TalkingTails, Retail Customer Engagement and other stuff!

I’ve largely been off blogging at TalkingTails for a while. There were a whole lot of movie reviews, food reviews, and travel reviews that I used to blog about, but a lot of that seems to have dried up. Mostly work-related travel, long hours and married life are the factors I attribute this to. These have clearly managed to keep me away from my most interesting (and probably also most consistent) hobby over the last decade – blogging!

multi-channel-retail

The good news is that I have kept the “blogging fire” alive at least professionally – having started a new blog focused on Retail Customer Engagement - RetailNeo, and contributing to the official blog of Capillary Technologies, where I have been working for close to a couple of years now. In case you were a regular reader at TalkingTails – and haven’t been seeing enough content here – do hope over to some of the content I’ve been posting at these other couple of places.

As with everything I’ve done in the past, I’m super-passionate about some of the things happening in the Intelligent Customer Engagement space – around Retail and eCommerce, In store technologies, digital marketing, big data analytics – essentially the whole ecosystem around CEM (Customer Experience Management), the next “phase” of CRM if you will. It’s an exciting space – and if you have anything to do with it, I’d like to hear what’s going on?! :)

Money2020: Quite a confluence & Capillary’s InStore launch

The thing about a conference like Money2020 is pretty much the fact that there a few conferences that are fairly broad in subject matter and audience. It lies at a very interesting cross-road that brings together people from the 4 very key areas that affect everyday commerce – Retail, Banking, Technology and Marketing.

With leading companies (both large corporates, as well as innovative companies) that participated in the 2013 edition of Money2020, it was quite the proverbial ‘melting pot’ of ideas, if you will. Though from a purely personal perspective, I would have loved to see more retailers there!

That being said, I think the content of show the show was spot on – and there were lots of interesting talks, sessions, workshops on things like the future of payments, BITCoin, social commerce, and even “Personalization”. At Capillary Technologies (where I work), we launched the Capillary “InStore”, which is a part of Capillary’s suite of Intelligent Customer Engagement solutions. (Find the official Press Release here).

With the content of the show attracting the really big ones (American Express, Bank of America, Google, Paypal and the likes), we were glad to be presenting at a innovation showcase format called “Launchpad 360″, where we were able to present and demo the product to the audience of the show. There were quite a few really interesting companies in there at LaunchPag360.

Capillary presentation in progress at Money2020 Launchpad 360

Capillary presentation in progress at Money2020 Launchpad 360

One of our co-participants at LaunchPad360 was a company called Loop Pay, that seems to have built a great working prototype of contact-less payment, enabling people to pay through their phones. Something like a digital wallet of all your credit cards. I mention them here because pulling off a live demo in front of a large audience is not an easy task – and these guys did it quite well. So did we, actually! ;)

Among the speakers at the sessions from a very diverse backgrounds, was – Shivaraj Subramanian, who heads Consumer Insights at Magura Garments, one of Capillary’s customers. Owned by the Aditya Birla Group, Madura is one of the largest retail companies in India, operating brands and retail formats like Peter England, Van Huesen and Planet Fashion.

The 4-day conference at the Aria Resort, Las Vegas, was quite engaging. True to the content, they kept users hooked through innovative use of Twitter, and a useful mobile app, among other things, and the show seemed to have something for everyone!

MOVIE REVIEW: 12 Years a Slave (No Spoilers)

12-years-a-slave-poster

12 years a slave is a moving, almost disturbing true story of Solomon Northup, an educated free man from Saratoga, New York, who is kidnapped, drugged and sold into slavery. Like so many other movies, this one glamorizes hope. It offers a peek into the mind of someone who is resolved to his fate, but yet resilient and hopeful of winning his freedom back with dignity.

The movie is based on an autobiographical book by the same name written by Solomon Northup himself, whose written account of his experiences was first published in 1968. Told from the narrative perspective Solomon (and sometimes his fellow slaves), it will make you think deeply about things like “freedom”, a concept that the more privileged generation of ours have taken for granted.

Despite the fact that it gives you an accurate sense of the living conditions, through a first-hand experience how human beings were treated worse than beasts, it will surprise you with how emotionally traumatic it was for those undergoing this. And the biggest trauma was really the act of obeying one’s “Master”, despite the order itself being in moral conflict with one’s own conscience.

The plot does not meander much – it flows like a straight river, with multiple (related) sub-themes being explored along the way. A mother separated from her children (who are sold to another “master”), a slave-lady who is violated and considers suicide. And of course, Solomon who is sometimes shown to act act as a source of strength to those around him. Consider them as the Level 4 rapids along the flow of the river, which can tend to throw you off-guard, given the sheer emotional brutality of it all.

