India – and the world – has been forced to deal with the ramifications of COVID-19, health consequences, economic crisis, job loss, struggle for a livelihood for many. Every sector has been affected by the pandemic one way or the other, the Retail Industry being at the forefront of job loss, salary cuts, furloughs, and layoffs.
In troubled times, as the festive season looms, and India is opening up its markets, in the final stages of Unlock, and there are signs pointing to a positive consumer sentiment, there is a glimmer of hope. The fashion retail segment, which has taken one of the worst hits, is bullish on the festival season, hoping that it will set the tone for a revival, and set the segment firmly on the path to recovery. And they are certainly not leaving anything to chance. Small and large brands and retailers alike are undertaking measures to ensure healthy sales. These include amplifying their digital technologies, clever discount strategies, minimizing the scale of errors and leveraging the online gifting trend. Aside from this, retailers all over India are strictly implementing COVID-19 control measures across stores to encourage and ensure a safe shopping experience for consumers.
The industry is also employing digital technologies to boost sales both offline and online, automating and integrating supply chains and distribution processes, and amplifying digital marketing activities.
“The very first step to prepare for the festive season is to understand customers’ shopping preferences. This year has been difficult worldwide, although we are optimistic things will get better. Our strategy is to promote products through social media handles and other digital platforms. This is the time to focus more on digital to reach out to our consumers. We will be experimenting with digital platforms which will not just be limited to promotion but will also be the preferred points of purchase. Our constant endeavour is to create a seamless omnichannel experience to increase our customer engagement during the festive season,” says Anshuman Singh, Creative Founder, Paul Adams.
“Although the scale of festivities may be smaller, we are still optimistic that people will embrace this ‘new normal’ and still find reasons to celebrate. We have already launched a stunning array of products for the festive/ wedding/ winter season in myriad blends and a very diverse colour palette,” adds Vikram Mahaldar, MD & CEO, OCM Private Limited.
Realigning Retail Strategies to the COVID Era
The pandemic has prompted retailers to rethink and redefine their retail objectives. To stand apart from the rest, they are learning to realign their strategies in the form of proactive sales services and advertising.
“The pandemic and the situation it created demanded some sort of realignment in our strategy. For instance, to accommodate the change and service new demand, we included masks in our list of offerings as well. So, it would be fair to say that the change has mostly been focused on assortment,” says Nidhi Yadav, Founder & Creative Head, AKS Clothings.
“We have been working towards strengthening Omnichannel retailing, which is essentially delivering a unified experience to the customers with the physical stores integrated with e-commerce marketplace. Cantabil has forayed into the online market space recently. So, this would be the first time we would be available online and are expecting good traction in the number of sales. While offline sales have bounced back in the second quarter and look stable for Tier II and III cities, we are witnessing that the customer is still more comfortable shopping online, especially in Tier 1 cities due to COVID crisis. We also have a keen focus on automation, understanding consumer purchase patterns, and building on our brand positioning statement,” says Deepak Bansal, Director, Cantabil Retail Pvt Ltd.
On the same lines, Vinod Kumar Gupta, Managing Director, Dollar Industries Limited says, “In wake of the current scenario, in addition to the retail outlets, we are primarily focusing on our e-commerce business.”
Regaining Consumer Confidence
The COVID-19 induced uncertainties have led to a drastic drop in the average spending of consumers. There is a need to work towards building consumer confidence to avoid a long-term downward spiraling effect on the industry.
The post-pandemic consumer puts a huge emphasis on trust. It’s imperative for retailers to shift their business models to address consumers’ new expectations by creating meaningful digital brand experiences and solidifying trusted relationships. Also, since customers are educated and is aware and wary of the pandemic, they are also seeking safety through utilitarian solutions.
“At FableStreet, the needs and happiness of our consumers are of paramount importance and as a brand, we’ve always been agile in responding and evolving accordingly. Overall, we are happy to observe that consumer confidence has started improving over the last few weeks with people realising the importance of staying inspired and positive,” explains Ayushi Gudwani, Founder, FableStreet.
Adding to this, Kumar says, “At Dollar Industries Limited, we firmly believe in constantly innovating and creating products that match up to the change in trends. Keeping in mind the health and safety of our consumers, we collaborated with HealthGuard, Australia and curated a unique range of anti-viral products. We optimize digital as well conventional media, in order to communicate constantly with our consumers for various initiatives and new launches.”
With changing consumer shopping habits and preferences owing to lockdown and pandemic, the key element is to stay connected and understand the behaviors and intentions of the customers. The importance of interacting with the consumer, even digitally, has increased more than ever and is crucial to execute a winning retail marketing and advertising strategy.
“We are functioning at multiple levels to communicate with customers across online and offline channels through SMS campaigns, influencer engagements, or strategic digital campaigns, in order to maintain connect with the target audience and inform them about our various initiatives, programs and consumer engagement measures,” says Bansal.
