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Evolving market, consumer behaviour big challenges: President S Asia, Bata

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India has recently announced a change in its strategy of opening over 100 stores in a year. The company said it will instead, concentrate on same store growth.

Ever changing market and consumer behaviour are the biggest challenges: President, South Asia, Bata
The company reported stand alone net profit of Rs 50.49 crore for the first quarter ended June 30 as compared to Rs 50.18 crore in the same period last year

The footwear maker has been investing in its digital multi-channel business division along with logistics division with due importance for delivery of footwear to accessories.

The company reported stand alone net profit of Rs 50.49 crore for the first quarter ended June 30 as compared to Rs 50.18 crore in the same period last year.

In an exclusive interview, President, South Asia, Bata, spills the beans…

Tell us about the present scenario of the industry from your veteran perspective.

India features among the top two footwear manufacturers globally, accounting to approx 9 per cent of global footwear production. India annually produces 2.1 billion pair out of which, 90 per cent are consumed for its domestic needs while remaining are exported to other regions. Indian footwear industry holds a crucial place in the Indian economy for its ability to provide meaningful employment opportunities for nearly 2.5 million people from the economically weaker sections of the society.

The global footwear market is predominantly dictated by consumer trends. The Indian Fashion Retail Market has witnessed several significant changes in the recent years, which indicates country’s evolving fashion retail market. The Indian Fashion consumer is undergoing a drastic evolution and is rapidly adapting to international fashion statements. The surging demand for designer yet comfortable shoes among women and sportswear or athletic shoes among men have been bolstering opportunities for footwear sales.

In Pics: Bata opens largest flagship store in South India

The market is also likely to gain from the proliferation of the retail culture, which is expected to boost it at a CAGR of 11 per cent between 2015 and 2023. Since the global footwear market is highly fragmented, the focus now lies in diversifying the product portfolio through research and development to meet the changing customer needs.

Advent of digital techonolgies and penetration of smartphones brings instant awareness for Indian consumers about the latest global trends and makes them aspire for the latest. Footwear are not just for utility anymore, they are more of a fashion statement. This has increased the per capita consumption from 1.6 to 2.4 in last 5 years.

Give us a brief understanding of the journey of the brand.

Bata as a brand has continuously evolved over the years and has shown a strong growth. During the 70s and 80s, the brand emphasised range, comfort and durability making it a one stop trusted family footwear shop for decades.

As consumers’ exposure to multi-channels on TV, movies, content increased over years, their expectations from footwear evolved. Buying shoes for special occasions started becoming a norm.

At Bata, we have been constantly researching consumer needs and have evolved our portfolio to include shoes for multiple occasions like casual, formal, semi-casual, sports, fashion, outdoor, festive for multiple segments like men, women, youth, seniors and kids.

What are the major trends in India now and how different are they from the time you started?

The market is much more competitive now as compared to the days when we started. Many international and local brands have come up and its important that we keep evolving ourselves as per the new trends and continue to give great shopping experience to our consumers in our stores. It is also important that we innovate our products regularly, we keep on updating our product portfolio from time to time to keep pace with the industry trends and the growing competition whilst maintaining its comfort and durability.

We have not only revamped the styling of our products, but have also incorporated technologies in shoes across brands. The brand understands the needs and importance of stylish yet comfortable footwear. With various technologies like the Plazmain Power Shoes, Microban anti-bacterial technology in school shoes to Comfit collection with active aloe socks technology, Bata has made sure to reinvent innovation over the past 84 years to keep its customers happy and content.

Taking into consideration online customers’ interests and preferences, we have launched 500+ exclusive product lines which are available only online at Bata India website & across leading online players.

Ever changing market and consumer behaviour are the biggest challenges: President, South Asia, BataElaborate on the challenges in the industry and your strategy of overcoming those.

The biggest challenge is the ever changing market and consumer behaviour, we have to continually understand what the consumer needs and evolve. Then there is competition, which we respect as it keeps us on our toes and work to capture more share. Off late, digital and online business has been growing at an unprecedented pace and instead of looking at it as a challenge or competition we’re growing our online foray.

To overcome such challenges, Bata India Limited is investing in creating offline as well as online stores infrastructure. The company is transforming 100 of its stores to provide an Omnichannel experience to its customers giving services like click and collect, reserve and collect, Bata Home Delivery etc. We would use our strength of 1,200 stores coupled with website and mobile app to push more footfalls into our stores.

