2020 was a year of uncertainity, of fear, of a pandemic that can be exemplified with many grim firsts and 2021 is not proving to be a lot different with the second wave of Covid-19 in the country. The businesses across sectors were forced to partially or completely shut, faced with losses and in that, apparel retail industry is one of the first categories to take a hit. According to domestic rating agency ICRA, the industry is set to show a revenue growth of 23-25 per cent on a low base in 2021-22, but that will not be sufficient to get the business performance back to the pre-Covid-19 levels. In order to stay relevant and alive, apparel and textile businesses need to innovate and in process, align with the consumer behaviour and their shopping needs. Retail has always been super dynamic in nature and while there have been various levels at which the industry evolved over time, the most recent has been the advent of online shopping, omni-channel retail and then with the ongoing pandemic, these and a lot more became inevitable and gained more prominence than ever before.
House of Anita Dongre which owns brands AND and Global Desi is one fashion house that has continued to innovate and pivot throughout the pandemic and has made its omnichannel and digital game stronger than ever. Indian Retailer interacts with Kavindra Mishra, Managing Director & CEO, House of Anita Dongre Limited, about the fashion powerhouse’s strategies to make the brands pandemic ready and as agile and versatile as can be.
Tech ready for a pandemic stricken world
Estimated to be upwards of US $ 2.5 trillion globally, one of the most important consumer-facing industries, the fashion and apparel segment declined by almost 20 per cent in 2020 due to the pandemic and is slated to fall even more with the ongoing second wave. While the retail experts were expecting a bounce back of the industry in 2021, the year ahead will keep the situation in a state of uncertainty and the need will be for the retailers to keep a tab on the hanging customer behaviour and on what really will lead them to shop from a particular brand. Kavindra Mishra avers, “We have realised how customers love innovation in product categories and are always looking for newer offerings. Whenever we tried and did a differentiated product line, it sold off. For example, we were just doing a test run for AND Girls and it garnered great response. Similarly, when we first thought of making bottomwear and make it a very strong category for AND, we were in two-minds about how relevant will it be for now, given the pandemic and work from home aspect. But, it flew off our shelves in no time. I think at times when we think that a consumer will react in a certain way, they might react very differently. Having said that, we have found out that we need to launch a line which can be a versatile product; something you can wear for casual outing as well as your office days and we launched a Kurta line with Global Desi which can be used for casual or for work from home occasions. We also tried to launch common collection for both the brands which can be used alternatively for casual and work from home purposes. We realised if you are doing something new and exciting and there is a new innovation, the customer will come to you.”
Besides innovating, apparel retail brands — both online as well as offline — have started transitioning into the virtual world in order understand the changing consumer behaviour and also to remain relevant during the current times. Digital and omnichannel are the two buzz words right now. Brands are not only working towards making the online shopping easy and convenient but also towards making the shopping experience seamless. “All our (more than 140) stores are omnichannel now with our website and this gave us a very strong push across channels and we did this over the past 1 year. We also entered in omnichannel relationship with Myntra across all our stores. We understand that a consumer wants a similar shopping experience, whether inside a store or the website and so, we are investing in this and are doing a complete overhaul of our tech systems and platforms. We have also partnered with Facebook for this. We have marketing tools and data driven technology in place to help us understand the consumer better, analyzing their behaviour better and then trying to offer the right product for her. This is consultative selling and this is what we are working on right now and I think in the next 6 months, HOAD will have one of the finest e-commerce marketplace in the country,” maintains Kavindra Mishra. The fashion major has registered 3X increase in sales from digital channels over 2019 and it hopes to keep increasing this in the coming months.
While this sure is a positive change to be seeing so many customers shop online, Kavindra Mishra expresses concern over the prevalence of discount strategy for online since a lot of brands are using online website to clear their inventory. True, what would be the real breakthrough in e-commerce for the country is when lot more consumers are happy shopping full price merchandise from the website. For this, brands will need to offer same experience on their e-commerce channel as in their offline stores. “I think in a steady state, the e-commerce/ omnichannel should be anywhere near 30% of your business contribution. And in 2 years time, if you are able to achieve 30% of the overall business through omnichannel, out of which at least 60% is with retail of full price merchandise, that is a great accomplishment. Its very easy to sell discounted merchandise but I think the challenge for all of us is to not to sell on discount but on full price. Going by the data, the sales push is largely through the discounted merchandise and this is something we plan to do away with. So we need to invest in our resources, we need to ensure that our stores are experience centres and so is our website. There has to be a seamless experience,” Kavindra Mishra adds.
Expansion and extension
Category extension or expansion is not a new term in the Indian fashion scenario. Apparel brands have been, for years, extending their product offering to cater to a wider target audience. And now more than ever, retailers are required to offer more to a wider target group. HOAD recently launched AND Girls, Global Desi Girls, special collection of fragrances with Ajmal Perfumes and Pink City jewellery line. “If you look at our track record in last 2 years, we have seen a Global Desi Girls, we launched AND Girls which is very successful and then we launched fragrances. Now, its time for us to let these settle down and we will ensure that we are able to do justice to whatever we extended to. The response to the Ajmal range of fragrances has been fantastic but now the stores are again shut and everything is kind of down. We are already working on couple of more projects – one of them is in healthcare and beauty space but all these are long term. Right now, the idea is to first settle and do well in these and then stabilize them,” asserts Kavindra Mishra. HOAD is also leveraging on social media to market its new product categories.
In terms of retail expansion, HOAD is looking at expanding its presence in tier-II and tier-III regions where the focus will be on combined stores for both the brands (Global Desi and AND). Furthermore, the work on international expansion is ongoing right now wherein the fashion house is evaluating different markets and prospective partners and will finalize on this in the coming months.
Moving sustainably ahead
House of Anita Dongre is all about sustainability and circular fashion. During an interview, Anita Dongre has maintained, “Every decision from manufacturing to the choice of lighting in the office factors in our progress towards carbon neutrality. Our processes have always put the planet first but having this time allowed for greater focus on issues that deserve immediate attention globally, like an immediate shift to a ‘Circular Fashion Loop’.”
Last year, HOAD launched a program called Recognise. “I think we are the only brand in India to have taken such strong targets towards sustainable fabrics. Its 65-70% for Global Desi and a little lower for AND. By 2025, all our products will be sustainable to that ratio. All our packaging is also sustainable. We really believe in that and every single season, we are working towards driving that.
With so much changing so fast during these unpredictable times, HOAD is working with the mantra that demands it to stay flexible, adaptable and agile in order to sustain the changing market as also the changing consumer behaviour and shopping pattern.