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Agility is key to building resilience for Indian SMEs

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India’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) sector, comprising over six crore businesses, is contending with a uniquely challenging time, today. Tectonic shifts, ensuing the lockdown, have affected all areas of business from production and logistics to in-store and retail sales. Customer expectations and behaviours have also changed, driven by the immediate need to access essential services coupled with the growing consciousness of safety and hygiene standards. The spurt in on-demand services and growing preferences for contactless deliveries exemplify this trend.

Agility is key to building resilience for Indian SMEs

Now as we begin to open up, business recovery for most MSMEs will not be as easy as simply restarting operations. Faced with revenue losses, cashflow crunches and more discerning customers, many MSMEs have been compelled to reconsider their business strategies. The need to be creative and agile has never been more pronounced. And, the accelerated rate of adoption of online commerce is testament to the fact that India’s small business owners are rising to the challenge. E-commerce is proving to be increasingly pertinent in providing small businesses an effective way to experiment at a relatively low cost, and adapt quickly to a fast-evolving retail landscape. Those that were nimble in their approach to adopt and invest in growing their online presence early in the crisis are today reaping the benefits of increased customer engagement and retention.

Here are three ways in which merchants can adopt agile strategies to help them get back on a growth trajectory:

– Be Nimble in Adopting an Omnichannel Strategy to Expand the Consumer Base

Even as physical stores remain relevant to a broader commerce strategy, small business owners have recognised the need to expand their presence online in order to survive and thrive. While the B2B model works well for certain businesses, being seen and accessible by the customer directly is essential especially in times like these, when physical interactions and transactions remain restricted. Most merchants and SMEs must adopt a Direct to Consumer approach by digitising their retail model to get closer to their customers.

A well-defined Omnichannel strategy will ensure that target customers spend more valuable time with the brand, resulting in higher sales and brand loyalty. Omnichannel selling doesn’t require the brand to be everywhere, just where their current and potential customers are. In the current scenario, various channels like mobile-browsing, online marketplaces, social media can help the brand gain wider access to audiences.

– Create Flexible Business Models to Better Manage Customer Expectations

Online stores and channels make it easier for businesses to customise their offerings by enabling better understanding of their customers’ preferences, behaviours and purchase patterns. While managing customers’ expectations in today’s scenario, it is essential that merchants are cognizant of their evolving needs. Today, most consumers are working remotely, and a business’ ability to service them with speed, safety and efficiency will have a lasting impact on their perceptions of the brand and the business. It is also essential to understand the new normal and adapt to it to remain relevant in the consumer’s daily life.

For instance, an apparel retailer can pivot to creating masks or a furniture maker can design ergonomic products to help their customers work from home more comfortably. When the entire supply chain was disrupted during the early days of the lockdown, resulting in delays of essential food items, Claro Agro launched a D2C channel, SunnyIndia.in, to supply their products directly to different societies across Delhi/ NCR, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and soon to other states as well. Like SunnyIndia.in, the idea is to assess and address the needs of consumers and anticipate their concerns in order to better serve them.

– Re-imagine Business Operations to Become More Agile

Agility is not merely a business tactic but must become imbibed into the very DNA of the business. For customers working remotely, hyper-local deliveries is one option that can help solve critical logistical problems. Flexibility in payment methods, no-contact and cashless deliveries, responsive and empathetic customer service, implementing and communicating safety standards have taken precedence. Now more than ever it is crucial to re-imagine various aspects of business operations to become more flexible to better fulfil customer demand.

The pandemic has compelled businesses to be more attuned to their consumers’ unique needs and consider their operations from a different lens. For entrepreneurs, sellers and merchants who have been hesitant to digitize their business, there is no more appropriate time than the present. Investing in Omnichannel strategies and pivoting business strategies to offer relevant and timely solutions can help not only compensate for lost in-store revenue but also secure a robust pipeline for the future. These are unprecedented times but the silver lining for merchants is the opportunity to embrace new ways of being customer-focused and truly embody flexibility as a way of life to future-proof their business.