The retail industry in India is worth $600 billion and it’s one of the fastest growing markets in the world. However, shopping habits are changing. More customers are shopping online mostly for the ease and convenience it provides.
For brick-and-mortar fashion boutiques, capitalizing on the e-commerce opportunity has not been easy. It involves building a website, taking stock of inventory, publishing and maintaining the content and then helping the customer discover their e-shop.
However, technology has arrived and it’s here to stay, and the potential unicorns of tomorrow are fast realizing that technology drives almost every step of the retail experience. These companies are integrating online and offline, using technology to drive discovery, being omnipresent and making sure everything that is available on multiple touchpoints is effortlessly accessible, shareable.
Says CEO Future Style Lab, Manjula Tiwari, “We’ve just started a subsidiary company for the Future Group, a new brand called Cover Story, which is India’s first fashion brand that translates catwalk trends to stores within four-six weeks. We have a trendspotting office in London and then we globally source. The idea behind the business is speed. We’re going the Omnichannel way with this business.”
Cover Story is looking to embrace technology to be cost effective and establish a consumer engagement early on.
RedPolka.com is another startup that is a potential unicorn in the making. The website connects consumers with carefully curated fashion products from a large network of independent boutiques and design set ups.
Founder RedPolka.com, Vishakha Singh says, “My venture is a baby – just a year old. We curate designs, not from well-known brands but from home grown designers. They might be displaying their wares from places other than a store – an online store, exhibitions or marketplaces. We come up with a new curated edition every week on the basis of the interest of the shopper.”
She says the idea behind curation is to guide consumers into finding something, zeroing in on a product. “If you don’t make the way for the shopper, they won’t be able to find us. We define a shopper by their age, interests and context environment, eg: Valentine’s Day and use this information to curate for shoppers,” she adds.
RedPolka.com is probably the only startup in the world of Indian fashion retail today, which works on a revenue model. The company charges a showcase and registration fee. “However, before that we make sure that the catalogue, design and quality fit RedPolka.com,” Vishakha says.
Another company that has caught the eye of investors is the Bombay Shirt Company. It provides bespoke clothes at the prices of readymade garments. Over the last three years, we’ve morphed from being a purely online player to opening two stores within Bombay.
Founder Bombay Shirt Company, Akshay Narvekar, says, “We consider ourselves a hybrid. Going forward, the idea is to integrate online and offline to provide a seamless experience for customers.”
Narvekar explains why they the company decided to move from an online model to one integrated with offline stores.
“Ours is a touch and feel product so we had to start offline touch points so consumers could see the fabric for themselves. Over time we moved to kiosks and now we have full-fledged stores,” he says.
He adds that once consumers have felt the product and confirmed the quality, most of them go back to ordering his products online. “One cannot work without the other in my business,” says he.
Unicorns in the world of fashion retail are no longer creatures of myth. The promise many of these companies show is enough to bring investors to their doorstep. The challenge for these firms now is to keep innovating and focus on establishing a long-lasting brand.