The pandemic shook the retail industry from the core and each and every category had to face huge losses during the initial days of the pandemic. However, retailers understood the changing needs of the consumers and adopted Omnichannel strategies to meet their expectations.
“We are close to a 93-years old brand. Pandemic was a disaster in many ways but also helped us learn a lot. E-commerce saved us during the pandemic because markets were closed due to lockdown restrictions, the only way to cater to the customers was through online medium. As per my experience, none of us in the fashion industry were ready for this whole experience. There was a sudden growth in the e-commerce category where we didn’t have the manpower to cater to the kind of orders we got. This is where the bigger marketplace platforms joined in and helped us to take the products to the end consumers. As a growth, it has started contributing to 50 percent of total business during the year 2020-2021. We got into the new market, sold our products to consumers who have never experienced our products before. Being an expensive product it was difficult for us to sell but once the consumers adapted our products, they are coming back to get more. Our learning and understanding of this overall process are that it is possible to sell premium products to consumers online and the only convenience that consumer is looking for is an assurance from our side that if they don’t like the product they can return it and we will give their money back,” says Abhishek Raj, COO, Lacoste.
“We are based in Hyderabad and have a strong presence in South India. We have started our stores in North India as well. Our online journey started just 3-4 months before the pandemic and during that time online was the only way to have some cash flow. That’s when we realized that as a brand we need to decide which marketplace will work for us because these marketplaces behave differently. Online there are two ways - one is your website and the other is different marketplaces. It is not just a discount but if you offer products at the right price customers will buy. Because of online, we have got exposure in markets where we were not present physically. 12 percent of our business comes from U.P. where we have just two stores. On our website, 60 percent of our orders come from the U.S. which I would say is due to the legacy of our brand. If you ask me about the future then a certain percentage of business is going to be online because online gives consumers options to choose from which is limited in a physical retail store. I’ll summarize by saying that it has been there, it has helped us, and we are looking forward to growing that business,” states Rajeev Nair, Business Head, Neeru’s resonating the same thoughts.
How Bright is the Future of Offline Stores?
With brands going Omncihannel, many are expecting that offline stores will lose their sheen, however many brands are of the opinion that the touch and feel factor still attracts a lot of consumers.
“As a 90-years old brand, we want people to come to our stores and experience our products. Unless they touch and feel and try our products, they will not understand why it is so expensive. For us, as a brand, it is a conscious call that offline is going to be the channel where we want to concentrate. E-commerce can give us the reach which we were not able to generate. Now, we are getting orders from Lucknow, Indore, etc which in themselves are strong cities. When it comes to prioritizing your own channel, the first and foremost thing for us is to tell customers the legacy of our brand. Whereas on an e-commerce platform we get a little bit of space and here the most important part is the discount. That’s not how we want to sell the brand. Through our own website and the way we do our business, we can very much control the experience we are giving to consumers. The interesting part is that we get maximum orders from repeat clients. The cost of acquiring customers online is as high as running an offline store. We believe that omnichannel is going to be the future for sure. This is not about offline or online, this is now about offline, online, and e-commerce put together. When I say e-commerce it is my own channel, the platform, and the most important is that you need one software now to stitch the whole journey together. Unless you empower yourself with omnichannel technology, you’ll not be able to expose your entire seamless inventory to consumers,” asserts Abhishek Raj.
“The road ahead is a hybrid model. We would like to serve customers through the channel of their choice. We co-create with marketplaces the model of their choice and we have seen large success across. Mixer-grinders, cooktops, and cookware sets are the three most successful categories. We co-created the platinum series with Amazon and the ruby series with Flipkart. These products are exclusively available on these platforms. Amazon has opened a global marketplace for us. The approach is hybrid and we have adopted tech to serve that. Exclusivity is something customers need but the better way to do it is to do small slots initially and when it grows up you can plan something big during the festive period. The best period to do the experiment is February-March. Another thing we are trying to test out on our website and is still in the pilot phase is virtualizing some products in your own kitchen, for example, if you have to buy a cooktop then how would it look in your own kitchen. Chimneys, cooktops, mixer-grinders are the categories we are looking at to go with AI/ VR on our website. Soon, we are in talks with Amazon, the moment they’ll enable this feature on it for our brand,” adds Ritesh Jain, Vice President, Wonderchef.
Keeping in mind the current situation, it is also expected that offline will become more of a distribution or supply chain channel rather than a customer discovery platform primarily.
“E-commerce has brought in the thought in retailers' minds that they need to do something different. There are many big retailers who are still not able to cope up with the digital experience. Players like us were ensured to adopt technology to become more efficient. Technology has helped us become available across multiple locations in a much quicker time. Out of roughly 10 lakh pharmacies in India, only 5 percent are organized. Medplus accounts for 5,000 pharmacy stores out of 10 lakhs, we are across 65 pharmacies and wellness stores, another one is 200 wellness stores. Doing organized business is important because through that you’ll be able to retain some margins. We have our own warehouse and franchise model across 20 cities and we expect to have 100 stores by the end of the coming March. We have touch-and-feel wellness stores but we are also empowering them to be online as well,” states Suresh Naagar, CEO & Founder, Easymedico.