Home / News / India /  Online becomes key for retailers as consumer preferences shift

New Delhi: India’s top retailers unanimously agreed on the need to accelerate their digital reach as the pandemic alters shopping behaviour, prompting more companies to speed up their digital efforts, launch their own direct-to-consumer sales links, take orders on social media platforms, and prepare to compete with the world’s top e-commerce sites. The retail executives were speaking at Retail Technology Conclave 2020 on Thursday.

B. S. Nagesh, chairman, Retailers Association of India; founder, TRRAIN (Trust for Retailers and Retail Association of India) and chairman and non-executive director, Shoppers Stop, asked retailers to adopt digital in every aspect of their operations -- from omni-channel retail to 24x7 customer care.

“If you have to survive in retail you have to adopt technology, you have to ensure that your people are trained, if your customers are digital you cannot live without digital," he said at the event that saw top retailers including Levis, Titan, Starbucks, Clarks and Lacoste participate.

To be sure, the pandemic has accelerated online shopping for millions of Indian households even as brick and mortar stores saw big slump in business.

Consequently, in the last six months several retailers have launched online marketplaces as well as separate product lines as they try to mitigate the loss in businesses owing to lockdown and social distancing.

Titan Company Ltd., that runs the Titan watch stores and jewellery stores Tanishq and Mia said it is offering shoppers several options such as booking appointments and making selections via video calls.

“Many of our stores are open now, we are following safety protocols but obviously customers are cautious coming and spending the kind of time they used to spend in our stores. That is a fact and that will remain for some time. We are also leveraging digital to have conversations that may precede and set the ground for a much more efficient visit," said Krishnan Venkateswaran, Chief Digital and Information Officer. The jewellery retailer now offers customers an option to shortlist products over a video call and schedule an appointment. This, said, Venkateswaran has helped reduce the time spent in store.

Footwear retailer Clarks, meanwhile, launched its athleisure range in India, at a time when offices remained shut, crushing the demand for formal footwear. The company also ramped up omni-channel efforts apart from changing its products mix, said N Mohan, executive director and CEO, Clarks India.

Even as retailers are yet to fully grapple with the aftermath of a post-covid world, most are certain that digital as platform is here to stay and will draw in significant sales for their businesses going forward.

The pandemic said Vikram Idnani, Sr. VP & Head - IT, Reliance Retail Ltd has prompted retailers to push the boundaries on the digital space and increase the contactless experience with customers. “All retailers are increasing the level of digital interaction with customers, making online a lot more easy for customers," he said.

For most apparel retailers, business continues slow averaging at around 40-60% compared to a year ago period.

Retailers said they have taken this time to deepen their presence on marketplaces, expanding their own websites and shifting their offerings from formal to casual wear.

"There have been midways that people have adopted—coming out with various product categories, also looking at unified commerce in terms of omni-channel, being with the various marketplaces, rectifying our own websites and coming out with categories like masks," said Avnish Kumar, director, Neeru's that sells women’s occasion wear, including heavy bridal wear.

The company is now expanding its range of everyday ethnic wear, he said.

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