With the novel coronavirus pandemic gripping the world and the government implementing a lockdown – including shutting down of all malls and high streets except essentials – while advocating social distancing, people have been confined to homes, isolating themselves, working from home and going to marketplaces only for essentials. Retailers and fashion brands across the country have had to temporarily shut down stores providing a distinct opportunity for e-commerce businesses to take over. And the shift has been imperative.
With no social spaces, the internet has become, for many, the only link to society. As a result, greater use of the internet, social media, and e-commerce touchpoints have led to digitisation of the consumer shopping behaviour.
This non-contact norm during the coronavirus pandemic has boosted engagement and sales online.
Boon for E-commerce Players
Most corporates have implemented the ‘work from home’ policy – a trend which was growing earlier as well but has caught on almost instantaneously now.
COVID-19 has increased online shopping usage globally, and in India, it has led to a rise in the number of first-time e-commerce users, who had been so far uncomfortable with shopping online.
Brands, which were not following an Omnichannel route earlier are looking to establish online platforms and even the most prosperous of brick-and-mortar stores have been forced to experiment with digital channels. Today, fashion brands and retailers are updating and live-streaming promotions and engaging with their audiences in more ways than one.
This represents a real and immediate opportunity to drive efficiencies digitally. At the same time, this crisis has highlighted the importance of investment in enabling technologies like cloud, data, etc.
According to Dr Deepak Halan, Associate Professor, School of Management Sciences, Apeejay Stya University, Indian retail is divided into organised and unorganised sectors, wherein the unorganised sector includes approximately 1.38 crore conventional family-run neighbourhood stores and organised retail – with a share less than 10 percent of the total business – comprises modern brick-and-mortar stores and online shopping sites.
Considering the present lockdown emergency, setting-up of online platforms is expected to become indispensable for offline stores, and the offline-to-online integration is expected to increase at a greater and faster rate.
Focus on Omni-Presence
Even post the coronavirus pandemic, online shopping is likely to gradually replace offline shopping, making decentralisation imperative for the sector. Consumer sentiment will remain cautious and online sales are expected to witness a significant surge and will be further supported by an increasing use of virtual technologies.
Moving forward, it will be important to retain the new consumers who were onboarded during the lockdown and hence imperative to bind and engage with new consumers who shifted their purchasing habits online and nurturing them, converting them to the long-term customer base.
Even once the life starts limping back to normal, a certain class of people with limited purchasing power will be more conscious while making purchases and the focus will remain on need-based consumption.
“In India, a great majority of B2C e-commerce retailers draw customers to shop online by offering bargains such as free delivery, discounts, buy-one-get-one-free and exchange offers. However, many Indian shoppers – known to be cost-conscious and conservative as a part of their value system – are generally not attracted into making quick decisions based on promotions and advertisements,” said Dr Halan.
Despite online retailers trying to entice buyers with lockdown sales and offline retailers hoping to win-back consumers post-lockdown, consumers might not be too keen to open their wallets anytime soon and will prefer brands that promise value for money while meeting customer expectations – and fashion retail will have to follow suit.