H&M MD Fredrik Olsson. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
H&M MD Fredrik Olsson. Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Going digital was a natural step in India: H&M MD Fredrik Olsson

  • The Swedish brand launched its first store in India in 2015 and touched 1,108.2 crore in sales in 2018
  • Olsson spoke about the potential of growth of its digital store given India’s fast adoption of technology

Fredrik Olsson, managing director of the Swedish fast-fashion brand is in India to announce the launch of H&M products on online marketplace Myntra. The company, which launched its first store in India in 2015 and touched 1,108.2 crore in sales in 2018, Olsson said, is happy with its performance with a total of 42 stores and digital presence via H&M.com. Olsson spoke about the potential of growth of its digital store given India’s fast adoption of technology. The group’s other brands, including Monki, COS and Cheap Monday, are also eyeing India though they have not made a commitment yet, he said. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Is this your first visit to India?

I have been here before but it’s been a while. I am happy to be back. It is a very interesting country in many ways. I am interested in how people dress, how retail is developing. It is a very interesting country because it has a very rich heritage on how you express yourself through clothing. We have been sourcing from India for more than 30 years because there is really good craftsmanship here. Everywhere in the world consumers are always evolving and developing but they are evolving faster here. So you have a fashion interested customer and it is also a market where tech has developed very fast.

You launched the online store pretty soon in India. Has it changed your plans for offline stores?

That doesn’t change. H&M started more than 70 years ago and at that time there was no online. So we started with stores and then we brought the catalogue business in the ’80s. Now there is a big focus on digital in all our markets. So we saw it as a natural step in India, too. Now we complement our store base and dotcom business with Myntra because there are so many consumers and we want to build relationships with many more.

But we will continue opening more stores. Today’s consumer is not only in one place. He moves between channels. So it becomes important to be where the customer is.

Are you happy with your performance in India? Would you launch other brands here?

In four years, we are very pleased with the start. As a group of brands, we all look for potential. So the other brands in the group see potential in India. They are smaller than H&M. I know other brands are looking at the market but there are no commitments that have been made today. Several brands would work here. But we spend years preparing because you want to lay a foundation you can build on.

Is H&M Home something you could look at bringing to India?

We have a lot of respect for this market. It is not an easy market to do well in because there are a lot of strong local players and this is where rushing in is usually not wise. For most categories, the consumers here know many brands already. We took quite a bit of time to prepare for H&M to make sure we do it in a good way. And as we in the future enter (India) with more brands or other components within the H&M brand portfolio—the most important thing for us is to have the time to do it really well. There is always a timing part there. Most of our sister brands like COS, Monki do not exist in a lot of other countries today. The same with Home. Many people in our company look at India. It is a very important market for a lot of reasons but no commitment today.

Within Asia where does India rank for H&M?

We don’t rank the countries from 1-72 but we consider India a very, very important market. We have only been here for a very little time, but we have had a very good start and see enormous potential.

What are the retail industry challenges globally?

If you take a step back and look at retail as an industry, retail is growing. If you look at the global numbers it is probably somewhere between 5% to 7% growth. But it is changing. It is moving to digital, or digital is very much influencing how customers shop. So I think this is affecting a lot of players. H&M is driving a big change journey now. In our more mature, older markets where we have been present for 30,40,50 years the shift to digital is very strong so we’re investing heavily in improving our digital experience.

It also means we are closing stores in some markets. On a total level it is still a net positive. So markets like India are growing, China is growing, Mexico is growing but some of the more mature markets they do not see store growth anymore. It is the other way round. We are taking away some stores but it is about following the customers.

It is a really, really interesting time to be in retail. So retail is changing but it is better for the customer and big players like us need to be faster, we need to invest, follow the customers, learn and get better.

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