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With the novel coronavirus pandemic gripping the world and the government implementing a lockdown – including shutting down of all malls and high streets except essentials – while advocating social distancing, people have been confined to homes, isolating themselves, working from home and going to marketplaces only for essentials. Retailers and fashion brands across the country have had to temporarily shut down stores providing a distinct opportunity for e-commerce businesses to take over. And the shift has been imperative.
With no social spaces, the internet has become, for many, the only link to society. As a result, greater use of the internet, social media, and e-commerce touchpoints have led to digitisation of the consumer shopping behaviour.
This non-contact norm during the coronavirus pandemic has boosted engagement and sales online.
Boon for E-commerce Players
Most corporates have implemented the ‘work from home’ policy – a trend which was growing earlier as well but has caught on almost instantaneously now.
COVID-19 has increased online shopping usage globally, and in India, it has led to a rise in the number of first-time e-commerce users, who had been so far uncomfortable with shopping online.
Brands, which were not following an Omnichannel route earlier are looking to establish online platforms and even the most prosperous of brick-and-mortar stores have been forced to experiment with digital channels. Today, fashion brands and retailers are updating and live-streaming promotions and engaging with their audiences in more ways than one.
This represents a real and immediate opportunity to drive efficiencies digitally. At the same time, this crisis has highlighted the importance of investment in enabling technologies like cloud, data, etc.
According to Dr Deepak Halan, Associate Professor, School of Management Sciences, Apeejay Stya University, Indian retail is divided into organised and unorganised sectors, wherein the unorganised sector includes approximately 1.38 crore conventional family-run neighbourhood stores and organised retail – with a share less than 10 percent of the total business – comprises modern brick-and-mortar stores and online shopping sites.
Considering the present lockdown emergency, setting-up of online platforms is expected to become indispensable for offline stores, and the offline-to-online integration is expected to increase at a greater and faster rate.
Focus on Omni-Presence
Even post the coronavirus pandemic, online shopping is likely to gradually replace offline shopping, making decentralisation imperative for the sector. Consumer sentiment will remain cautious and online sales are expected to witness a significant surge and will be further supported by an increasing use of virtual technologies.
Moving forward, it will be important to retain the new consumers who were onboarded during the lockdown and hence imperative to bind and engage with new consumers who shifted their purchasing habits online and nurturing them, converting them to the long-term customer base.
Even once the life starts limping back to normal, a certain class of people with limited purchasing power will be more conscious while making purchases and the focus will remain on need-based consumption.
“In India, a great majority of B2C e-commerce retailers draw customers to shop online by offering bargains such as free delivery, discounts, buy-one-get-one-free and exchange offers. However, many Indian shoppers – known to be cost-conscious and conservative as a part of their value system – are generally not attracted into making quick decisions based on promotions and advertisements,” said Dr Halan.
Despite online retailers trying to entice buyers with lockdown sales and offline retailers hoping to win-back consumers post-lockdown, consumers might not be too keen to open their wallets anytime soon and will prefer brands that promise value for money while meeting customer expectations – and fashion retail will have to follow suit.
Psychological Aspect– Any particular trend, or something that is ‘in’, inspires or encourages people to think about buying similar apparel. Subconsciously, they begin looking for similar patterns and styles, thus resulting in something becoming a ‘hit trend’. In the same way, if a particular pattern is not appealing, it will not be accepted by the people and eventually, that particular style will fade away. And then they are the classics, which are perennial and never out of trend.
Consumer surveys about fashion and sustainability are misleading, because consumers answer to meet social desirability; they want to appear green even if they mainly care about price, status and look. Fashion is an emotional decision, not a rational one. Where aspects of sustainability and look are weighted consciously against each other, ethical aspects usually come last. An astonishing number of people are not interested in taking ethics into consideration when making fashion purchases.
The Indian society broadly has a deep understanding of culture and appreciation for art, which make us a potential market for designer wear, given our natural inclination towards aesthetics. Cities like Pune, Surat, Indore, Chandigarh amongst others have always been high on the fashion radar but with very little or no physical presence from the designers. The challenge of infrastructure, in my opinion, should never withhold the consumers from engaging with enhanced selection of clothes and homegrown designers.
77 NATHASHA AK KUMAR, FOUNDER & CEO, VAJORWith more than five years of experience in the B2B garment industry dealing with Tier II and III city consumer demands, Nathasha A R Kumar has been able to implement her learnings from the grass root level to lay the foundation of her ventures. She understands the potential of a private label like Vajor in the industry. She believes that fashion is no longer a commodity and wishes to change the current scenario of marketing products. And Vajor is achieving that by selling an overall experience to its consumers.
In a world where customers are shifting a significant portion of their purchases from offline to mobile and online channels, the mantra for retailers is to embrace the change and capitalise on the virtues of digital commerce. The online medium has opened up huge new markets for businesses around the world. While e-commerce is a highly profitable industry, it has to be noted that launching an online store and growing one are two very different things.
Indian consumers are as discerning as any consumer in the world today. As the market is maturing tolerances for error will keep coming down that is when usage of technology to stay informed and take informed decisions will matter. Those leaders who realise this ahead of time will stay ahead.
It set me thinking as to what we as an industry could do to set right this process. Any solution cannot work in isolation. The textile industry consumes fertilizers and fossil fuels across the production value chain. There is a need to follow the best practices followed by countries like Germany with regards to the production, discharge and recycling norms. Also, since India has a great affinity for cotton, we need enhanced safety standards for cotton production, considering its economic and social impact. We, at Dixcy, have consistently endeavoured to put Tirupur on the global map for following the best practices in sustainable production and waste discharge. As of today, nearly 80 percent of our power consumed is through renewable and sustainable sources.
The only constant in fashion is change and this applies to everything in the industry, from design-and-marketing to production-and-sales. With the rise of internet and smartphone users, customers are now able to see global fashion trends and want to consume products that reflect these trends.
Elaborating on the same, he shares, “The drive towards digital undertaken by the government has certainly worked in favour of the fashion industry. The ability of consumers to make payment via their cards after the goods arrive has been a real gamechanger. Indian consumers are coming around to swiping their cards rather than always wanting to pay cash.” He further talks about how the cash-backs and other incentives from mobile wallets have provided additional incentives to customers thus eventually let them get accustomed to various modes of payments other than cash!
To accentuate her point on the growing thrust of fashion and retail in the e-commerce space she talks about how the apparel and lifestyle industry together have contributed to about 30 percent of the online retail sales in 2018 in India. “The figures showcase the potential influence of fashion as a category and going by the way we see so many start-ups entering this field, the space is only getting better,” she adds.
Ensure Your Return Policy is a Positive Experience: In the e-commerce world, returns are a gruesome malady — aggressively attacking profit margins, gutting conversion rates, and ultimately threatening the business itself. Yet, a seamless return policy is still the ticket to a great e-shopping experience as it increases the lifetime value of customers.
Fashion may seem like a simple concept, but behind the word is a world full of creativity, breakthroughs and endless possibilities. The Indian fashion industry has emerged as one of the most dynamic and fast-paced industries. The retail sector in particular, is experiencing exponential growth, with retail development taking place not just in major cities and metros, but also in Tier II and III cities. At present, India leads in terms of per capita retail store availability making it a favourable market for retailers.