Bengaluru:Online furniture store Pepperfry is gearing up to expand its offline presence by launching a number of brick-and-mortar outlets over the next 12 months, following a similar push by rival Urban Ladder, which plans to launch its own experience centres and is on course to widen its offline distribution channels.
The move will help Pepperfry increase its visibility as well as beat a slowdown in online sales, said co-founder and CEO Ambarish Murty.
Online retailers witnessed moderate growth last year as they brought down discounts and marketing spends, somewhat constrained by a slowdown in funding as well as some government directives that barred them from influencing prices of products or focusing on a handful of sellers for a majority of sales.
According to a January study by RedSeer Management Consulting Pvt. Ltd, online retailers clocked about $58 billion in gross sales last year as against about $51 billion a year earlier, an increase of 13.7%.
Moreover, sales fell from $14 billion in the March quarter to about $13 billion each in the June and September quarters, before swelling to about $18 billion in the December quarter. This is in sharp contrast to 2015, when sales grew 17-27% every quarter.
“We realized last year that the rate of growth for online customers was stagnating. A lot of that was driven by fundamental macroeconomic shifts, driven by an orientation that the companies had to improve their financial architecture. Hence, spends on top line were lower last year. At that time, it was our duty as a business to create multiple other interfaces to connect with the business,” said Murty.
Pepperfry, owned by Trendsutra Platform Services Pvt. Ltd, will invest about $6 million this year to increase its store count from 14 currently in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune to about 50 by December in several new cities including Ahmedabad, Kochi, Chandigarh and Lucknow, he said.
To be sure, Pepperfry, which opened its first offline store in Mumbai in 2014, does not sell directly from these stores. They essentially serve as experience centres where prospective buyers can touch and feel a part of the assortment on Pepperfry as well as get home design consultation for free.
“About 17% of the customers who have bought on Pepperfry in the last one month would have gone to a Pepperfry studio in the 60-day period prior to the purchase,” said Murty.
According to industry experts, adopting an omni-channel strategy—where businesses have both offline and online presence—is immensely important, especially for a category like furniture which is not standardized and has high average order value. Besides, in the Indian market, where online sales is still evolving, an offline presence is part of the brand-building exercise.
“Omni-channel is the way forward. Whatever apprehension was there with large furniture, which are high value, will go away with offline stores. Once consumers touch and feel and see, they get a certain level of comfort with the brand. Secondly, an offline presence will reinforce a company’s brand value. Otherwise, they will be viewed as a start-up. In India, everything with an online presence is being viewed as a start-up. Offline presence demystifies this start-up stamp on a company,” said Sreedhar Prasad, partner, e-commerce and start-ups at KPMG India.
Pepperfry’s nearest competitor, Urban Ladder, has launched a new brand identity and is on course to widen offline distribution channels beyond company-owned centres. It plans to launch at least three experience centres in Bengaluru, and is exploring partnerships with large format retail stores.
Urban Ladder also has its eye on local furniture stores, where it might take the assisted commerce route through kiosks displaying the Urban Ladder catalogue. It will also explore partnerships with paints and white goods appliances brands among others, which may involve cross-selling, Mint reported on 26 October.
To be sure, the likes of lingerie start-up Zivame, eyewear e-tailer Lenskart and babycare store Firstcry have already set up a large number of brick-and-mortar stores, while online fashion store Myntra is on course to open one in Bengaluru.