In 2008 Shwapno started its journey, and in the span of a few years, Shwapno was almost on the verge of closing down due to the dissatisfaction among customers regarding the service and stores. But today Shwapno has straggled its way to being the leading retail store in the country, has been winning the Best Brand for the past four years and last year received the title of “Superbrands Bangladesh”.

This success of Shwapno is a result of their philosophy of trying to understand the customers. And an important tool Shwapno has used along by learning to adopt the technology. Combining Big Data, IoT and technologies to enhance service, Shwapno has been able to provide its customers with the best value and experience and all these have been achieved through a journey of hard work and struggle.


Early Struggles

Shwapno’s initial concern was to achieve category points of parity- features that would allow customers to consider the brand. For Shwapno, this meant offering a wide range of products, removing odor from sections with perishable items, ensuring cleanliness and attaining a level of customer-centricity.

Although it was able to achieve parity, Shwapno lacked differentiation. So it started to brand itself as a value-for-money superstore. This attracted customers wanting low prices. However, such positioning drove away upper-middle-class and upper-class customers. To attract these types of customers, Shwapno started to build larger well-designed superstores including one in Gulshan (9,500 sq. ft) and one in Uttara (30,000 sq. ft).


Creating Value for Customers

Consumers seek fresh produce and keeping this in mind, Shwapno decided to buy directly from farmers. Initially, the scale of operations did not permit Shwapno to profit, but later, scaling up and improving efficiency allowed it to be profitable. This was done by utilizing analysts who prescribed optimal times to buy and sell products. As a result, Shwapno created an ideal product cycle and also provided value to its customers.

Shwapno went further in its effort to provide fresh produce. It put fish tanks and aquariums instead of unhygienic preservatives. It also installed systems to check for harmful preservatives such as formalin.


Increasing Value Through Big Data, IoT, and E-commerce

As part of its learning to be relevant to customers, Shwapno strives to understand customers using technology. At first, it used an ERP (enterprise resource planning) software called SAP R/3. But it was not effective as it could not seamlessly integrate with the legacy system.

Shwapno then decided to integrate Business Intelligence (BI) tools with its existing software. BI tools help users to collect, store, prepare, analyze and present data. These tools have been used by Netflix to provide recommendations to its users and American Express to detect fraud.

Aided by a number of data scientists, the BI tools used by Shwapno has helped it in many ways. The tools have generated a huge volume of data and given quick access to them. Shwapno also tracks the online and offline behavior of its customers.

The usage of such high volume and variety of data, now popularly known as ‘Big Data’ has helped Shwapno gain new insights-information it never had before. Shwapno once believed that areas with higher population density can ensure the success of a new store. Data pointed out that wealth distribution is rather a more effective determinant of success.

The use of technology does not stop here. Shwapno also uses Internet-of-Things (IoT) to optimize operations. IoT refers to connecting devices to the Internet and each other. To understand IoT, think about Fitbit- the wearable fitness device. This device records important health information of the wearer such as blood pressure and the number of calories burned. Analyzing the data, Fitbit provides health recommendations. Shwapno similarly uses IoT in order to understand customers better.

In addition to BI tools and IoT devices, Shwapno has an e-commerce platform. Although launched two years ago, the platform is still in its beta stage. Shwapno is capturing information from the platform and using it to design a new platform. It is also trying to combine online operations with its traditional brick-and-mortar operations.


Plans to Create Further Value

Shwapno’s quest to understand customers goes on. It has plans to enable automated quality checks. Such checks can be used to monitor the freshness of fish. However, challenges remain in such checks. For example, the visual cues may not represent the freshness of the fish or the fish may rot on the way to the customer’s home. For this, Shwapno is planning on a data-driven quality control system.

Shwapno is also planning to use technology to fix issues such as incorrect barcodes. It is also partnering up with the world’s largest loyalty platform. In addition, it is considering using Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) in its stores. Robotics is also under consideration but it will take two to three years to implement.

While concentrating on improving customer experience, Shwapno has not forgotten its value chain partners. Under ‘Shwapno Agro-banking’ project, it aims to ensure farmers get fair shares. In return, farmers have to ensure quality control for which Shwapno will give training. It also collaborated with United Commercial Bank to provide banking services for farmers. Shwapno is also the first member of Global G.A.P (Good Agricultural Practices) in Southeast Asia.


Keeping the Organization in Line with The Changes

As Shwapno is using new technology, it must also make its employees adapt to these changes. It is shifting from a presentation culture to a narrative culture- which promotes factfulness. It is also bringing changes to its organizational structure. Moreover, it is combining its technologies with six sigma philosophy, which aims to reduce defects and ensure quality.

As Shwapno is harnessing the power of Big Data to understand its customers, it needs to adapt its employees to the new technology as well. For this, it trains its employees of all levels about data science. It believes such training will help employees accept the new technology and not resist change.

Shwapno also has a project management department with flexible teams – members change teams after completion of a project. This department identifies agile projects and organizes stand-up meetings. The teams submit results using the language of data science.


Final Thoughts

Through its current operations, Shwapno is branding itself as a humble, honest and hard-working brand. This honesty and simplicity appear to be appealing to customers as it represents the characteristics of the average Bangladeshi. Shwapno has now become endearing to the customer through its struggles and ability to listen to them.


Written by

Farhan Uddin

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