results in higher customer satisfaction.
It entails a competitive advantage to FNP by means of making data-driven informed decisions and assisting various stakeholders to plan future courses of action based on shifts in consumer behavior and demand.
It leads to Marketing campaigns accumulating higher RoI due to strategizing of campaigns in the shadow of business intelligence drawn from CDP.
It empowers all the other functions of the fulfillment journey from Inventory management to Customer servicing including Supply chain management.
Since most of the business decisions around customer lifecycle are now baked with the inferences drawn from CDP, it also plays a vital role in reducing risk on various investments.
Another aspect FNP has been renowned for is personalization.
“Primary behaviour of personalization is the connection it should establish and make it look unique for the recipient. With personalization options we were able to let people give gifts that are not so regular, instead highlighting the moment of their relation.”
Technology plays a key role in ensuring the smooth and speedy delivery of personalized gifts without compromising quality. The personalization process began as a manual effort, with the system diverting the products for human intervention. As the products and personalization aspects were studied and understood, they could bring technology into it to automate the process.
“We then created customer personalization options in our product pages which let them play and visualize how it looks. This option used image transformation capabilities to create right out, wherein customer sees an immediate result on users view whilst backend optimizes these images for better application on end product when printed on them. This option has in fact improved the overall operational process as well as customers trust on the personalization.“
A sequin cushion from FNP that can be personalized with customer photos. (Source: Ferns N Petals)
FNP now claims to have improved the customer personalization option with 95% accuracy in automation and is still working on it. Technology has also played a part in tailoring the workflow of personalized products to mesh well with the warehouse assembly process to suit the particular quality parameters they have.
FNP has great plans for the growth and expansion of the company. Their services and store operations have been launched in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, and a new retail store has been opened in Sharjah. Their strategies for growth center on their operations in UAE, which has seen tremendous success, and show potential for more. In India, they seek to expand store presence and delivery options across the country.
FNP now has the ambitious aim of entering a new international market every three months and expanding to other sectors and developing new verticals.
As for the technological front, they are always innovating and upgrading.
“We have ambitious growth plans, as we are moving towards a data-driven approach and embracing the power of data and technology, we are planning to invest up to INR 30 crores in technology in the next 1.5 years to boost our e-commerce segment and to become the Uber of gifting services. At FNP we believe no destination is far.”
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From the story of FNP, businesses can learn a lot about navigating uncertainty and finding success in hard times. The importance of keeping up with technology and maintaining a digital presence can be clearly seen here. In these times, no business can hope to survive without embracing digitization.
Innovation is another crucial point. Changing your strategies and visions in accordance with changes in the market is necessary for growth. Would any other company have thought of developing a last-rites business division, recognizing the needs that the pandemic prompted?
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