How India's Retail Industry is Strategizing to Unlock 'New Commerce' Amid Pandemic

E-commerce, omnichannel retail, social commerce, etc. have all been there but the pandemic has made them part of the regular shopping routine of consumers and young buyers are the most enthusiastic about these new ways of shopping right now.
How India’s Retail Industry is Strategizing to Unlock ‘New Commerce’ Amid Pandemic

What was once the bleeding edge of retail has become a requirement for survival currently with the uncertainty and fear from the ongoing pandemic. E-commerce, omnichannel retail, social commerce, etc. have all been there but the pandemic and the series of complete and partial lockdowns have made them part of the regular shopping routine of consumers and young buyers are the most enthusiastic about these new ways of shopping and they generally evaluate brands and retailers on the seamlessness and convenience of the shopping experience.

What’s, however, is important here is the need for retailers to choose from the wide array of choices and invest in what their target customers are really looking for. Going digital or omnichannel requires a laser-like focus on value creation.

Ajoy Chawla, CEO- Jewellery Division, Titan Company Ltd., agrees, “Tanishq had already begun investing for a digital or omni future a few years ago. We have been, in a way, experimenting with digital initiatives – from simplest things like websites to making it simpler and frictionless, endless aisles was an initial initiative that is still working at its own pace. We had started thinking about concepts like pure online selling and joint closure (wherein conversation starts online and is completed offline).”

The Ultimate Solutions

The Omnichannel Route - The pandemic led by Covid-19 has drastically accelerated the shift towards the digital world and various segments are witnessing changes in online shopping behavior that will have lasting effects. In a situation where consumers are mostly skeptical of stepping out, are uncertain about almost everything, strengthening omnichannel strategy has proved to be the ultimate solution for retailers in almost all categories wherein consumers are seamlessly using both online and offline channels in tandem, whether for click-and-collect, contactless delivery, or an array of other fulfillment options.

In fact, omnichannel shopping is becoming further entrenched as the future norm.

According to NielsenIQ’s Global New Shopper Normal Study, only 9 percent of global consumers were regularly shopping online before COVID-19 but post the pandemic hit the world, online adoption skyrocketed with 27 percent of global consumers starting to shop online for the first time.

Ritesh Ghosal, CMO, Croma Retail, asserts, “In omnichannel, what’s more, important is to be able to serve the customers with the same experience, the same choices, and also how do you translate the advantages of the store to the customers shopping from their homes while also offering them the entire digital experience when they are at a physical outlet. To my knowledge, in this segment, it is only Croma that’s offering this so seamlessly. I feel every store and every distribution center is a unique point of inventory that one needs to be able to capture, deplete in real-time, and show across all pin codes of the country. That’s really the key challenge going forward and of course, we started earlier, and going into the pandemic, we had a lot of the nuts and bolts in place to deliver an omnichannel experience. In fact, around September or October, we were ready with our video store where customers could connect directly with the store and get a virtual shopping experience. These strategies and the preparedness helped us compete with the likes of Amazon on the sales front, delivering our products sooner than them.”

Even categories like sleep solutions, etc. which require consumers to visit the store before finalizing on the right kind and thickness of the mattresses, evolved and took to omnichannel retail.

Smita Murarka, Chief Marketing Officer, Duroflex, maintains, “We have been trying to make people aware about the importance of sleep through content on social media platforms and thus are engaging more than ever before with them. E-commerce and omnichannel retail started late for us as compared to fashion and other segments, but we set up a complete online brand, Sleepyhead and this gave us an edge. We had already started making foundation settings in the e-commerce space before Covid hit us. While online buying has definitely become a way of life currently, there is a whole chunk of India that relies on the touch and feel of such products and so, omni is the way to go for us. So our idea of D2C right now is while we scale online, it’s also to cater to the behavior of the offline customers. Because how much ever online is growing, offline is not going to become zero and it is here to stay. Last year, we regrouped to open two new sleep experiential centers — one in Hyderabad and the second center in Bengaluru. The total tally takes us to eight company-owned sleep experiential centers. We also launched our D2C channel where consumers are given a virtual walkthrough of products and are then directed to its experience centers. We have really established the omni experience not only from distribution but also from a communication point of view as a new offering to the customer and this has given us a new trajectory of shoppers.”

Vinod Cookware too has registered growth through its omnichannel strategies and prides in showcasing all its SKUs to its customer base through online channels, across all pin codes of the country.

The D2C Effect - D2C route is also picking up during the current times and many companies are now turning towards it in order to grow revenue and reach. D2C model provides companies an opportunity to understand their customer’s needs, about their specific demands, and offers a window to engage better with them through emails, apps, and social media. Not only this, D2C approach gives the benefit of tracking and analyzing new consumer behavior.

Akila Chandrasekar, Head-Marketing, Organic India, avers, “During the pandemic, we were rightly poised to offer solutions for the problem at hand. As a company, we have never seen more conscious consumers in the last 2 decades and it was wonderful to see that they were seeking what we have been trying to promote for so long. Organic India was trending and anything we did was already a trend, and the challenge there was how to process all of it and provide knowledge that helps consumers. So, we started giving more importance to content than advertising and also launched 5-6 new products. We took interaction and engagement with consumers to a new level and also in the process, opened branded stores as it was also an experience to offer and now we have more than 65 stores all over India. We are working through varied retail channels and all of them are performing a different role for the customer.”

The Social Media Push - While video commerce, omnichannel retail, online selling, and D2C model are all working during the lockdown period, everyone resorted to cooking and flaunting their creations on social media, affecting much free time on hand or restaurants being shut, in turn, positively impacted the cookware industry as more people indulged in buying cookware products online. We’ve also witnessed that men have taken up cooking more than usual while the women are experimenting with different recipes. Our target audience in the cookware industry has been people who love to cook, who believe in premium cookware quality.

Sunil Agarwal, Director, Vinod Cookware, says, “During the lockdown period, everyone resorted to cooking and flaunting their creations on social media, affecting much free time on hand or restaurants being shut, in turn, positively impacted the cookware industry as more people indulged in buying cookware products online. Today, we are using a lot of home chefs – smaller ones to big chefs to master chefs, and food bloggers to promote our product range. It helps in building our own community via Facebook live, contests, giveaways, etc.”

Brands, today, are continuously using the power of social media to make their target audience more aware and closer to them. Duroflex has been using social media to spread awareness and conduct discussions, etc., to know what consumers really want to buy.

Smita Murarka apprises, “We believe in the power of social media besides the quality of the product. Now with more awareness, a large part of the conversation on social media has been on the importance of sleep and this has further helped us launch products like work from home focused Duroflex Flexi mattress, which can be moved around with ease. We have also started tying up with different kinds of people like health coaches, experts to discuss the importance of sleep thereby spreading the idea that it’s not just a mattress, but a wellness article.”

Going Forward

While all these new channels of retail and of engaging with the consumers are being looked at as the way forward for the industry, how easy or difficult will it be to command consumer loyalty towards a brand through online channels? Customer acquisition and then retention have been a costly affair for ages and retailers are still exploring if their investment will pay off or not. Today, retail brands are rethinking their customer journeys and exploring new ways to acquire, engage, and retain customers through positive experiences across multiple touchpoints.

“For us as a retailer, it’s about how you handle the customers’ experience and therefore our retention strategy is really at the point of sale, during installation, etc, and during the course of product lifetime. Croma is the only retailer also working as a service center for the customer. That’s how we build relationships and it's not very different digitally; you can buy from anywhere but will have to chase the brand for services, etc. which we try and avoid. The process and ease of operations are important,” concludes Ritesh Ghosal.

 

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