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    Smashing Gender Stereotypes: Women retail heads pave the path to business success

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    As India is paving its way toward modernization, gender roles are gradually changing with women no more being confined to houses. Indian women multitask – they are homemakers, decision makers, able and skilled workers all rolled into one.

    Women are breaking the glass ceiling in every field and retail – which was supposedly an area predominantly occupied by men – is no different, experiencing change as women are posing stiff competition to their male counterparts.

    It is said that women leaders are more transformational than men leaders. They function as a role model for their subordinates. They inspire their team and spend a lot of time coaching their team. They emphasize teamwork and authentic communication as a key to success. When women become leaders, they bring skills, different perspectives, and structural and cultural differences which ultimately drive effective solutions to the companies occupied by men. With different perspectives and a sense of awareness, women can investigate finer details to see what is really going on underneath.

    In a sector rife with uncertainty and poised for change due to the pandemic, women are leading from the front in the fight for survival. The last one year was time for some serious strategic planning, decision making, investing in new areas, resuming business, implementing digitization, technology, innovations and also ensuring safety to the employees and consumers.

    In a country riddled with gender stereotypes, here is a look at some women retail leaders who are making a difference in the sector and are crucial in building successful businesses. IMAGES Retail profiles these inspiring women, women with an authority to make decisions to take their brands away from the crisis and direct them on to a path to normalcy.

    Key Concerns

    The path to the top of the retail chain isn’t easy. It doesn’t just include running a business and generating revenues, but requires a working knowledge of technology, being updated in everything that’s trending in the industry and while the big picture doesn’t often change, the details of the story must adapt to constantly changing business conditions. In today’s pandemic-led accelerated digitalisation, brands and retailers are racing against time to provide the best in Omnichannelisation, Phygital retail, m-commerce, e-commerce and social commerce. Therefore, along with leadership qualities and technical know-how, the duty of the leader is to keep fine-tuning and updating the vision of the company.

    Other things that the retail captains were known for doing this crucial year included:

    • Managing the business continuity during the crisis.
    • Scenario planning for minimum survival.
    • Managing the drop in demand and adjusting supply.
    • Dealing with decline in confidence and lifting team morale.
    • Coping with staff shortage.
    • Countering the dependency on the brick-and-mortar store.
    • Delivering digitally.
    • Communicating with consumers digitally and creating loyalty programs.
    • Keeping expenses in check and creating backups for budget deficits.
    • Preparing for the unexpected.

    Talking about the key concerns and highlights of the past one year, , Founder, says, “While the entire country was in a lockdown and work from home became the norm, we had to relook at our entire product line and make it more in tune with the realities of the time. First, we came up with a ‘Work From Home’ edit, followed by an all-day wear collection in knits called ‘Multitude’. Very recently, we have launched ‘LivIn pants’, which one can wear from sleep to yoga to work. They are designed such that one can start and finish their day in them.  Given the shift to a work from home setup we have witnessed across the globe in the last year, the workwear category has been in a transitioning phase. Adding more to it, the key highlight for us would definitely be the way in which we were able to turn around a seemingly challenging and unprecedented circumstance to a period of business growth, with product innovation, category and collection expansion and an enhanced customer base.”

    “In 2020, we witnessed a substantial change in the consumer shopping pattern. Most people were working from home which resulted in an increased demand for athleisure clothing and a drop for formal wear. Categories like fashion, athleisure and F&B were in demand at the malls. When the malls were re-opened, consumers were reluctant to step out of their home initially due to concerns of safety. However, by following stringent hygiene protocols and social distancing norms, we were able to win the trust of our consumers which could be seen in the rise in footfalls. In the last one year we have witnessed the store launches of many fashion, cosmetic brands across our properties. Recently, we launched The COMMONS- Delhi’s unrivalled dining destination at DLF Avenue, Saket. We have long felt the need to introduce this new concept of a fashionably curated address where everyone comes together, with all the freedom to work, play and dine in the same space,” says , Executive Director, .

    , Chief Customer Experience and Service Delivery, says, “Although the lockdown days were challenging, the unlock saw a gradual month-on-month increase in the demand. People increasingly invested in items such as fitness equipment, home entertainment, and furniture. Our ‘Home Office’ section saw a 3X increase in demand.”

