‘The retail trick is in balancing store sales with the Web market’

Venkatesh Ganesh | Updated on July 09, 2014

Ajit Sivadasan

Ajit Sivadasan, Vice-President and General Manager of Lenovo, is the driving force behind, the online business of the computer technology company. He focuses on driving online and digital demand generation and brand campaigns that are integrated with social media and search engine optimisation. In a conversation with BusinessLine, Sivadasan discusses how the company uses business analytics to gain insight into its customers, the clutter of social media and tying Lenovo's brick-and-mortar assets with online stores.

Lenovo’s e-commerce business is not well known. Can you shed some light on it?

Our e-commerce play started with Lenovo acquiring IBM’s PC business in 2004. Since then, business has grown four times online, extended its reach from five to 20 countries. What we have seen is that customers use the Lenovo Website to browse and research our products. So, we have taken a different approach that involves a specific product portfolio for the Web as we see a different set of users coming to the Website.

We understand that people who are highly educated, pressed for time and who know exactly the kind of specifications they need, visit our online stores. Also, in the past eight years, we have seen a change in the demographic profile and more youngsters are now visiting our Website. The behavioural information helps us at basic and advanced levels. For example, at the basic level, it helps us target a customer better; so if a person is looking for a tablet, a desktop offer should not be pushed.

So, you are using ‘Big Data’ to base decisions?

We are using a lot of ‘big data’, which helps us understand customers better. It will be incorporated in our next generation of products, be it laptops or tablets. First, we are building predictive behavioural models which will help us in designing our products better. What would a user want to do with an existing product (beyond its normal use)? This is one of the things we are trying to build. There are 500 such parameters that can be associated with a product and we factor in all of them.

Do you see differences between e-commerce in India and China?

Yes. India has infrastructure problems and hence things like cash-on-delivery is a huge deal here. In China, that is not the case and we see trends like ordering online and picking up at a store, apart from the usual order for delivery at the customer's location.

With so much emphasis on online commerce, how do you see physical stores evolving?

Traditional retailing is adapting to the changing dynamics and will continue to stay despite the buzz surrounding the Web. If you look at the numbers, out of the over-trillion-dollar retail industry, only 6.5 per cent comes from online retailing. The trick is in how big retailers balance their in-store sales while using Web channels (such as social media) to drive business. With mobile commerce also picking up, the future might be determined on how different issues, such as payment or user experience, are managed with regard to merchandise. It will not be an either/or situation. It will be how traditional retailers use both commerce channels.

What is’s strategy for mobile commerce?

With every passing day we see a lot of traffic on our Website coming from mobile devices. However, there are multiple challenges. As the screen sizes of devices can be in the range of 6-14 inches, presenting content is a challenge. This affects user experience as you can fit more text on a large screen but you should make sure that is not the case in a smaller screen. So, mobile Web design is a different paradigm altogether. Some companies have experimented with apps for an immersive e-commerce experience but I do not see that viable at this point in time. The maintenance involved in these apps is huge.

Also, a digital medium is a two-way conversation. This involves facilitation and acting on feedback within the fastest possible time, else you are bound to alienate a customer. Once you have done that, the brand suffers.

Published on July 09, 2014

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