At Urban Ladder and other home-grown Indian brands, many of us have observed the stark transformation of the Indian consumer in the last decade. The retail ecosystem is one of the most exciting industries today—it’s fast-paced, constantly evolving, and ever so demanding. As the retail sector enters a new phase, home-grown brands like ours need to find ways to stay ahead in the game.

Ear to the ground

Building great brands starts with understanding customers—their behaviour, their buying patterns, their way of living, and demographic trends. “Drawing Room" vs “Living Room" or “Deewan" vs “Daybeds" are just a few examples where retailers like us are able to refine what the customer is looking for through Google or Facebook ad tools. Digital marketers can catch these trends in a region while offline retailers know their customers inside out and are usually honed into local preferences. Home-grown brands need the marriage of these two skill-sets to understand what customers are really looking for. The first-hand information that comes from offline channels, paired with the keyword research for category and customer insighting in the digital world, will give retailers an evolved system to arrive at the right customer answer.

This is one of the basic engines home-grown brands will need to transition into the new era of retail. This intelligence can come only by keeping our ears to the ground and adopting an omnichannel approach.

Focus on supply chain

One must learn to pick their battles, know one’s strengths, and exploit them to the hilt. With shifting consumer aesthetics, brands must have the pulse of global trends. Hence, supply-chain innovations have become as important as product development for the modern consumer. Having a supply-chain system that allows a home-grown brand to conduct more experiments is going to succeed in the longer run. Speed and relevance will differentiate brands for consumers. For us, being able to source the right product from the right ecosystem that fits the demands of consumers is the key strength. Being able to assure quality at the core of the supply chain is what will help brands like ours to survive in this changing market.

Technology and data

Most companies in the old world were built offline first. Today, as companies get built in India for a young and mobile-first audience, engaging with customers online and converting them using devices is a strong part of the starting strategy. Digital also allows companies to try different kinds of messaging in a fast manner.

In the next 20 years, the strongest brands in any category will start purely online, reach out through the power of these marketplaces, and, as they build a sustainable brand, look at other channels to expand to. Being technology-first also determines the DNA and power of data that the company can build as its differentiators. Technology is an axis on which new companies can win and build a moat for themselves before the bigger global companies come into India in their categories.

Eventually, retail companies that emerge winners will be those that know their customers well, build a strong supply chain with a local flavour, and utilize technology as a key differentiator.

Rajiv Srivatsa is co-founder and chief product and technology officer, Urban Ladder.

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