The more-than-2-years-old and still continuing in all its glory, the pandemic, is all about staying at home, which indirectly meant an upsurge in digital transactions.
Like almost every other industry, retail was also badly bruised by business disruptions arising from the lockdown restrictions. In this sector, the apparel and clothing segment was one of the most affected as brick-and-mortar (B&M) stores were closed. As almost all transactions were done through B&M outlets, the steep drop in sales was not surprising.
The Big Break
But as physical stores remained shut, both retailers and consumers turned to e-commerce in a big way. Although e-commerce was already gaining traction even before the outbreak, COVID accelerated the ongoing shift. Yet, few would have imagined that in the fashion segment, where trying on a garment before buying was deemed essential, consumers would be so receptive to making direct purchases online. The emphasis on social distancing, the safety of digital purchases and payments and a returns policy, however, soon made this a growing reality.
In the case of retailers and fashion brands too, there was a shift from a multichannel approach to an omnichannel one. In the multichannel format, businesses had both B&M outlets and online stores. But each operation was segregated into separate avenues of their overall operations rather than being integrated.
Conversely, in the omnichannel model, B&M and online stores work in sync, bridging the online and offline divide with a common view of customers. As a result, the customer is the center of attention in the omnichannel system, irrespective of the mode they use to access the brand and its products. Moreover, brands strive to ensure that customers have a homogeneous and enjoyable shopping experience. Recognizing the benefits of omnichannel in the past two years, many brands have embraced the more centralized model that offers a competitive advantage while benefitting consumers parallelly.
Not all retailers were adept at deploying e-commerce, though. For brands new to e-commerce, the transition can be simplified by using an online system that is modular and configurable. Such systems facilitate the creation of an online trading platform that ensures secure payments, which is crucial given the concerns regarding cybercrime. Here, consolidated propositions can offer a range of services from real-time reporting and managed security services to customized checkouts. Consequently, brands can begin online sales of their products on the very day of installation.
Establishing an e-commerce platform providing multiple payment modes is convenient for customers. The best part about an online store is that it complements a brand’s B&M outlet through BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store). This reduces queue time majorly, which can be a challenge at popular retail stores while providing safe and hygienic payment options presently preferred by customers.
The online modes include mobile or app-based stores that help companies reach out to customers in diverse geographies. In this manner, customers have the option of beginning their search for products on one channel and completing the purchase on another. Thereby, customers who are registered once with a brand, either via an online or offline outlet, can then enjoy seamless service across all channels.
Thanks to these features, an omnichannel strategy benefits both brands and consumers. Brands benefit through centralized data management of their products and services, which includes customer data such as basket size, product preferences, selection process, returns, or abandonment of goods in the cart. Through this key data, companies can probe the possibilities of providing bespoke offers to customers that can facilitate purchase decisions.
Additionally, online-offline outlets’ integration promotes channel collaboration, not cannibalization. Brands can also evaluate the precise quantities available in stock in warehouses across many channels. Real-time inventory management helps retailers address fluctuating consumer demand, schedule deliveries, place orders in time and optimize stock utilization for cost-effective operations. Such real-time data also drive highly-targeted promotions, better pricing and markdown actions, and optimized assortments, all of which lead to more profitability and greater customer loyalty.
For customers too, there are varied benefits such as numerous touchpoints to enhance one-way and two-way interactions between brands and consumers as well as customer-to-customer exchanges. Irrespective of whether customers are constantly moving across channels and devices such as laptops, desktops, and mobile phones, all seamlessly become part of the shoppers’ omnichannel retail buying experience.
The other customer benefits include 24x7 services, ease of access, greater product information and purchasing options, more awareness of products and sales, access to stores whenever required, the ability to purchase simultaneously across different channels, optimized search results as well as price comparison between brands, channels and sellers, greater value and variety, speedy order fulfillment and quick deliveries, easy returns and safe online payment transactions and BOPIS.
Recognizing these benefits, more brands in India are embracing the omnichannel approach. As a long-term strategy, it can help control inventory holding, operating, and real estate costs. Besides B&M brands that are adopting online, app-based, and social media modes to reach out to more consumers, online players have also realized the value of investing in physical outlets to provide an exciting in-store experience to their customers.
Undoubtedly, e-commerce is here to stay, support, and complement the retail stores of fashion brands.