Tap social media to engage with the customer, strengthen e-commerce channels and increase advertising — these are some of the tips the experts have for apparel retailers looking to rebound from the hammering they have taken in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak
Over the last few months, the retail industry has undergone a radical transformation, as the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and Lockdowns took hold. No one could possibly have been prepared for the disruption that was caused.
Now, with the festive season around the corner, apparel retailers are turning to brand experts for advice on how to recover from their losses and capitalise on the traditional shopping period.
Several sectors are opening up gradually and retailers are hoping for a revival in consumption and some recovery at least in the second quarter of the year or around Diwali.
Unlock 1, 2, and 3 have brought some relief to the retail sector. But it is still far from business as usual. Though 85 percent of the retail space is now operational, customers are still sceptical about going out to shop.
‘Go to the customer’
“The biggest concern for retailers is whether customers will come if the market opens up completely and whether they will be keen to shop. Retailers are not able to gauge the customer’s mind. So, we are advising them: ‘If the customer does not come to you go to the customer,’” said N. Chandramouli, CEO of TRA Research, a consumer analytics and brand insights company.
Sure enough, with the pandemic and lockdown leading to a surge in online shopping, retail brands are experimenting with newer ways to reach customers via various online and social media platforms. Brands are even evaluating hybrid models that will let them service shoppers in a given city or neighbourhood.
One recent trend has brands conducting business and engaging with customers real-time on WhatsApp. Launched in 2009, WhatsApp has 400 million users in India, which is its largest market in the world.
Footwear brands Bata India and Metro Brands Ltd are reaching out to customers via Whatsapp. Bata India allows customers to remotely interact and shop from their neighbourhood stores by interacting with store managers, who share catalogues of curated collections on the app. Once the customer selects the items s/he wants, payment and delivery is organised by the store manager locally.
Several retail brands are also luring shoppers by sharing links to their websites on WhatsApp.
Anticipating a recovery
Brand experts and retailers believe the festive season will help restore sales to at least 50 percent of their pre-Covid levels.
In a recent interview with Moneycontrol, J. Suresh, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Arvind Fashions Ltd, had said that the company is eyeing the festive season for a pick-up in demand. He added that ‘normalcy in sales will come but not completely.’
“We are not going to get growth immediately, as it is not going to be a buoyant time due to erosion in income, but we believe that at least 50 percent of normalcy in sales will come back during festivals,” he said.
‘Get back to the basics’
Experts feel apparel retailers must get back to the basics to garner a strong response and regain the lost charm of the industry.
“Display hunger. Get back to the basics of good retailing practices. Act small. Think small. The high-street store is back in action. So is the kirana. Focus on every customer. Build back business with this focus brick by brick, Customer by customer, said Harish Bijoor Brand guru and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
A report from rating agency Crisil Ltd had in a separate report said that the overall apparel retail market could see business dip by 30-35 percent this fiscal year “because of temporary store closures, restricted mobility, and low-income visibility for consumers”.
Crisil said demand is expected to recover to pre-lockdown levels only during the October-December festive season.
Brand experts are also advising retailers to strengthen their e-commerce presence ahead of Diwali and Christmas.
“Apparel is not a very high investment item. Shopping apparel also gives a personal sense of pleasure. Men and women have spent most of the time during the lockdown in loungewear. So, in the festive season, customers would definitely want variety and buy apparel but may not go to a mall and instead opt to shop online,” Chandramouli said.
‘Increase ad spends’
Since business had come to a complete standstill in the last few months due to the lockdown, retailers had cut their ad spends, saving reserves for expansion.
Now, the retailers are being encouraged to increase their advertising spends around September and October to lure customers.
According to brand experts, the focus should be on digital, as it is a useful medium for advertisements, since most people in the apparel industry’s target audience have access to the medium.
According to Statista, in 2019, India's retail sector spent over 50 percent of its advertising budget on print ads, followed by 20 percent on digital media. The sector increased its spending on digital media that year, while it decreased expenditure on television media.
The lockdown, which started from March 22, has been extended to August 31 to curb the spread of Covid-19. Flights and other transport services across the country remain restricted.
Metros such as New Delhi and Mumbai, which are also the biggest fashion markets in India, are the worst hit. In fact, India is opening up at a time when the number of Covid-19 cases is rising steadily.August 14 is the 144th day since India implemented a nationwide lockdown. So far, the country has recorded close to 25 lakh Covid cases, and over 48,000 deaths.