Some of the performances in the movie are exemplary. Not surprisingly, the most stellar is that of the protagonist. Shiwetel Ejiofir, a British actor, of Nigerian origin, shines in his portrayal of Solomon Northup. The fear, the disbelief, the reconciliation and sometimes the feeling of helplessness are conveyed merely through facial expression and body language, rather than vocally. Of course, the cast also includes Brad Pitt (also one of the producers of the movie) who plays a little,  but significant cameo towards the end.

At a little over 2 hours, it is slightly long, but the story is intense and keeps you hooked. Everything seems to be in place, including the background score. In an otherwise silent movie, the occasional pieces of music by the legendary Hans Zimmer does as much justice to the script, as the script itself does to the movie, thanks to its appropriateness. And as far as all of it coming together is concerned, what amazes me is how British director Steve McQueen has managed to tell so much of the story through silences – it is an art, really! McQueen does not have too many movies to his repertoire but with the success and critical acclaim that he has received, I am sure a lot of people are sitting up and taking notice.

I will leave you with the trailer:

Tastiest Dessert EVER: Green Tea Donut – The General, New York City

It’s one of those desserts where you don’t believe that it actually tastes the way it does. ‘The Green Tea Donut with Mascarpone Cream’ attracts you like a sonnet at first sight. And later, it unfolds like an epic inside your mouth. One part of it melts in your mouth (the cream), while the other part of it (the donut) is heated enough to retain its form and blends in with everything else to add texture.

Anyway, for the sake of the foodie in me (and in the foodie in you), I shall come straight to the point. I had this at a place called The General on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, New York City. It is described as an Asian Fusion food and we had some good music playing. It was quite crowded and was recommended to us (me and a friend visiting from Canada) as a “hip and happening restaurants on LES” by someone who knows the night-life really well.

While the dinner otherwise was good (with a better than average band playing some good classic rock), the Green Tea Donut stole the show for us. It was easily one of the best desserts I have had. It’s strong enough to bring me back from my blog-hybernation!

Take a look:

Image

It is basically a donut with super-yum green tea mascarpone cream stuffed into it and on top of it. It literally oozes with the cream. Mascarpone cream is an Italian cheese made from Cream (just keeping it simple) – And in this dessert, the cream has a Green Tea taste. And the end result is magical. It is finger-licking good!

I am not advertising, but here are a few links to resources around this, but:

Oh, and if you’ve had it (either before OR after reading this), do let me know.. I love discussing good food! :)

NOTE: Picture Courtesy: Foxnews.com

How to make Chinese Green Tea!

I’ve always been passionate about ‘Tea’ and it was apparently quite apparent to my friends from the middle kingdom. So, here are the different teas that our friends from China got us. I was told a lot of these are from the Fujian / Zhang Fu province, the home of authentic (high-altitude) Chinese teas.

Chinese tea pot, with the varieties of tea laid out

Chinese tea pot, with the varieties of tea laid out

The image above shows the varieties of tea that we received – mostly samples. Also, notice the Bone China tea pot that we  had at home already – interestingly, either Porcelain or Bone China go best with Chinese Tea.

Here is a low-down on how to prepare Chinese tea, the ‘authentic’ way.

STEP 1: Choose the tea that suits your mood.. and wash your Teapot (Either Porcelain or Bone China work best), this is a Bone China tea pot..In this case, we chose a variant of Chinese Green Tea, among the options we had

Choose the tea that suits your mood, time of day, etc.

STEP 2: First pour the leaves in the Tea-pot and rinse with warm water for 30 seconds. Then let the water flow out from the mouth of the teapot.. This is just to wash the tea leaves.

IMAG0351

STEP 3: Pour hot water into the tea-pot and let it brew for 2 minutes (in case of Green Tea), the time can be more or less in case the tea is Red, Oolong or Jasmine. <You will notice bubbles forming at the surface and the sides as the tea brews>

IMAG0362

STEP 4: After exactly 2 mins, pour the tea into a tea-cup and sip it. Unfortunately, the picture can’t capture the aroma and taste, but it is nothing like we’ve tasted before. :)

IMAG0363

 

And these are how the tea leaves look – BEFORE and AFTER being brewed respectively.

NOTE: A set of tea leaves can be brewed multiple times – So what it basically means is once you empty the tea into a cup or a glass for drinking, let the tea leaves remain in the pot. After a while, you could again pour hot water into the tea pot and let it brew for sometime, before pouring out the contents into a cup again and sipping your tea.

A couple of points to remember here:

  1. As you brew the same leaves, at each successive brew, increase the time by a small margin. For example, the first time, brew it for 1 minutes, 2nd time brew it for 2 minutes, and so on. Exact time specs depend upon the kind of tea, texture and quantity of water, etc.
  2. You can brew the same leaves upto a maximum of 3 times (after which the essence/flavour begins to diminish), but remember to not keep the leaves overnight. Empty your tea-pot even if some precious leaves get wasted. :)

Hope you enjoyed the post. Let me leave you with images of how Green Tea leaves looked BEFORE being brewed and AFTER – see how they blossom and open up!

