Unified commerce elevates customer experience for Hippo Stores

One of the biggest challenges confronting retailers today is ensuring convergence between customers’ traditional in-store shopping experience and their digital journey, thereby delivering a seamless customer experience (CX).

For brick-and-mortar stores, legacy technologies often make migrating online difficult. Over time, as they explore online opportunities, traditional retailers often find it challenging to unravel all they have built and imagine their technology stack afresh.

Here, new-breed of players such as New Delhi-based Hippo Stores have a distinct advantage, providing a prime example of how retailers can rethink both business and technology in service of omnichannel transformations.

“We are India’s first omnichannel construction retailer offering the largest and widest range of building materials under one platform,” says Ranjit Satyanath, CTO of Hippo Stores. “Our primary proposition to the customers is that they can get all genuine product categories in one destination. A digital-first, born-in-the-cloud company, Hippo Stores is focusing on using technology to rapidly build and optimize value in the entire building material value chain.”

Ranjit Satyanath, CTO, Hippo Stores


The one-stop-shop for construction materials, including steel, cement, bricks, hardware, paint, tiles, electricals, and sanitaryware, caters to both professional construction companies and individual consumers. Hippo Stores opened its first outlet in New Delhi in 2021. It has since expanded to Noida and Chandigarh and plans to ramp up the number of stores to double digits by the end of this year.

“Most traditional retailers believe online will be a small percentage of their overall business and they shouldn’t disturb what they are already doing,” Satyanath says. “This approach of not disturbing status quo leads to building up of legacy online too. As a result, business and technology process at the physical and online stores never really merge. So, even though the same set of customers come online and in store, they get different experiences because of difference in the technology stacks.”

To avoid this trap, Satyanath’s team at Hippo Stores has built a common technology stack to power both its online and brick-and-mortar stores. Such a technology strategy has provided the much-needed agility beyond just elevating customer experience and reducing costs.

Building an omnichannel stack from scratch

When Satyanath joined Hippo Stores in 2020, he had the advantage of not having any legacy technology, and made the most of it. “We were starting from scratch and could leverage modern technology. There was also clarity that we would own everything that was customer facing. We saw companies that built their technology IP quickly pivot their business models during the pandemic. To gain agility, we had to build technology in-house. Whatever little technology we bought, it was done with much thought,” he says.

For instance, Satyanath deployed SAP HANA because “there was no strategic advantage to be had in building our own ERP,” he says.

Instead, Satyanath focused on customer-facing solutions, creating an engineering team that “is now around 50 people strong,” to build a range of products, “including the most critical technology piece — the ecommerce platform,” he says.

When the online ecommerce application was complete in 2020, it could enroll customers and ingest products and prices from downstream applications. But the in-store experience relied on separate tech.

“As a stop-gap arrangement, we were using a subscription-based POS solution for our store. However, it was time consuming and expensive to build our custom features on top of it,” he says. “Once the online solution stabilized, we decided to build the store solution also on top of it for the cashier to use.”

The team that built the solution consisted of engineers with strong skills in Ruby, Node, React, and DevOps. The MVP was completed in around four months.

“As we built it on top of our online commerce application, we reduced a lot of engineering build time. The store commerce solution has common functionalities such as pricing, customer registration process, and promotions engine that makes for very simple manageability,” says Satyanath, who calls the new solution ‘Unified Commerce’ as it unifies both online and in-store retail functionality, offering a channel-agnostic and uniform customer experience.

The entire tech stack is deployed on public cloud and is based on cloud-native microservices architecture. The commerce application has a headless architecture, which decouples the frontend presentation layer from the backend infrastructure (such as security, pricing, etc). This decoupled approach gives Hippo Stores more control over the customer experience as it leverages APIs for customer promotions, refunds, and wallets to ensure a consistent and personalized CX, and it enables the company to provide its online customers a self-service interface and its cashiers a POS interface, both backed by the same backend.

“The entire commerce application, regardless of the channel, sits on a single platform. The underlying technology, except the user interface, is the same,” says Satyanath, who had to take care of several other aspects while building the ecommerce solution. For example, if the company was offering a 10% discount in store, it had to be applicable online too. Similarly, if a customer was enrolled online, he or she should not have to be enrolled again in the store. Just as in online shopping, returns, cancellations, and refunds had to be enabled in the solution deployed at the store.

“These are the unique advantages that our solution has — a completely integrated yet different solution,” he says. The solution was rolled out first to the store in New Delhi in August and subsequently to the other two stores.

“The challenges we faced were primarily around prioritising requirements, but we managed it by working in close partnership with other business stakeholders. While functionality is one part of the solution, I strongly suggest investing in a good QA team and invest in strong infosec best practices,” says Satyanath.

Empowering business agility

With its unified commerce platform in place, Hippo Stores can react faster to business changes. “For example, if we must add payment options for our customers, it is now easier. In an off-the-shelf solution, it would have been a long process to do so. With our own product, it is just a couple of weeks, and we are done with it,” says Satyanath.

The company can also develop new features quickly. “Credit-based sales, for instance, is something a typical POS won’t have but since we have both B2B and B2C customers, we need to provide for credit-based sales. We also allow payment by cheque, another feature that a POS doesn’t have. Customers can pay by cheque, their inventory will get reserved. The system will automatically check when the payment has been made and ship out goods to the customers. All this is automated. An off-the-shelf solution would have taken huge amount of time to develop these capabilities, but we are building new functionalities across our platforms, and nothing takes more than two weeks,” he says.

Hippo Stores is now pivoting into a new model of business. “We are now taking the franchisee route with the first such store coming up in Ludhiana. As the technology is fully developed by us and under our control, we can quickly make the changes for franchisee in our systems and are ready to go live,” says Satyanath.

The new solution has also elevated CX for the company. “We offer the capability that a customer can put items in the cart while shopping online and then check out in the store through the cashier,” he says.

Hippo Stores was paying a significant amount annually in subscription fees for its off-the shelf POS solution it was using in the store, which would have gone up with the addition of new licenses with each new store. “The fact that we saved some money in subscription is the icing on the cake,” he says.

Digital Transformation