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COVID-19: How e-tailers are adapting to changing consumer behavior

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The pandemic has changed the way consumers used to consume fashion. With most consumers switching to working from home, there has been a shift in consumer focus from fast fashion and occasion wear to comfortable, easy and value-for-money clothing that let them relax while WFH. Consumers are preferring antimicrobial garments, upcycled fabrics, breathable cottons and linens and easy knitwear.
Apart from this, consumers have also gone conscious of their purchase. As they spend more time at home, in-front of the screens, it has impacted their purchase patterns. They are now looking out for brands that give them both their style and functionality.
“Keeping this in mind, we launched ‘Work From Home Edit’. This collection combines comfort with necessity. With masks becoming a mandate across the nation, we also repurposed our facility to make Sterilised Cotton Reusable Mask,” says Ayushi Gudwani, Founder, FableStreet.
“Our customer survey shows 80 percent of existing customers are shopping online even more than before. Also new categories of consumers, beyond the young tech savvy early adopters, have moved online and they need reliability and ease of use to give them the confidence that e-commerce is a real alternative to traditional shopping. Mobile is now the key enabler and the primary way to access e-commerce,” adds Mary Turner, CEO
The pandemic has also wrought uncertainty and income distress in consumers due to which discretionary spending on fashion and lifestyle category is seen a dip. It has impacted the businesses drastically.
“As more consumers turn to the digital way of life, we are seizing this opportunity to connect with them directly and deliver a better customer experience,” say Tanvi Malik and Shivani Poddar, Co-founders, FabAlley and Indya.
Changing Consumption Pattern
With social distancing continuing to be a norm across the nation and masks becoming a mandate, people are looking for safe essentials which can become a fashion statement as well. Along with this, the way people now live and socialize has also changed the way they consume fashion.
“Consumers these days prefer investing in more relaxed, breezy styles that they can wear at home while also looking professional,” says Gudwani.
“Consumers are now looking to invest in timeless style and are preferring comfort over being trend-driven. Another category that has seen an upswing is casual wear featuring cotton-based separates, T-shirts, and bottoms. They allow for freedom and ease and are easy bets for day to evening style. Coordinated pyjama sets have also seen a spike in demand,” Tanvi Malik and Shivani Poddar state resonating the same thoughts.
Vajor experienced that consumers were opting for merchandise on sale as compared to the fresh collection.
Impact on Demand
Non-essential categories like fashion have been affected and there has been a lot of stock clearance and discounting in the short term. However, the COVID restrictions have been an impetus for many more brands to discover the convenience of e-commerce as an essential, trusted and easy way to shop.
It also means that retailers now realise that it is critical for their brands to be online with an e-commerce platform and app.
“Koovs has seen a lot of interest in its B2B platform and content services from retailers and brands who want to take the leap,” states Turner.
“Online sales are thriving indicating consumption in Metropolitan and Tier 1 is not impacted highly as much as in Tier II and III in the fashion and lifestyle category,” states Linda Lee, Brand Head, Vajor.
“Our online platforms have picked up well since Unlock 1.0. We are currently at a 75-80 percent pre-COVID online revenue level and are slated to grow to 100 percent in the next 2-3 months,” add Tanvi Malik and Shivani Poddar.
On the other hand, FableStreet had a totally different experience. Being a workwear brand, their sales plummeted during lockdown, however, now it has started picking up.
“It will take some time for the business to reach the pre-COVID levels,” says Gudwani.
Realigning Retail Strategies
To cope with these uncertain times, brands had to do some quick and intelligent pivots in their retail strategies. From revising the number of collection launches to introducing new shopping solutions, brands are adopting various ways to win consumer confidence back.
“We have slowed down our manufacturing. We took a call to change our stand on becoming a sustainable brand to promote mindful consumption. Vajor will be launching 3 collections in a year and will be conscious of the produce and material being used. Hence, keeping our ecological sustainability at its core,” says Lee.
“We have seen a great demand for our platform-as-a-service from retailers and we are therefore expanding our B2B technology and content offering,” says Turner.
“As our offline business was the most impacted, we introduced a home shopping solution for our store customers, giving them the option to try and buy clothes in the comfort of their homes,” add Tanvi Malik and Shivani Poddar.
FableStreet has started doing the reorientation of products. Along with this, the brand is also leveraging technology – artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and ‘buy online, pick up at store’.
Exploring New Categories
Fashion is intrinsic and while its consumption may have gone down, it will never go away. With this thought, brands dig deep into what their customers need through this new way of life and decided to venture into categories and streams that are relevant to them and the business at this point.
“We first introduced a WFH edit featuring preppy shirts, versatile blouses, and other keyboard-up formal top wear. In May, when cities began to open, we launched a line of protective non-surgical masks to enable people to move out comfortably. These were first launched on our brand websites and online marketplaces such as Myntra and Nykaa Fashion. We then took a B2B approach by tying up with pharmacies and online grocery stores like BigBasket. We have recently launched loungewear lines for both, FabAlley and Indya, featuring designs that can take customers from couch to coffee and beyond,” say Tanvi Malik and Shivani Poddar.
“Vajor launched its very first Hemp collection “NATIVE” during this lockdown. The launch was planned for April but due to the supply chain being hit massively, we had to postpone the launch,” adds Lee.
Staying Connected with Consumers
Engaging customers through content and social media is vital for the survival of any brand.
“We connect with our consumers via our social media platforms. We are consistently engaging with them and doing social listening to figure out the kind of content they are consuming and looking for. We are taking constant feedback from them for existing and future collections. At the same time, we are also staying in touch with consumers via our online and offline stylists to resolve any queries that they have. Our customer experience team is also available to address such queries,” states Gudwani.
“Vajor has always been a digitally strong company and has been connected to its consumers through social media. We are rebuilding our customer care strategies, whatsapp facility, apart from email. Calls took a back seat due to remote working of employees. Technology played all the role in addressing customer queries, chats, emails, Whatsapp and social media handles became the mode of communication for consumers and brands that would be for new launches or simple order queries,” Lee says resonating the same thoughts.
“We provide expert fashion editorial, style advice and collaborate with their favourite new film and sports icons to inspire consumers,” adds Turner.
Emerging Trends: Temporary or Structural?
Pandemic has changed the way consumer used to shop and this in turn has given birth to many new trends. But the question is, will these trends continue in the long run?
“One trend that is conscious buying is definitely going to pick up. The love for home grown brands and the major shift from offline to online shopping will also experience a surge in demand. We saw 30 percent increase in our organic searches since lockdown,” asserts Lee.
“The short-term focus on essential categories will be temporary, and discretionary spend on non-essentials like fashion, home and luxury brands will return. The real permanent structural change will be the move to omnichannel with online and offline providing retailers with a viable way to expand their brand reach and provide customers with the ultimate choice and convenience,” Turner states.
“Overall, we clearly understand that with the current pandemic, online brands and DTC brands are here to stay and the penetration of the internet will definitely increase. Therefore, going forward, we will see interesting uses of technology. There will clearly be product evolution. Therefore, to support products and change in consumer needs, the operations and supply chain will also go through eventual changes with faster response time, more agility and these changes will become a baseline for future e-tailers,” concludes Gudwani.

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