“We have increased our pace of innovation and reoriented our customer support as well as marketing activities to gear up for the new reality. The objective is to respond as speedily as possible to emerging circumstances and reach the consumer with effective solutions,” adds Petal Gangurde, Vice President, Brand and Marketing. XYXX Apparels Pvt Ltd.
The last few months have been quite hectic and uncertain in terms of revamped work structures, a new WFH routine coming in place and consumers switching to comfort clothing over style. But with the upcoming festive season in a post-lockdown situation, people want to indulge and pamper themselves, reconnect with loved ones, feel good and have fun, albeit mindfully.
“We launched Indulge – our first-ever Indo-Western, conscious festive range in luxury Chanderi and Cotton Silk. This collection is bolder and a lot more fun in terms of bold colours and prints coming together in our signature custom fits, keeping in mind the festive season. We’ve done two drops so far a witnessed a great response to these and more drops will follow in the upcoming weeks. We also launched a new jewellery collection called Grace – a range of minimal, handcrafted fretwork jewellery with pearl embellishments which will go very well with festive clothing and can also be worn beyond festivities,” says Gudwani.
“We’re launching a premium line – Aks Couture – comprising festive, ethnic, and wedding wear,” adds Nidhi Yadav.
“We are presenting our brand afresh across digital, e-commerce and retail channels. We also have a number of exciting new products being launched in truly innovative designs and fabrics,” states Petal Gangurde.
The festive collection of Faballey and Indya this year is slightly different from the ones they have done over the past years, making it more conducive to the post-COVID environment with pieces that are light-weight yet glamorous. They are pushing categories like ready-to-wear sarees, contemporary blouses and classic jewellery pieces that transition seasons and occasions and will stay in style for years to come. They are also bundling separates into coordinated sets to promote cross-selling.
Will Festive Season Bring Back the Lost Sheen?
“Looking at the markets opening up, and consumers’ purchasing power, the festive season should see a surge in activity. Consumers have started accepting the new normal. Our sales have started reaching 70-75 percent of last year and demand for our products ahead of the festive and winter season is encouraging,” asserts Mahaldar.
“The festive season is just around the corner now and our sales are 120 percent higher than they were in January before the pandemic struck. So, consumers are taking interest in fashion wear,” adds Yadav.
The first quarter of the year was majorly impacted by the pandemic and witnessed a substantial dent in sales figures. As the lockdown was eased and restrictions were uplifted, Dollar Industries saw a rise in sales volume which resulted in 2x growth in sales. The brand is positive that the third quarter which includes the festive season, will be promising and the sales graph will pick up further.
“The festive season is indeed a great time to boost up sales. Although, the situation is not usually like it used to be, but we are keeping our hopes high from the upcoming festive season. India being a country where festivals are celebrated with much oomph and zeal, people will hold small gatherings, they will shop that will help in sales going up comparatively. With the norms of social distancing expected to remain in place, along with the fear of stepping out in public places, the share of sales from e-commerce have increased significantly for Alberto Torresi. However, we as retailers are expecting 50 percent demand recovery for all our formal category launched lately, in the coming festive season as compared to pre-COVID levels. The festive season from Dussehra to Diwali is expected to see a resumption in sales closer to the pre-COVID levels,” says Ishaan Sachdeva, Director, Alberto Torresi.
Expectations from the Festive Season
The second quarter of the current financial year saw better than expected demand recovery aided by the opening of the economy. There was continued demand for apparel during the second quarter, in great contrast to the slump in demand during the April-June quarter, which was caused by prolonged lockdown.
“We are optimistic of reaching at least 80 percent of what we did last year, given the current situation of the market and consumer spending power,” says Mahaldar.
“The sales for the fact will not be as high as it used to be during the festive season but considering the crash that we all witnessed in the lockdown, the season for sure will boost up the sales. We are hoping that we would be able to match the turnover of that of last year, and we are constantly working towards that,” Sachdeva adds.
“While our online sales continue to grow, there has also been an increase in footfall in our stores since mid-September. One trend we have noticed in consumer behavior these days is that – customers who are walking into the store come with an intention to buy. Our walk-ins are now at 60-70 percent of pre-COVID Diwali season. Seeing the positive consumer sentiment, we are expecting our pre-Diwali online revenue to be 120 percent of what it was in 2019, and while offline retail is slowly picking up, we are expecting to make a 75-80 percent recovery. Overall, we foresee a 100 percent recovery in October. Seeing the positive consumer sentiment, we are expecting our pre-Diwali online revenue to be 120 percent of what it was in 2019, and while offline retail is slowly picking up, we are expecting to make a 75-80 percent recovery. Overall, we foresee a 100 percent recovery in October,” share Tanvi Malik and Shivani Poddar, Co-founders, FabAlley and Indya.
“We are anticipating achieving 75 percent of what we achieved vis-à-vis last year, and as the time progresses and the demand-supply gap gets thinner we shall be seeing a 100 percent recovery,” concludes Bansal.