The COVID-19 pandemic left many a retail operation in the lurch, with stores shutting down worldwide and online operations left high and dry with the supply chain not functioning due to a global lockdown. As lockdowns are easing, and retail is re-opening in phases, many brands are reimaging themselves to better serve the COVID consumer.
One such brand is FableStreet. Like all non-essential businesses, FableStreet also witnessed a hit in sales when it was forcibly shuttered in the first stage of the lockdown. So, when the government allowed retailers to reopen stores and e-commerce businesses to resume operation including delivery of non-essential items, FableStreet instantly got in to action. “Our immediate strategy was to get our deliveries back on track and ship orders with immediate effect, which we have started doing,” said Ayushi Gudwani, Founder and CEO, FableStreet.
According to Gudwani, India is probably sitting on more than a billion dollars’ worth of Spring/Summer 2020 inventory, which is not a revenue-generating tool for brands anymore but actually a cost they will have to recover.
“Any recovery of inventory which is lying around is good for a brand. So overall, there will be a good amount of sales, a significant amount of liquidation and margins will be affected for the next 3 to 6 months. Brands need to clearly plan ahead in terms of how much of Spring/Summer 2020 inventory can be moved to Autumn/Winter 2020,” she explained.
“Hence, look at what could be used for the future. And to explore new channels of sales such as partnerships and collaborations to reduce current inventory and overcome this crisis.”
Launched online before recently going the offline route, FableStreet has primarily been a direct-to-consumer brand. Amid the lockdown, the premium women’s workwear brand is further strengthening its online channel and revamping product categories basis the ‘new normal’.
“Till date, we have primarily been a direct-to-consumer brand where we have managed to serve customers online before going offline. So, we can confidently say that we are more than geared up for omnichannel experiences ensuring online purchases,” she stated.
Complementary Online-Offline Experiences
At present, reading the market situation correctly, the brand wants to strengthen its omnichannel properties. Integrating seamless online-offline experience to ensure a high-quality shopping experience for the consumers. The online-offline experience should be complementary of each other and consumers should be able to enjoy these at the same level.
The brand’s custodians are looking at including smooth navigation from webstore to in-store; common inventory view across stores so that if a style is not available in stock, it can easily be procured from another store for the consumers directly; seamless availability and management of customer data across locations as well as online-offline to be able to style them in-store basis their purchase and sizing history in the online format and likewise, the customer should get similar online recommendations basis their shopping behaviour offline. This would also help them manage alterations, returns and exchanges for in-store purchases online.
“We want to strengthen our online channel which has already been strong and look at revamping our product categories basis the ‘new normal’. Eventually, with time, we will reopen our retail store (at DLF Promenade, New Delhi), introduce new collections and look at the ‘new normal’ of running a store post-lockdown,” said Gudwani.
Even before the lockdown was announced, the brand was conscious of and had ensured customers’ and staff safety at their store. The entire store was sanitised twice daily along with the use of masks and hand sanitisers for store staff as well those who entered the premises.
Social distancing was and will be strictly followed by the store staff who will ensure limited entry of customers at any point in time. “As social distancing will still be a norm post-lockdown, retail brands will have to look at new shopping approaches to ensure customer safety and find non-traditional ways for garment trials,” she explained.
According to the brand, they will:
– Set up a UV chamber in the store to ensure that garments which have been tried on regular basis are disinfected and are not reused for 24 hours.
– Enable ‘Try Here, Buy at Home’, which will minimise risk for consumers, ensuring every garment is sanitised and disinfected in front of consumers pre-trial.
– Set up a virtual trial room in the store to enable virtual trials.
– Introduce selection-based trials where customers select limited products and pick up colours in the same products later (should they want to), to limit trials.
“Technology will play an important role given the limited human interaction due to social distancing, at least initially post-lockdown, if not permanently. We need to start leveraging elements of technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), be it in online shopping or shopping bulk products. Consumers will be interested in figuring out how products look on them virtually. Other factors such as ‘Buy Online, Pick-Up at Store’ or getting products delivered at home should also be taken into consideration to enable smooth sales,” she said.
The Future: Revenge Spending
In the next 6 to 8 months, with social distancing being the mandate, there has been a pause in social gatherings and people will continue working from home. As a result, the demand and purchase of apparel will reduce. There will also be a shift from the trends of fast fashion and occasion wear to value-for-money, comfortable and functional fashion such as antimicrobial garments, upcycled fabrics, breathable fabrics like cottons and linens, easy-to-manage knitwear, etc. However, given the fact that India has been in lockdown since March 2020 and a lot of consumers are hoarding pent-up demands, Gudwani feels that the market will see a short spike in the buying patterns, similar to what China has witnessed in terms of ‘revenge spending’.
“Overall, in the long run, as things stablise, the focus on wardrobe purchases will resume to the original form. There may be a ‘new normal’ in terms of what people prefer but eventually, demand will return in a year or so to pre-COVID 19 levels and people will go back to their usual ways of life,” concluded Gudwani.