Online and retail stores are seeing a rise in purchase of casual slippers, t-shirts, shorts, and tracks, and even innerwear as uncertainty shrouds the office goer’s return to a '9 to 5' routine. With the pandemic disallowing socialising, shoppers are also preferring comfort wear over pricey labels.
Brands said they are expanding their work from home collections and promoting ‘business casuals' for those who are busy making appearances on Zoom calls.
Most retailers, who have started opening stores or selling non-essentials online, said the demand is largely need-based for essential apparels.
India’s top footwear retailer Bata expects sales from casual slippers, flip flops, floater sandals—that it is currently promoting under the 'work from home' category on its website and in over half its 1,600 point of sales that are now open—to grow going forward. The footwear retailer has also seen an uptick in its sports footwear brand 'Power' driven by urban shoppers following DIY fitness regimes.
“We believe, more and more organizations will adopt hybrid models (of working), people will come back (to office). But there will be more opportunity to work from home for their employees, and therefore a work from home collection is suited for that," Sandeep Kataria, chief executive officer, Bata India, said.
Sales from footwear priced lower than ₹1,000 will continue to grow as demand for pricey formal shoes for men and women will take months to revive, said Kataria.
Alisha Malik, vice president, e-commerce at Metro Brands Ltd, that operates 550 standalone stores for footwear brands Metro, Mochi and Crocs, said it has re-opened 40% of its stores where the conversion rate is 95% even though the footfall is very low. “We’re also selling walking shoes, socks, sandals and slippers," she said.
Sportswear retailer Puma has opened 100 of its over 370 exclusive stores and reports getting shoppers who know exactly what they want. Abhishek Ganguly, general manager, PUMA India and South East Asia, said, “With work from home and home fitness continuing to be the norm, our share of apparel has gone up by about 10 percentage points. Consumers are largely looking for apparel like t-shirts, tracks and shorts which are home essentials and loungewear is showing traction. The share of open footwear has also increased," he said.
India’s retailers started resuming business as the country went into its fourth lockdown easing up on stores in the open markets. However, most retailers admit to poor footfalls. “The demand is subdued as people are still wary to come to stores, walk-ins have reduced," Sanjay Vakharia, chief executive officer, Spykar Lifestyles, which sells apparel through 1,400 points of sale in India said.
At Spykar, shoppers came in to stores looking for t-shirts, boxers and denims. Essentials and casual dressing is in demand given the current scenario, he said.
Another retailer, who spoke to Mint on the condition of anonymity, said footfalls at stores are down by as much as 70% compared to a year ago. However, sales online are growing in high double digits. “Casual and innerwear is in high demand, overall we are seeing 50% of business from last year, shop in shop business is slow, own stores are doing better but it’s mainly pent up demand," he added.
Even as retailers open more stores, it is clear that Indians will take to online shopping in a big way prompting brands to focus more on sales on the internet. Metro Shoes’ Malik said demand for its footwear on Snapdeal exceeded what it was in the pre-covid period.
Bata has started taking orders via WhastApp and will deepen its partnership with third-party retailers. The company has put store expansion plans on hold for the next three to six months. Puma—that already draws a significant share of sales from e-commerce said its puma.com business is already at 112% of pre-covid period.
“The average shopping basket size on puma.com has increased by 17% in terms of units bought compared to pre-COVID," said Ganguly.
Over the next few weeks, men’s formal wear brands Peter England, Van Heusen, and Allen Solly, part of Madura Fashion & Lifestyle will start selling and promoting more casual clothing that will include casual t-shirts, comfort wear, open footwear, etc. as these brands anticipate a growing need for shoppers to change into their basics as they work from home.
“Customers are quickly catching up on their essentials—innerwear, casual shirts, t-shirts, shorts, products they couldn’t buy because of the lockdown and they have stocked up now, this was the trend in the early days of our stores opening up earlier this month," said Vishak Kumar, chief executive officer, Madura Fashion & Lifestyle that has portfolio of brands such as Peter England, Van Van Heusen, Allen Solly, among others. Kumar said Louis Philipe's Permapress range of shirts—that are wrinkle free were being brought for ‘work from home’.
Brands said these are still early days to gauge trends as shops resumed operations and e-commerce companies proceeded to sell non-essentials as India entered the fourth phase of the lockdown on 18 May.