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Not so long-ago various analysts and industry experts were of the opinion that the Indian retail industry would grow to US$ 1400 billion by FY24. The e-commerce market too was estimated to grow to US$ 98 billion in FY24. Alas! A black swan event, the likes of which have never been seen before, hit the world, causing all growth to stagger globally.
Innumerable stores that were catering to the non-essential have been temporarily shut since mid-March 2020 due to the government’s response to the pandemic – a lockdown – in what is undoubtedly the most difficult crisis faced by not just the retail industry but every other industry in the world.
The Pre-Pandemic Struggle
Currently brands/companies are faced with a daunting challenge of staying relevant in consumers’ minds as they stare at a bleak future. But it is important to note that even before the global coronavirus pandemic, traditional retailers were struggling to get customers to visit their stores instead of shopping online.
But many mall-based clothing retailers that were already struggling before the pandemic haven’t been successful in converting their businesses online. Also, their businesses are not built for their stores to remain shut for such a long period. Financially, nobody knows what the economic situation is going to look like in the next few months, and this will certainly have a big impact on retail.
What Retailers Must Do Post COVID-19
So, what can we expect post COVID-19? Amid the certain economic downturn and its potential fallout, retailers face an uncertain future. Retailers who want to survive will have to understand that the post coronavirus world will be all about ‘consumers’ and what they want. The one positive here is that there is some predictability when it comes to what consumers’ want, and that is convenience.
As the landscape changes convenience above other considerations will become an important part of the equation. While the quality of the product will continue to be important, brands who differentiate themselves on factors like service, delivery, and overall convenience effectively from their competitors will be the new game changers. In short, retailers will need to understand that convenience is the new normal and will have to invest in it to rake in footfalls and make profits.
Meeting customer expectations will not be accomplished overnight. It will require cross-functional coordination and can present many challenges. Companies will have to transform their supply chains or risk becoming obsolete.
Digital supply networks (DSNs) which leverage Internet of Things (IoT) like sensors, applications, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make real-time decisions will be very essential for retailers to understand and implement. Traditional supply chains may no longer be sufficient for retailers seeking to meet customer expectations.
Last month, when the lockdown was announced to prevent the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the Prime Minister of India asked citizens not to step beyond the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ – the imaginary boundary line of their homes. However, as the COVID-19 curve came under control and companies – recognising the need of the hour – have implemented a lot of safety measures, government messaging changed. It is expected that once the lockdown is lifted, the government is likely to permit 50 percent of staff at any given time in any store or a factory, albeit with strict implementation of social distancing and hygiene norms.
Retailers are requesting the government to allow fashion and luxury outlets, and even malls to open in low-exposure-risk areas, even as the lockdown has be extended with a plan to gradually exit in phases.
With these measures the retail segment awaits with hope that it is well prepared for the new norm that it will see after the lockdown is lifted.
However, Aarti Ahuja, Head – Marketing, TCNS Clothing, differs saying, “Whether it is a brand exclusive portal or an online marketplace, what matters the most to a buyer is the convenience and brand experience. It is all about the comfort of shopping which is just a click away for customers buying online. Brand experience is another very important aspect that consumers look for across both the channels. In order to provide consistent brand experience, online marketplaces are increasingly creating brand shop-in-shops on their respective portals.”
One of the biggest triggers for this shift in trends was the introduction of satellite cable television in India in the early 90s, which brought mainstream western entertainment and news to India which primarily influenced the youth of the time most. “Three decades later, the information revolution that has taken place with the internet, smart phones and social media brought along western ideas. Western fashion is no more alien to the majority of people in India and jeans in a way is the most iconic indicator of this shift,” says Saurabh Singh, Head of Design -Menswear, Being Human.
Nonetheless, this can be checked says Khanna. “If you understand who your target audience is and the price, they associate to the value your clothes bring to her. Price is not an outcome of just the raw material but has more to do with the positioning of the brand that sells it, and the relevance/ demand of the design.” For example, two dresses could have very different cloth, as a fast fashion brand the price range of both will be same because a consumer is coming to that brand for a short life garment. Whereas, if it is a comfort wear brand, then the price will be more as that is what the customer is seeing value in. “You price yourself for the value you are bring to the consumer. The rise in price of raw material would have an impact, albeit small, on the pricing,” she says.
