Coronavirus | Retailers gear up for the ‘new normal’

While masks and sanitisers are expected to become a way of life due to COVID-19, these might not be enough for the retail sector to instil confidence in shoppers.

With shoppers expected to avoid physical shops, retailers are looking at newer ways such as appointment-based entries to shops, contact-less shopping, and online to offline commerce, to push sales.

“The overall architecture of retail will change with social distancing as a key component. Customers will be reluctant to go to places where there isn’t enough social distancing or the hygiene standards are not perceivably available,” Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, Retailers Association of India, told The Hindu.

The industry expects to lose at least 40% of business this year, and about 20-25% are staring at the possibility of shutting shop.

Pointing out that retailers will need to utilise all available channels possible, Mr. Rajagopalan said this was also the best time to innovate. “Almost everybody is re-looking at business, going through every component, innovating on costs, innovating on items they sell, and innovating on technology to perform better.”

For example, he said, most malls are gearing up to use technology to issue some sort of tokens to designate time for shopping.

“We are already seeing collaboration in the home delivery segment. And home delivery doesn’t necessarily mean only e-commerce, it could also be a delivery from nearby shops or tele-commerce or a click and collect model, wherein buyers select products online, and then go and just pick the order up from the shop.”

Recently, pizza chain Domino’s launched a service to deliver essentials to consumers in partnership with ITC.

Sumit Sehgal, CMO, Sheela Foam Ltd., which makes Sleepwell Mattress, said there would certainly be less consumers in the market and they would definitely move online, making it important for brands to step up their e-commerce strategy.

“But since offline retail is still 95% of the market, one cannot ignore that. I think in the short term, one will be very cautious as to how they expand.... we have to see how brands use the omni-channel approach to get the best of both online and offline worlds.”

He said since consumers may not reach out to brands in large numbers in the next 6-9 months, it is important for brands to reach consumers. For example, Sleepwell will soon be launching at home service shortly across 30 markets. “While costs will be a bit higher, what we are doing is ensuring sustainability of the channel since this channel is the bread and butter of almost all brands in the country.”

Businesses have been impacted and post the lockdown we will enter a different world, Pushpa Bector, executive director, DLF Shopping Malls said, adding that many micro- and macro-consumer trends would also change once the lockdown is lifted.

“With consumers becoming more concerned about health, wellness and safety, retailers will need to be agile and provide a safer in-store environment to facilitate social distancing and last-mile practices that can offer non-touch based self-checkout system in a post-pandemic scenario. Contact less shopping and contact less serving experiences will be the new normal,” Ms. Bector said.

Whirlpool India is also scaling up its online presence to prepare for the new normal. “As of now an estimated 60% of urban India go online for product discovery but only 7-10% of sales happen online. We expect this to change significantly with a much higher proportion of sales getting completed online,” Vishal Bhola, MD, Whirlpool India said.

He added that the company is scaling its presence not only with e-commerce marketplaces but also with traditional offline retailers wanting to have a strong online presence.

Interestingly, even automobile firms are turning to the online route to push sales. Honda Cars India on Monday launched its ‘Honda from Home’ online booking platform that will allow customers to browse through the product options, select their preferred dealership and proceed to book their cars online. Similarly, the country’s largest luxury car maker, Mercedes-Benz India has also launched an online platform for buying new cars. In January, it had started its online platform only for the sale of used cars.

Tanvi Malik, co-founder, FabAlley & Indya, echoed similar views. “Online shopping will definitely be the new normal in the short-to-medium term, making it imperative to have up to date webshops and look at making them more intuitive by incorporating AI-based recommendations and browsing experience.” Ms. Malik added that once retail outlets do open, brands will need to ease walk-in apprehension by thorough and frequent sanitization of premises, re-jigging visual merchandise with more spaces to allow requisite physical distance, allowing only a certain number of customers per store, and driving conversions through attractive offers Ankit Mehta, co-founder of Walking Tree, the group behind jewellery store Her Story (India), said being available to clients digitally and through social networks will continue to be extremely important, as would be the option of providing the option of a home visit. While digital has become one of the key touchpoints for brand awareness and exploration, it is unlikely to replace a physical retail space any time soon, particularly for the precious jewellery sector.

“However, if a consumer has already experienced a jewel, or experienced the brand and its designs at a physical level earlier, they would easily engage with the retail team and make a purchase online, without needing to come into the boutique again,” Mr. Mehta said.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 3:51:36 AM |

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