Untitled

 

C-Tailing & Omni-Channel Commerce

Future of Retail

At the recently concluded NRF’s (National Retail Federation‘s),  BIG SHOW 2013, attendees were introduced to an emerging concept in customer engagement by NCR, (the National Cash Register Company).

I actually liked how they positioned this new paradigm – they call it c-tailing (or Converged Retailing) for a C2B marketplace. While traditional business models revolved on either B2B or B2C businesses, C2B lays down that starting now, it is the consumers that will reach out to businesses and enable transactions, rather than the other way around.

Some key highlights:

  1. Digital Discovery through ‘Experiential’ stores – guided by real-time social media reviews, etc.
  2. Take on Showrooming head-on, by enabling WiFi inside the stores and matching online prices
  3. Converged retail models including ‘Buy Online, Pick up at Store’
  4. Personalized web portals for a more relevant online buying experience
  5. Use Social + Mobile to enable Collaborative Shopping

Will be interesting to see how this space evolves. I’m watching closely!

Related links:

 

5 reasons why the buzz around ‘Narendra Modi for PM’ is good for India!

For the last 6 years that I have been blogging on TalkingTails.in, I have refrained from writing about politics. Unlike many of my more accomplished blogger counterparts, it was not because I wanted to steer clear of any sensitive subjects or anything. It’s just that ‘Politics’ didn’t seem like anything of any consequence to me. A few incidents over the past few months, a near-broken, opinion-less government, and a radical-(and seemingly progressive)-thinking, reasonably ‘new-age’ politician have forced me to think, and think aloud.

narendra_modi

Honestly, the obvious headlines Modi made with his session at (Shriram College of Commerce (SRCC), New Delhi yesterday is what prompted this blog post. I don’t remember when exactly I first heard of Narendra Modi, but I am certain that whenever I have read/heard something about him, it was supported by a strong opinion – you either like him or you hate him, but you are most probably on either ONE side of the fence. To a question like “What do you think of Narendra Modi?” .. One would rarely hear, “Haan, thik hai”, as an answer.

And the first and foremost reason why I like this buzz surrounding Modi, is just that. It makes me FEEL like I have an opinion on our politicians.

I have always believed that the reason politics evinces such a lot of interest (even among the youth) in countries like the US, is because their leaders evoke charisma. They can speak, reach and echo. I am not going to get into discussions around “delivering on the promise”, because that’s a separate (and unrelated) subject altogether, but Narendra Modi has a voice and regardless of whether I agree or disagree, I want to listen to him speak. I want to hear him out. Unlike our current and a few former Prime Ministers, who sometimes read off a paper, feeble-voiced and expression-less.

And that’s Reason #2 why I like this buzz surrounding Modi. Something about him makes me want to listen to him.

Politics in India has always been about ‘Parties’ and rarely about ‘People’. Since the time that I remember, political campaigns, in India, have always been directed by ‘ideologies’, and ‘during XYZ’s rule this happened and that happened’. I always contrasted this with a France or a US, where elections were led by ‘the Individual’ and not ‘Party agenda and Election Manifesto’.

And that’s Reason #3, why I like this buzz surrounding Modi. A leader is about the ‘Individual’ that a country needs to look up to; and follow.

Having myself competed on a few things at reasonable levels, I have always appreciated the benefits that competition brings in. ONE solid candidate ends up making others more competitive. It sparks a rise among the ‘others in the fray’, that they better wake up or be left out. And that, I believe, is good for Indian politics. I am hoping it is this “competition” from Narendra Modi’ will wake up the sleepy, grand old, dynasty-led party of India to “perform” and get the country to benefit as a whole.

And that’s Reason #4, why I like this buzz surrounding Modi. He can even push his competitors to “Perform”.

Having been a student and practitioner of Marketing, I harbour this tendency to apply my Marketing lens to everything around me. Narendra Modi’s outreach programs (whether it is in Gujrat or over the internet – Facebook/Youtube/Twitter, etc.) are examples of an effort to reach out, listen and be heard. Not to forget, his legendary Google+ Hangout session, which I am sure ‘netizens’ (especially!) will remember. Moreover, I was (pleasantly) surprised when I read this article about how APCO Worldwide, a global PR Strategy and Consulting firm, is helping focus Modi’s messaging, public image and marketability.

And that’s Reason #5 (the last and probably also the least important), why I like this buzz surrounding Modi. It can make for an interesting case study in Marketing!

To be honest, I am really not going to be out on the streets supporting Modi’s candidature. I am sure there are 10,001 reasons why he should NOT be India’s PM. My only intent behind penning down my thoughts is to let my friends and readers know why I believe all of this buzz is Good for India!

As we gear up for 2014, may the best ‘Man’ (or ‘Woman’) win. Not the entire ‘political clan’ in general, regardless of the party. Jai Hind!