    , MD, expressed her concerns saying, “Just like every other retail organisation, the lockdown was tough for us as well. Most stores were closed. By the end of May 2020, we had taken a call to work from home till December and put down a revised action plan for the rest of the year. The pandemic led to a surge in online spending, speeding up the shift from physical stores. Understanding the consumer sentiments, through analytics, right communication, new ways of reaching customers, e-commerce focus, and effective customer relations has helped us survive through these trying times. The consumer response was very slow in the initial stages. Two things stood out for us: convenience and cleanliness. We launched special services to reach out to our customers

    • Home Visits
    • Drive-Thrus
    • Pop-Up stores.

    All along, we kept the safety and well-being of our customers, staff and showrooms always the priority, by equipping our stores with sanitizers, disposable socks, masks and shields for our staff and continuous training.”

    “The initial months for the brand were tough, but the brand gained the opportunity to shine online by selling their niche products through its own portal. With an in-house digital marketing team, really spurred its sales and reached out to people all across India and not just Delhi NCR. We saw it as an opportunity to evolve and expand our operations around the country. The offline sales faced a bit of a shortfall but eventually picked up. Customers online responded very well to the website, we witnessed an increase in sales every month,” says , Co-founder, ORCO.

    Road to Recovery

    Highlighting the roadmap for revival and normalcy, Gudwani says, “Given the nature of the pandemic, it was hard for any business to really rely on any data or trends to plan and direct their future actions. The first and foremost thing we did, which has been a core element of our brand since inception, is to talk to our customers. It is only after actively listening to our customers, were we able to identify and understand their varied kinds of needs and changing preferences. Then we moved to bringing in innovation at the product level to address those needs. Fabrics like knits that added stretch, and styles and silhouettes that are more relaxed – are a few elements we added to be able to remain relevant to anyone who was juggling between home and work activities on any typical day. And third was to be agile in our action and decisions – right from team re-organisation to re-jigging our supply chain to getting the products into the market.”

    , VP- Marketing & E-commerce, Metro Brands Ltd. explains, “We focused on solutions that could meet the need of the hour, whether it was through our collections or various channels to reach out to the customers, thus making the brand more relevant. We were quick to anticipate the demand for comfort, home wear and casual wear. We also saw a spike in active wear.  We had split out strategy into three stages: Forming, Norming and Storming. During the ‘Forming stage’, we focused on usage of technology, making work from home smoother, ensuring employee engagement, safety of customers and employees, consistently engaging with customers via various social media channels and ensuring that the brand continues to be relevant to the changing consumer habits. In the ‘Norming Stage’ we relooked into many of our current processes, assortment, invested in technology for Omnichannel, home visits and ecommerce, to ensure readiness for the Storming stage.”

    “Post unlock, our online sales saw a marginal increase as compared to the retail counter sales. This is because the heavy furniture category still commands more sales from offline channels due to customer preferences. We were prepared for the festive season uptick in demand, with our planning and inventory management in sync with expectations from the seasonal trends. We ensured that our deliveries are 100 percent compliant to the SOPs laid down by the government. With regards to multi-unit furniture delivery, we maintained highly efficient collaboration and interoperability between delivery and installation teams for a seamless customer experience,” states Thakkar.

    Our priority has always been our customers and their safety is always paramount, keeping that in mind, we did more than what was mandated by MHA. We had developed a series of standard procedures for the retailers, the staff and the customers. Across DLF Malls with the help of ‘Lukout Closet’ the customers can book slots to visit any of the DLF Malls while giving them live footfall information from the malls. The customers can view the current footfall trend of the mall and make a well-informed decision of visiting the property. Another feature to enhance safety is Shop assist which gives the customers the ability to directly communicate with Mall concierge on a single touch. The consumers can chat on WhatsApp / call the concierge for availing personal shopping assistance. The assigned shopping assistant can enable the customers to have a video/audio call with the concerned brand and help make the purchase seamlessly. The orders are then available for a curbside pickup from a dedicated spot at the mall entrances from where the customer can pick up the order without entering the premises,” added Bector.

    Sales & Revenue

    Talking about the revenue and sales output during the pandemic, Gudwani says, “We did see a sharp decline in the month of April, with people being indoors during the lockdown and e-commerce operations also coming to a halt. As situations eased up, and the agility with which our team reacted to the changes, we actually not only recovered but are now ~3x of pre-COVID revenue.”

    “The brand has almost reached pre-COVID levels during the festive season. This is largely due to the positive sentiment of the festive season. The real test will be in the last quarter i.e. from Jan to March.  We believe we will still take 6 months to reach and surpass pre-COVID like-to-like sales,” added Malik.

    “Yes, the brand has recovered and is now on the path to grow further. This was possible due to expanding our customer base to the entire country by introducing ORCO’s online platform,” says Agarwal.

