Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | Fashion retailing takes slow road to revival after the lockdown

It’s rare to find a businessman as candid as Akhil Jain. The executive director of Jain Amar Clothing, which sells women’s fashionwear under the Madame brand, runs 156 exclusive stores across malls and high streets. After the government eased lockdown restrictions two weeks ago, the company opened 32 stores on high streets in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. So far, the news has not been good, said Jain. “We now have a fair idea of what is selling and how much is selling. Like to like (same weeks last May), we are doing just 8% of the sale, as footfall is low," he said.

Yet, he’s keeping his stores open to study consumer behaviour. “Most fashion retailers I have spoken to had written off May completely. So, whatever we are getting is a bonus," he said.

Jain has not been glossing over either the numbers or what’s selling, but after spending three to four hours at a couple of outlets in Delhi, he has got a fairly good idea of the situation. Formal wear has no takers. Of the 16 clothing categories he stocks, only T-shirts, pyjamas and night suits are selling. However, the conversion rate is more than 90%. This means those who are walking in are buying something.

The choice of Madame clothing is no different on online platforms such as Amazon, Myntra and Ajio.

“Our nightwear is all sold out. I had to manufacture more stuff to feed demand. Earlier, we never used to sell nightwear online," he said.

Jain said online sales could have spiked if the platforms were offering cash-on-delivery, but most are avoiding this to practise social distancing and promote digital payments and contactless delivery.

However, Jain has not lost hope. He is preparing for the end-of-season sale and expects demand to revive during the festival season.

Research by consulting firm Wazir Advisors reflects similar trends. The survey found that 45% of consumers across metros and non-metros would not buy fashionwear before the festivities, while 65% were looking for comfort clothing that cuts across work-from-home and stay-at-home use.

In May, the consultancy reached out to 1,726 affluent consumers in the 18-60 age group across eight metros and 16 smaller cities. It found shoppers to be optimistic with 58% of the respondents saying they were eager to shop after the lockdown and look forward to buying fashionwear again, while 65% said they need more clothes.

“We are talking about branded clothing and urban affluent shoppers," said Harminder Sahni, founder, Wazir Advisors. “The lockdown was announced when it was still cool. Now, we are in the middle of peak summer, so people want to buy clothes."

As much as 76% of the respondents said they were eager to visit a store, of course only after they were assured of the safety measures. More than 50% said brands and retailers will take precautions in providing a safe environment.

Sahni also expects same-store sales for fashion brands to be good as consumers will not make multiple visits. “So, the basket size will be bigger." Apparel sale will spike on e-commerce platforms, he said.

In the survey, one in every three people who had so far not bought clothing online said they will prefer e-tailers, and 72% were of the view that speed of delivery was not a concern but safety is key.

Sahni is upbeat on fashion because the consumer has nowhere else to spend. “I understand there will not be as many occasions to socialize, but consumers are not eating out, travelling and are probably deferring the car purchase. Yes, they will spend more on food and other essentials, but clothing falls in between and they will spend on it," he said.

Will sustainable fashion brands do better after covid-19, pinning hopes, as they are, on a more environmentally conscious consumer? Not really, said Sahni. “Sustainable or organic fashion comes at a price. It charges a premium. People will not be splurging at this time so I expect such brands to take a hit," he said.

That’s not all. He said this was a bad time for startups that rent fashion apparel. With acute awareness about hygiene and health, this business is likely to decline.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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