For about 20 per cent of businesses, the initial roadblocks are of relatively simple pursuits – after the first 4 years, they find the silver lining to sustain. Once a business finds its footing in its segment, it goes on to create a strong connect with its customers. Retailer Media explores with four popular brands in the country across three categories – fashion, books and food – and asks them how they connect with their customers meaningfully.
What goes into creating a stronger human connection with a brand is the question that needs to be asked. The strong values that consumer feels in the culture, product and retail environment right from the brand's products to the branding, down to the store designs connect with the consumer, and how it differentiates your business. Let’s figure out.
Fashion: Engage your customer
The Indian consumer is informed and wants to stay ahead of her times. She expects the brands to treat her the same way as she would be treated anywhere else in the world. If a iPhone 6 launches in the US, she wants it first, because waiting for it to launch in India is considered ‘obsolete’. The same is witnessed across categories such as fashion, food, clothing, automotives, home furnishing etc.
As for fashion, gone is the time when she was considered a mere follower, today she is a trendsetter. A lot has gone into changing the Indian customer’s mind, especially from the brand’s side. Take the brand ‘Being Human’ for instance; a brand whose philosophy is strongly influenced by various causes, ecology and nature. One of the very first brands to introduce a virtual electronic panel at their stores, which helps customers choose their look, browse through fresh and discounted collections, match colours and styles, look for available ‘in-store’ apparel among other things.
Manish Mandhana, MD of Mandhana Industries Pvt Ltd, the global licensee of the Salman Khan Foundation brand Being Human says, “The customer is restless and you cannot play with his time. The idea is to engage with the customers. The virtual panel enables easy coming in and easy going out. We engage with them on several occasions; at our stores through the electronic touch-panel device, through customer loyalty clubs, and inviting them to our events such as cyclothons, blood donation camps, planting tree drives etc. We strongly believe that fashion is never only about looking good, but also about doing good.”
Although the personal acts of the celebrity attached to the brand would inexplicably expose the brand to a certain risk, Mandhana strongly believes that the brand will outgrow Salman’s celebrity status. “The celebrity does come with a bit of a baggage, but let us not forget he is one of the most followed and searched celebrity in the country. He has 30 million followers on social media and people love him like anything. In fact, in Salman’s own words the brand ‘Being Human’ will outlive him, it will outgrow him. It has already come out of the celebrity’s shadow,” says Mandhana. The brand today sells in about 16 countries and each of its stores has employed a specially-abled person.
Bestseller, a privately held Danish fashion apparel company, which owns around 15 brands, and is currently operating Jack and Jones, Vero Moda and Only in the country is following a similar trajectory in terms of strengthening the emotional connect with their customers.
“We are into fast fashion and the category demands launching new products frequently. We launch new products for the brand ‘Only’ every Wednesday and for the brand ‘Vero Moda’ every Tuesday. To engage with our customers, we organise musical shows in our stores every second Wednesday of the month, inviting musicians from various genres. Apart from that, we launched a programme under which any garment purchased from us could be exchanged from any of our outlets, whatever the situation,” says Ranjan Sharma, company’s Chief Information Officer.
Put together, the three brands of Bestseller have more than 120 EBOs in the country. The brand also believes in insinuating itself into the life situation of the customers rather than just selling. Bestseller is also known to organise a Super Saturday 24-hour shopping festival in three select cities every year, popular for providing a 60 per cent flat discount. “Last year as many as 35,000 shoppers walked into our 15,000 sq ft store,” said Ranjan.
Books: Be where your customer is
With the advent of eCommerce and a multitude of discounting opportunities, the ‘books’ have turned from being an emotive category to being a commodity. It is all but easy to get an avid reader to a book store, “but we can go to our customer rather than asking him to come to us?” said Kinjal Shah, Chief Executive Officer, Crossword Book Stores, one of the largest book retailers in the country.
Because of the online discounting, the destination shopping of books is completely out. Now people won’t travel 2-3 kms to find their best books and to purchase them. Shopping for books happens more on impulse today. “We have tried to retain the competition by giving them a much better display, range assortment and better recommendations from our side. The buying team’s job at a Crossword store is to curate the right book out of the thousands of books released every month for the consumer,” said Kinjal.
Every Crossword bookstore boasts of a ‘toy’ category. Kinjal maintained that almost 40 per cent of the sales come from there. “Both these categories have grown almost 25-30 per cent year-on-year. We have opened stores in cities like Bilaspur, Ranchi, Bhubhaneshwar, Kochin etc. just to expand our reach and being around our customers. If the customers are not coming to us, we can go to them. We have only two stores in Kochin, but the market can take 50 stores,” he continued.
Crossword has grown to 97 stores in 33 cities, with 10 recent store openings and another 8 in the pipeline. The writing is clear on the wall: the market is very big, but you need to be where your customer is.
Food: Create unforgettable experiences
Unlike fashion, eating habits do not change with time. A plethora of international brands entered the Indian market in the last couple of years. They have not only set a customer’s expectation sky high, but have redefined the overall market as well.
One international player that has helped redefine how the Indian customer looks at burgers is the Burger King brand. Before the popular international chain was launched in India, its ever-popular ‘Whopper’ was put up on a marketplace so it could be pre-booked.
“As many as 6,000 people queued up outside the first store to taste a Whopper. Value would always be multi-layered, so when a customer is looking to derive value from a product, he is not only looking at its price, but also the quality and the abundant value it is offering. Earlier, people used to look at a burger like a snacking item, but by introducing fuller burgers like a Whopper, we have turned it around into a meal,” says Tanmay Kumar, Chief Financial Officer at Burger King India, which waited 18 years before it opened outlets in the country. Recently, PE firm Everstone has set aside a $250 mn investment to help the brand expand its presence in the country.
“I believe when a person is satisfied after having a meal, he will remember it for a long time. Burger King helps create those unforgettable experiences for its customers,” he said.
The past decade has been dramatic for any retail business in India, especially the last 4-5 years; the alarming period has seen more than 80 per cent of retail start-ups die within the first year of starting. A business, say retail experts, has to last at least 4 years of its operations to increase the probability of its survival. The key to cross that stage is a very strong emotional connect with the customer and reaching out to them in more ways than one.