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Lingerie at a click: Online formats simplify intimatewear retail experience

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Times have changed for the better for Indian women like never before in terms of fashion choices and routes to consumption. With women going bold and getting down to experiment with her buying preference of intimate wear, the online lingerie market is witnessing a huge surge in  growth. 
According to the analysts forecast by Technavio, the online lingerie market in India is growing at a CAGR of 42.32% over the period of 2014-2019. It is estimated to be a size of Rs 1,200–1,500 cr within the next five years.  According to industry estimates, online lingerie sites are growing by almost 300 per cent year-on-year.

The convenience of buying at home, availability of large national and International brand at one platform and growing number of working women and the increased share of westernwear in their wardrobe have propelled this growth.

[.com, which launched its website in August 2011, claims to be India’s largest online marketplace with more than 50 Indian and international innerwear brands and 1,200 daily orders.]

"In India, there is so much social discomfort while buying  lingerie that it has got reduced to  a five minute hurried chore. Also, a lot of stores clearly lacked the kind of variety in terms of designs, sizes and types that a modern woman requires. Through an online store, women can browse through various styles, understand what will suit them best, order for their exact size and get their order delivered at their doorstep without any hassles," explains Richa Kar, founder-CEO of Zivame.com, in an interview with IMAGES Business of Fashion magazine.

Zivame.com, which launched its website in August 2011, claims to be India’s largest online marketplace with more than 50 Indian and international innerwear brands. It gets 1,200 orders every day on  international brands like Hanes, Garfield, Voluptina and Scandale, among others as well as Indian brands such as Enamor, Lovable, Libertina, PrettySecrets, Floret and Heart2Heart on its platform.

Globally, the online lingerie market is huge. With prevalence of online stores by top-of-the-line brands such as L Brands (Victoria’s Secret) and , the online market is becoming  more alluring and fascinating than the brick and mortar stores, according to a Research and Markets report.
Kar also attributes the inception of Zivame  to global retail innovations. "I got a chance to research on Victoria’s  Secret, when i was working with SAP. I came across  a very startling fact that 70 per cent of the brand’s revenue comes through online sales, and that got me thinking about opening an online lingerie store in India," she states.

Challenges with offline retailers

Meanwhile , the Indian offline Innerwear market is worth Rs 19,950 crore (2014) and is estimated to grow at 13 percent to reach Rs 68,270 crore by 2024, according to retail consultant . The report suggests that the innerwear market has traditionally been largely unorganised, although in the past few years, the organised innerwear segment has shown promising growth with various  premium international and national brands foraying in Indian market.

However, experts feel that there are many challenges for the Indian offline lingerie retail segment and the market is tiny as compared to its potential.
"India is probably the only market where women used to — and still buy — bras in packs of six," says of . "The reason is that the whole experience of buying innerwear used to be, and continues to be so bad that most women wish to get over with the buying process quickly. Also, since most women don’t know what all different products are and what is the differentiation, they rather buy tested and proven ones all the time and keep repeating the brand, size and style. This is certainly not conducive to the growth of this category." 

[While women consumers, even from smaller towns, find it convenient to shop online without getting embarrassed, investors find the category attractive because it is highly unorganised and thus under-explored.]

"The challenges that women’s innerwear market faces in India are that of gender bias, wherein the availability of men’s innerwear brands are larger than women’s intimatewear brands. Plus, i feel the challenges are not limited to culture; it has to do with with market forces. While the cultural issues are complex and they would take their own time to resolve, marketers should focus on what is in our control. In my opinion, there are three areas that need to be targeted for serious growth of women’s innerwear market — product, communication and retail," he adds.

Where Sahni feels that offline retailers still have a long way to go, , CEO of MAS Brands India, which owns the international brand Amanté, is confident of the fast changing trends in the lingerie industry.

"The industry has travelled a long distance from where it was in the past few years and it continues to travel and transform," he says. 

With his rich experience in the lingerie segment, Mehta points out a few things that offline lingerie retailers must do to reach out to women in a more efficient manner. "It is not only about producing, buying and selling, but also about providing the right services. Selecting the right underpinnings can be a delicate matter and retailers need to take adequate measures to spread knowledge on this. If done right and if those services are offered, it will be highly beneficial for both parties," he notes.

"Also, customers now do not buy what they find exceedingly pretty. They buy products with varying options. So, as a brand or retailer, you need to have colour schemes in mind and create the right assortment of what you think will appeal to your customers. If that is in place the
shopper cannot disregard the shopping experience that the store provides."

Future of e-lingerie

While women consumers, even from smaller towns, are finding it convenient to shop online without an embarrassing shopping experience, investors find the category attractive because it is highly unorganised and thus under-explored. Reportedly some home-grown retailers are raising funds to build
a robust online presence to expand their brand in India and international markets.

For instance,  Mumbai-based MTC Ecom Pvt Ltd, owner of online lingerie firm PrettySecrets.com plans to raise a Series B funding of about Rs 90-100 crore by next month. The firm is looking to  build a strong supply chain, launch a mobile application, introduce new categories, strengthen its product line and enter international markets.

The company had earlier raised Series A of Rs 12 crore from Rehan Yar Khan’s Orios Venture Partners along with Indian Angel Network (IAN) and early-stage investor India Quotient.

Pretty Secrets started out as a women’s sleepwear brand in 2009 with an offline presence in major department stores such as and Pantaloons. However, the firm soon sensed the humungous opportunity in the e-commerce segment and completely shifted his focus to selling only online. Since 2014, it has started selling on e-commerce platforms and enjoys 15 per cent market share in the online lingerie market.
"We have witnessed a strong growth since we went online. We have grown almost 20 times in two years. We are now working towards growing the lingerie category alone. For, this we have partnered with all major online players and lobbying with them on how to increase sales of this particular category by helping them with sizing related issues, mapping the sub-categories, data on consumer demands among several other things,” , founder of PrettySecrets.com, was quoted as saying about the company’s growth after going online.

Comparing itself with home-grown offline brand Lovable, Behal said that PrettySecrets has over 1,100 different kinds of products whereas Lovable does only 150. Just like PrettySectrets, another home-grown lingerie e-tailer  Clovia, too raised a Series A round of funding of Rs 30 crore last month from IvyCap Ventures to expand globally, to fund product innovation and extensions, marketing, team development and fulfillment capacity. Zivame is also reportedly scouting for more funds to expand its customer base both in India and overseas.

Commenting on the future of e-lingerie retail in India, Sahni concludes,"It is a dream situation for the women’s innerwear category to have found solutions to its most challenging issues via online retail."

"I believe that just like buying tickets, buying intimatewear will move 100 per cent online in years to come. However, it will require many more players to open online stores and reach out to the women of India to offer them what they truly deserve."

Research and inputs from IMAGES Business of Fashion 2015 May issue and IMAGES Yearbook 2015.