    “With increasing consumer confidence and the pent-up demand post lifting of lockdown, we can foresee malls coming back to normalcy very soon. We have reached close to 80 per cent sales of pre-COVID days till now. With the enrollment of vaccines, we are hoping to clock numbers close to pre-COVID times and positive growth by mid-2021,” says Bector.

    Technology & Digitalisation to the Rescue

    The pandemic saw a huge incline in the adaptation of technology by the industry in the last one year with the race to Omnichannelisation and being available on every possible platform the major focus. Some of the key initiatives included:

    • Contactless payments
    • Contactless & home deliveries
    • Using social media platforms to communicate with consumers (WhatsApp Calling etc.)
    • Offering digital menus and inventories

    “As an online-first brand, we have always had a strong digital presence. In fact, we had just opened our first retail experience store a couple of months before COVID hit, and while there was a plan to open a few more, it didn’t play out as such. So, in the past year, we solidified our digital presence even further, improving our web experience, offering related services like styling etc. on our website and other channels.  This was relevant particularly for our store. With COVID our customers had genuine concerns about trying clothes which someone might have worn just before them, so we installed a UV sanitising facility which was used to sanitise every garment after it was tried on. We also kept a control on the maximum number of people inside the store at a given time. To allow people a 100 percent contactless experience we integrated the store and our website as well, allowing users an Omnichannel experience,” says Gudwani.

    “During COVID, the world has become digital now more than ever. People have been spending more time online and are looking for more ways to engage with each other and brands. Being the market leader, we have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting Phygital space. We have been doing campaigns that are Phygital in nature to relate to our customers and keep the credibility of the brand intact. For example, for this Women’s Day, DLF Mall of India and DLF Promenade launched digital campaigns to celebrate stories of women of courage and determination with a theme based fashion photo/video shoots,” explains Bector.

    “We initiated several technology projects during this time for the following: Revamping our websites to improve customer experience, investing in Omnichannel by upgrading our order management system, enhancing our loyalty program and offering, initiating WhatsApp for Business for stores and our customer care team to provide a better experience for customers,” added Malik.

    “We leveraged FarEye to orchestrate last-mile deliveries, achieve real-time visibility and execute contactless deliveries. FarEye helped us scale up our product delivery and post-sale processes with new distribution models and logistics partners smoothly, to ensure a consistent customer experience. It has helped us in increasing the productivity of our field service engineers and technicians who are on the front lines of our business, and the face of the organization.  We were able to improve delivery turnaround time by 50 percent leveraging FarEye,” concludes Thakkar.

     THE FUTURE IS FEMALE

    Shopping, they say, is a trait which women have inherently. It therefore follows that women leaders in the retail segment would make a difference and would be crucial in building successful businesses. Following the lockdown induced lull, the retail and shopping centre industries are booming again, especially under the able leadership of these women at the helm. Here’s what these women leaders doing to grow their brands:

    • “At DLF Retail, we understand that retail experience is not just physical exchange of goods but it is the overall experience that matters. And our focus would always be to bring delightful and comfortable experiences to our customers and continue to create a world class retail space for them,” says Bector.
    • “FableStreet’s primary aim is 6-8X growth over the next 18 months. To further this, we will be continuing to strengthen ourselves as an Omnichannel brand – with our website and online marketplaces remaining important channels for the business. With the traction we have seen in our store, we will be looking at expanding our offline presence too. As a fashion-technology brand, we also will be heavily investing in enhancing our sizing and manufacturing technology, which is our biggest strength, and we will be doubling down on this. This will also be complemented by an increase in our team, as we will be looking to hire more talent in more specific and key leadership roles across functions,” states Gudwani. 
    • We are planning to expand our reach to many cities through our e-commerce platform and open new stores in stronger markets,” says Thakkar.

     

    • “ORCO is moving forward with only one aim in mind to provide our customers and our workforce a better standard of living. We do this by introducing healthy easy yet tasty snacks, beverages, crisps which are all natural and chemical free for our consumers to indulge in healthy eating and stay fit. For that ORCO is working with renowned chefs to create an R&D Lab. On the other hand it is also expanding its current reach to all India by both online and offline channels. By doing this ORCO will be able to empower 1 million women in no time all across INDIA, women being the core workforce of manufacturing and packaging these products,” Aggarwal.
    • “We are getting ready for ‘Stage 3 – The Storming Stage’ now.  In this stage we have plans to aggressively expand our footwear and accessories portfolio through strategic partnerships with reputed and upcoming brands engaged in technology & innovation, sustainability, and the health space.  We will continue to expand our geographic footprint entering more Tier II & III towns,” says Malik.