The pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime test of business continuity planning for retail businesses across the globe. Even when things have stabilized to an extent and economies are gradually opening up, the industry is being confronted by a hard question – what’s next? With little to no revenue in sight for months, brands and retailers turned to those who they have always looked upon to lead them when the going gets tough – their CEOs.
IMAGES Retail spoke to Suvankar Sen, Executive Director, Senco Gold & Diamonds to find out how he led the change in a crisis year with the way he managed his company, integrated technology in the workspace and let consumers be the voice of the brand.
From your brand’s perspective, how did you fare during the lockdown and what was the consumer response in the initial Unlock phase?
During the lockdown period, jewellery industry went through multiple challenges. At one end, the product – being discretionary spending and not a necessity – was not a preferred buy during initial phases. However, once the unlock phase happened, the rising price of gold as a commodity brought about a lot of confidence and positive attitude towards the category. With the wedding season coming, consumers started buying jewellery – both gold and diamonds. With our karigars badly affected by the lockdown, losing jobs and work opportunities temporarily, it was a huge challenge for the industry to provide jobs and security to them. Therefore, as unlock happened, we motivated them and encouraged them to join back work with proper sanitized conditions and tried to preserve the art of designing by saving the karigars. We also used this opportunity to mobilise our team to support elderly customers during lockdown, help local communities to support the poor and needy, try contributing towards government initiatives and be there for the community.
What steps did you take to bring the brand firmly on the road to recovery?
The steps were:
- Healthy and sanitized condition for employees and customer
- Digital mediums of selling, to offer a better and easier experience to customers for purchase and decision making
- Give importance to traditions such as wedding and handcrafted jewellery for special occasions
Did you emphasise more on a digital presence in this time period or did you opt for the traditional retail model with minor adjustments?
Digital presence became more of a necessity during the lockdown. We started accepting online payment systems and booking of gold. We also had our team showcasing jewellery to customer as per their needs through the video call. Our e-commerce team were also active and guided customers. There has been a shift in mindset and an aim to seamlessly mix offline and online.
Have you launched any innovative consumer experiences over the pandemic period?
We implemented Virtual Try on, online video selling, Facebook live selling, online booking of appointments, designer customisation and various other virtual initiatives.
Which are the new technologies – both in-store & online – that you have introduced in an effort to go contactless?
Online payments, viewing, selection of products for our B2C and B2B customers, various inter-departmental meetings, connecting with store managers, doing store audits – a lot of such customer experience and operational related work has been done in a contactless manner.
How has been the consumer response been like in the festival season? Were you able to match the level of business and profit last year?
The business which happened in the festive season was the outcome of the hard work of the entire team as well as the karigars. The profit didn’t reach last year’s level as there was virtually no business for two months due to the lockdown. The overall business is at 70-80 percent of last year currently.
Stores in malls vs streets, which ones are bringing in more revenues / raking in more footfalls? Why?
Stores on street have done better this year because malls were shut down more and footfalls were limited. Customers wanted a more secure way of buying.
Has the brand reached pre-COVID levels in terms of sales?
Weddings have played a major role for brand recovery since customers realised the value of a true asset in form of gold and diamond that can be gifted to their family members. However, we feel it will take 3-6 months for getting back to pre COVID levels.
What are your future plans?
Future is about taking the company through a seamless digital led, customer centric planning, ensuring we can take our craftsmanship story to various parts of the country and offer our unique designs to customers. We will observe market conditions and plan growth accordingly.