“There have been conscious efforts from brands, manufacturers and category leaders in developing and adopting innovative technology for sustainable and as environmental friendly options. New technology helps reduce water and chemical consumption. There are denim fabrics made using post-consumer waste like recycled pet bottles, etc. Laser finishing technology and better wet processing technology helps substantial reduction in water consumption,” says Vinit Doshi, Head – Product, Sourcing & Retail Planning, Celio*.
Denims have become a lifestyle statement in India, a wardrobe staple that the Millennial and the Gen-Xer can’t do without. The revolution has been so complete that even Baby Boomers have become denim connoisseurs, building up their jeans wardrobe with different shapes, cuts, washes and finishes according to what they want to wear on a daily basis.
She said that sustainability is the fourth criteria for 57 percent of the consumers of the apparel and design industry. “This (project) makes it not only responsible business but also smart business. This project will impact worth Rs 30,000 crore in the market. Everything that we consume, we must consume responsibly.”
5. Handloom & Natural Dye as Sustainable Fashion – The Handloom Sector forms a significant part of the textile industry for two reasons. Firstly, with such a widespread area of activity around the country, it employs weavers from extremely diverse parts. It supports as many as 43 lakh (4.3 million) weavers in rural, semi-urban and urban areas. Secondly, it contributes significantly to Indian textile exports and produces nearly 15 percent of all cloth produced in the country (Textile Ministry, 2015). The handloom industry has sustained itself, with difficulty indeed, despite the existence of textile giants in India.
Pepe Jeans believes that the future of denims is sustainable. The brand has been working on addressing its environmental impact for the last few years on a global level. Keeping in mind the need for sustainable clothing, Pepe Jeans introduced a range of environmentally conscious denims including True-Fresh And Tru-Blu in 2018.
CASUALIZATION OF FASHION: The Indian casual wear market has evolved significantly over the years. Casual wear categories such as denim, activewear, casual shirts, and fashionable skirts are outpacing the growth of formal wear in India. This is reflective of the changing consumer trend and increasing usage of casual wear in offices as well as home. This shift in consumer’s wardrobe towards casual wear has acted as a growth driver for the denim wear in India. The casualization of fashion is not unique to India and is driven by global phenomena.
Fashion, traditionally, has been more about style than comfort. However, times are rapidly changing with the opposite being true today. Fashion is becoming next-level functional, with consumers seeking comfortable, fuss-free styles that adapt to the moment and can be used while traveling anywhere. Just like the busy and aspirational lives they lead, consumers want clothes that work as hard as they do and are durable, comfortable, timeless and eco-friendly.
One of the most popular shopping apps both on Google Play and iOS App Store with millions of customers for its selection of modern, trendy and unique products across a wide range of categories, Club Factory is also planning significant investments in warehousing, delivery, technology and marketing to become a leading marketplace for SME sellers in India, a statement said on Monday.
He further states that western lifestyle and western fashion has accelerated the trend of casual dressing across the globe. “This trend has boosted the consumption of casual fashion apparel like denims, dress shirts, tees, casual shirts among both men and women consumers in all the developing countries including India,” adds Patel.
Talking about the plan of action that is put in place at Pepe, Shah reveals, “Keeping in mind the on-going trend and needs of the customer, Pepe jeans constantly innovates, is easily accessible and offers variety in order to be on top of minds. Through market research, we look at what data is telling us and accordingly rely on our insights to determine the best course of action. It is also critical to study the evolving market, changing consumer buying preferences and patterns and incorporate this insight when working on the larger brand growth strategy. Pricing has been a crucial point when it comes to a customer’s purchase decision. Price sensitivity continues to exist in the Indian market. However, many brands have identified this behavior and are now repositioning the brands in terms of prices so that they can cater not only to sec A but also to the mid-level segment. Brands are introducing denims across all price segments to cater to a wider audience. Pepe Jeans too has denims starting from Rs 1,799 for the e-commerce partners where the customer is more price sensitive. Denims at our stores go from Rs 1,799 to Rs 3,499.”