In an exclusive conversation with Uma Talreja, Customer Care Associate and Chief Marketing & Customer Officer, Shoppers Stop Ltd, describes new normalcy in the term of fashion.
Shoppers Stop is one of the pioneers of organized retail in India. How would you look back on the journey? What are the key learnings in all these years?
Shoppers Stop was India’s first ever department store. We created a whole new way for India to shop. Before Shoppers Stop, one had to interact with a sales person, across a counter, now customers can shop for themselves, try and buy from multiple options, get a touch and feel of the product. With Shoppers Stop, Customers also got exposed to an international shopping experience, with all high-end brands right under one roof. We made retail shopping an experience for the whole family.
Our brand held great status in the retail industry since we were the first retail store to hire only professionals and MBA graduates. We created benchmark practices in marketing. The brand was built through bold actions and occupied a position of doing new things first which was remarkably captured in the legendary black-and-white advertising which promoted the experience of shopping in a whole new way. Our advertisements and campaigns were award winning and were captured in the Global Black Book of Advertising. The brand was promoted nationally on television even when there was no national presence which created a demand from consumers to open Shoppers Stop stores in multiple locations so that they can have the same experience.
In 1994, we launched a loyalty program called First Citizen. It was India’s first retail loyalty program our industry had seen. For 25 years now we have been leading the loyalty program space and it contributes to more than 80% of our sales. Even today, our customers are proud to be members of the First Citizen program because we believe that our First Citizen members own the brand.
Everyone in the organization has only one mission; that is to serve the customer and provide a delightful shopping experience which is why everyone in the organization regardless of their designation is first a Customer Care Associate. The employees are empowered to go above and beyond to serve the customer and hence the Company has a culture of employees eager to stay true to this purpose.
COVID has caused the biggest disruption as far as the fashion business is concerned. However, we are now in Unlock 3.0 phase, how is the response at SHOP stores in reopening exercise? How many of your stores are operational currently?
During the Unlock phase, we started serving our customers remotely through our online platforms and through home service offerings. Slowly as the Government eased the lockdown, we started opening our stores and almost all our stores are open as of date.
We have assured our customers that it is safe to shop at our stores by promoting social distancing and following all the guidelines as directed by WHO, the State, and Central Government. We have seen that customers are so comforted by these steps that they are not even hesitating to try out clothes at the stores, as they know that all clothes and products are sanitized for such trials.
During Unlock 3.0 we are seeing our sales recover and a large base of our customers are visiting from a proximity to the store than earlier. While at the beginning of the lockdown we saw a shift towards the essentials categories, in the last two-three weeks, we have seen a move in spending pattern towards fashion-led categories. We are also seeing a higher bill value than pre-Covid times, as people tend to buy what they need in one single visit. Additionally, affinity towards premium brands from loyal customers continues.
How would you describe new normalcy in the terms of fashion? Also, Covid has disrupted traditional distribution channels. What would your omnichannel strategy be in the new normalcy? How bullish you would be on offline expansion?
The definition of dressing up has been largely influenced by work from home, school from home, leisure, and fitness at home. Hence, categories like casual shirts, casual wear, loungewear, athleisure, home décor, skincare, kids, essentials and comfort shopping have seen a pick-up.
Digital undoubtedly was always big for us and has only grown bigger with Covid acting as the catalyst. Our Omni-channel has gone into various modes from web and app to WhatsApp to social commerce, and any medium or platform where you can serve the customer virtually and personally has tremendous potential. We are, of course, focusing on increasing our online reach but at the same time, we do believe that offline expansion will come back a year later especially in Tier II- Tier III towns.
Do you think that fashion has become a technology driven business now? How are you embedding technology in offline stores to offer contactless shopping experience to your patrons?
Our home services offer safe and convenient ways of shopping to customers from the comfort of their homes. Our Personal Shoppers (PS) connect with the customer via WhatsApp/videos/calls and assist in solving their queries. They help the customers choose their products and explain the promotional schemes (if any). Bills are closed via a link that is shared on SMS with the customer and thus the process of contactless billing is closed. After the payment is made, our delivery partners have the product(s) delivered the same day. Through all of this, the PS is in touch with the customer.
Shoppers Stop has been very effective in communicating the safe practices and precautionary measures taken across the stores. And how every store is well equipped to help customers with the required safety measures. This has provided the much needed comfort to our customers so much so that we are seeing a rise in customers coming over to the stores for shopping from the near-by vicinity. Some are even open to trials at the store. We have launched contactless billing facilities at all stores. Customers visiting the store pay via credit / debit cards, QR code, or Mobile POS.
Which were your uptick categories during lockdown and just after? Since WFH is a new normal. Have you made any changes in your product category? Also, weaker consumer sentiments have given value pricing a push. Have you tweaked your pricing strategy?
During the lockdown, the impetus from the customers was mainly towards essential products. Keeping this in mind, we launched masks, sanitizers, PPE kits making sure that we are prepared to provide our customers with what they need. We also launched several brands amidst a nationwide lockdown digitally.
Restrictions on movement continue in Unlock 3.0. This has to a larger extent influenced consumer buying behavior. The customer is buying for the moment and is more inclined towards shopping for products in categories like work from home, school from home, leisure, fitness, beauty. Thus, categories like casual shirts, casual wear, loungewear, athleisure, home décor, skincare, kids, essential and comfort shopping have seen a pick-up.
The noticeable change that we have seen from Unlock 1.0 to the current 3.0 is that the customer is now more fashion driven, and digitally agile, trying to adapt to the New Normal. In fact, in this phase, we have seen a sales recovery and an increase in visits from customers who live within the proximity of our stores. Our core customer base of First Citizen continues to grow and we have also been able to engage with these new customers. In the current Covid19 times, with restricted movement, our customers want to buy all their products in one single visit. This has led to an increase in bill value as compared to the pre-Covid19 times. Additionally, affinity towards premium brands from loyal customers continues.
People are still skeptical about visiting stores due to obvious fears. What is your strategy to bring the customers back to stores?
Our strength lies in moving on and conquering our fears. Consumers are as prepared as retailers to visit the stores. While customers have started coming to the stores, we are conscious, and we are making sure everyone feels safe. Our Customer Care Associates undergo regular health check-ups not only for the satisfaction of the customer but also to make sure that our employees themselves are healthy and fine. Our staff is also well protected since they are serving the customers.
We have encouraged and ensured the use of the Arogya Setu app as an early alert system that can help us monitor the status of the customers walking into our store and our employees so that we are prepared for timely action. Our stores are well equipped with safety tools like sanitizers, masks, and gloves in case our customers need assistance. We are also using high quality materials to sanitize our back offices and all facilities. We are also encouraging customers to take appointments with our Personal Shoppers and avail the lounge services where they can shop comfortably and within the privacy of the lounge.