We are going strong with our loyalty program and strengthening upon the existing customer database. We are also improving our third party alliances by partnering with banks and telecom companies to reach to their consumer base as well.

Retail business has not been going through its best of phases and in addition to all the above initiatives, most important is focusing on our retail business. We are working hard on like to like store growth and increase our units per transaction. Improving our retail business continually is absolutely critical to our business.

Leather or non-leather – what do customers prefer?

Today more than the material is about the styling, but having said that there are always preferences. We try and cater to all our consumers whether it’s leather or non-leather. As a brand we’ve always catered to a wide audience from infants to older consumers, and we would continue to offer a wide choice to our consumers, as it’s always been our strength. We have a strong collection for all our consumers in all the materials that are in trend.

What is Bata’s most popular product?

Bata is a multi-brand company and is serving Indian consumers since decades. Our products are widely accepted by the consumers in terms of its versatile and diverse range. Bata the brand has always been the key brand for us and it has won the trust of people since generations. Undoubtedly it is the most important and marquee brand for us.

In addition to Bata, there are different categories popular amidst different customers of varied age-groups. Like, Formal and Moccasins under Bata, North Star in youth, Bata Festive collection for women and kids shoes under Bubblegummers, to name a few.

Bata offers the widest range of kids’ footwear through its brand Bubblegummers catering to young consumers in 0 to 9 years age-group. The offering covers all categories like closed shoes, sandals, flip flops, school shoes, casual and festive collections and popular features like shoes with lights, wheels etc.

Are Indians brand-conscious when buying footwear? What price point is a favourite with consumers?

With Bata’s wide portfolio, we reach out to multiple segments of consumers. The market is moving from unbranded to branded footwear, which highlights the importance of quality, trust, comfort and technology to consumers.

The consumer today is more aware, widely-travelled and is brand conscious. Bata is making its own stores more experiential in urban cities and is reaching to smaller towns via multi-brand outlets. Consumers depending during their life-stage and need are buying multiple pairs of footwear across price points. And these price-points are dependent upon the occasion for which footwear is bought. We at Bata offer the leading designs, finest quality, and widest range across thousands of physical stores and online to meet every occasion.

Is the entry of international players in the footwear industry being seen as a threat?

We have been the leading footwear brand of the country since the past 84 years. Being the first brand to introduce footwear to India, the brand has grown and expanded its footprint all across India. In India till date people relate footwear to Bata and with this strong brand recall, the brand has been able to establish and sustain the position of the most leading and trusted footwear brand of the country.

While newer national as well as international brands have now entered the Indian market, we have been able to maintain a competitive advantage over them via constant innovation and newer designs and technology and are the only one stop shop for the entire family with respect to their footwear and accessory needs.

Consumers have the choice and accessibility of a Bata store anywhere to everywhere be it offline or online. Also, with our e-commerce website we make sure to give our customers the same experience and warmth that they feel while going to a Bata Retail store.

Bata products are now available across all the leading online portals such as Amazon, Myntra, and Flipkart to name a few. At Bata, we are committed to provide our customers the best in class merchandise in terms of quality. Our brand ethos remains unchanged i.e. quality, contemporary and value for money. On and above, we give our online customers access to stores for exchange and claims which in a way providing the customers omnichannel experience.

Previously Bata had a tie up with Hush Puppies, which is now opening their own EBOs. Is there any other brand in the pipeline for a tie-up?

We sell Hush puppies in Bata stores, shop in shop concepts in multi-brand outlets and stand-alone Hush Puppies stores. The current focus remains in growing these offerings rather than expanding more. Our endeavour is always to provide our consumers the best footwear experience and we will continue to do so.

What are your future plans?

We would continue to grow our retail foot print offering category-leading experiences for our consumers while continuing to grow our existing stores.

We would also focus on creating a seamless retail experience between our retail & digital offerings. We will continue to expand our reach in smaller towns and Tier III to Tier V through our distribution network.

Also, we will continue to strengthen Bata’s brand connect with younger and newer consumers out there. Women and kids as categories are going to see great growth in the coming years and we’re gearing up for the opportunity.

Do you have any message to the footwear retailers in India?

Well, I can only say to be consumer focused and practice best ethics and consumer practices.