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Reliance Retail’s Big Plans for Apparel Wholesale, Targeting Mom-and- pop Stores

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Akhilesh Prasad, president and chief executive officer, fashion and lifestyle, Reliance Retail talks about the new strategies, categories and market, the brand is expanding into

Reliance has started a B2B2C pilot in Pondicherry to provide the entire backend for mom-and-pops including product assortment, logistics, store design, data analytics and customer service among a host of other services that the company will soon take nationwide.

In an exclusive interaction with IMAGES Retail, Akhilesh Prasad, president and chief executive officer, fashion and lifestyle, Reliance Retail talks about the new strategies, categories and market, the brand is expanding into. Edited excerpts:

Fashion and lifestyle contributes a major chunk to Reliance retail revenues. Going forward, what are the plans for Reliance Retail’s fashion and lifestyle category?

The plan is to scale, scale, and scale, because Indian retail market is still 70% unorganised, and there is a huge scope and opportunities across categories. We are not looking to eliminate mom-and-pop stores like the large box retailers in the US. What we are planning to do is get them onboard into our system and ensure that they are partners with us.

We will become the entire backend for them in providing the assortment of products, logistics, partners etc. and will help them improve their stores, customers, data analytics, customer service etc. A small retailer need not go into the public with 150 or 200 options, it will be digitally integrated with us, and it can offer thousands, even hundreds of thousands of options.

Tell us more about the initiative.

We are calling it ‘Business to business to consumer’ (B2B2C). We piloted it in Pondicherry and now we want to take it to the rest of the country. It entails signing up hundreds and thousands of retailers to come onto our platform and get served by us. Basically, we want to add to their income. So, increasing sales and increasing the margin in sales is our objective. Otherwise, when modern retail opens, traditional retail takes a back foot unless traditional retail is on the same footing as marketers. We are trying to ensure that traditional retail also sells as per the modern retail.

Through which unit are you doing it, Ajio Business, Jio Mart or others?

It is general throughout all our businesses. It’s in the alpha-beta stage now and will soon go well. You are making Kirana stores the ally.

What is the target from there?

Yes, we are making kiranas, mom-and-pop, apparel stores etc. as allies. The target is big because there are millions of stores.

How significant is it going to be from the perspective of your business?

It is going to be a vehicle to organize the market. As I mentioned, 60-70% of the market is unorganised. So, a large chunk of it must evolve. What happened in the US  or Europe as you see mom and pop stores died. In India, retail (textile) is the second largest employer after agriculture. So, we can’t endanger jobs here. And our job is to ensure that we lift retailing rather than kill retail.

What is the supply chain like?

We have an integrated supply chain. I don’t know about the other businesses, but we integrate from yarn up to fabric. The Indian supply chain is good now, only it’s a fragmented supply chain we are going to unify.

Is it something you would try to disrupt? Reliance has disrupted data3G, 4G, 5G right? Is it something you’re looking at as another disruption?

No, we believe that every Indian, if he has a limited budget and has a right to do the best in the world. So, all that Reliance is offered genuinely to people as to ensure that it reaches the last man affordably with our high-quality service.

Ajio Business already sells apparel and fashion products at minimal prices and already has a similar initiative. Please mention the strategy behind this.

Yes, Ajio Business is what is called B2B2C. We are providing quality product within the minimal price range.

I hear you are also going big on Azorte?

Azorte is breaking fashion kind of format. It is young, and everything to do with young. It has digitized features which solve customer problems. We see basically three problems in retail for the customers. One is finding what you want as if there is the same colour in medium size. Number two is the trial room queue. Number three is billing since Indian customers are very impatient. We use technology to solve this, if you go to Azorte store today, you will find it’s a fully RFID store. So, if a piece is there to be found and you can find it immediately, number two, you can make a trial room booking, so don’t have to wait for your trial. And number three, you can self-checkout. So, you don’t have to get into the queue. You can check out from the trial room.

Are you bringing Amazon store elements to Azorte?
I think Amazon has to grow up a little bit to reach here. Amazon is a grab and go, but it has limitations as far as apparel is concerned. As the technology grows, we will add grab and go features and will be able to service apparel.

You already achieved a landmark with Reliance Trends presence in 1000 Indian towns and all parts of Indian towns, right? Wherever you go in India, there is a Trends store. This is a huge achievement. What are your future plans?

I think India is more prosperous than we tend to believe. Looking at the figures, there’s a demand everywhere. You need to have a method of being able to cater to that demand. How do you cater to a market which is no bound six months in a year but in six months in a year can you sell over that. There are various challenges. We are now catering population clusters up to 20,000 people but there is a huge amount of India which is below that. So, we’ll see how to service the balance.

Reliance Retail is bringing in new foreign brands. It seems like bringing international brands is the new focus…

Not necessarily, our focus is to meet the customer needs. Indian customers look up to UK. They would like all American brands. In our belief, GAP is an all-American brand. We bring strengths to the relationship with knowledge of the country, ability to scale quickly etc. India is also growth market. We have M&S which is a joint venture with M&S which is all British brands. So, we are getting these internationally well-known brands. I know M&S since I was a kid, GAP when I was a teenager. But our major play remains in our own brands.

Reliance has a dozen brands of its own and they are doing very well on your Ajio online marketplace. Please talk about Ajio.

Ajio is an e-commerce venture, a format which really started growing after covid. We ensured that we had supply chains which cater to the market. In the Covid period, supply chains were shut down. But we treated Covid also as business as usual. So, we kept our supply chain open, because you didn’t know whether Covid would get over in one month, six months, one year, two years. If the world dies, then we have nothing, but we were always ready. So as a result, Ajio got a big flip and has grown very well. In Covid it grew 400% and now it continues to grow 50-60% every year selling over four and a half lakh garments a day.

Do you have big plans for ethnic segment as well?

We do well as far as ethnic wear is concerned as category. I think we are the largest players in the country. In Trends, we sell more than one lakh kurtas every day.

Would you take Trends outside India?

In good time, but we have a long way to go to finish our country. We have gone to 20,000. There are villages which have more than 20,000.

The Interview has been previously published in IMAGES Retail July 2023 Issue

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