Home >Opinion >Columns >Opinion | Luxury to mass market, brands reach consumers in new ways

When Manu Sharma, group vice-president, Reliance Brands, spoke to Mint last month, he took pains to explain how the company, which has brought premium and luxury brands to India, was reaching out to customers. “Distance selling" was the new mantra for its portfolio of fashion and lifestyle brands such as Diesel, Gas, Jimmy Choo, Kate Spade and Steve Madden. It meant reaching out to its wealthy customers via calls over Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp, offering video tours of the stores and new ranges, closing deals and getting the products delivered home.

Among the affluent, whose incomes have not been impacted by the pandemic, Reliance Brands billed more than 3,000 customers for bags, shoes, children’s wear, jewellery and casual wear between May and June.

Even Titan Co.’s jewellery division chief executive officer Ajoy Chawla spoke of closing transactions with 2,000 customers of Tanishq via video calls. However, most Tanishq shoppers preferred to pick their jewellery on their own from the stores. Chawla said customer behaviour is unlikely to return to pre-covid-19 days in a hurry.

India has a historical context to selling luxury. Traditionally, it was customary for merchants to visit the rich, the aristocrats and the noble with their wares. “Street bazaars were the norm for the general populace, while the rich were always serviced at home," said Abhay Gupta, founder and chief executive, Luxury Connect and Luxury Connect Business School. Some modern-day luxury retailers, too, adopted similar methods for their ultra-premium clients. But the pandemic has ensured this becomes a standard practice across brands as the fear of stepping out and contracting the disease looms.

With phased unlocking of the country, brands have been quick to innovate. To access customers reluctant to visit stores, they have resorted to various formats. Some have created digital e-stores, yet others carry goods to client sites for a display and sell set-up. “Mass-market brands have also created ‘mobile stores’—a concept adopted from ‘food trucks’. It is now not unusual to see mini stores created inside well-decorated trucks or buses parked in residential areas on specified days," Gupta said.

To reassure anxious consumers, Farah Malik Bhanji, chief executive and managing director of footwear retailer Metro Brands Ltd, has introduced home-visit and drive-through services—the latter being the domain of food companies so far. The service is available at all its stores that are not in containment zones. In drive-through, customers can either drive to Metro stores and share their requirements or call in advance and have their footwear and accessories delivered to their parked cars.

At fast-food chain McDonald’s, Saurabh Kalra explained the thinking behind launching the new on-the-go service at almost all its outlets that are operational. Kalra, director, strategy and operations, McDonald’s India West and South, said after lockdowns were eased, its 60 drive-through restaurants were the fastest to see sales recovery. “They gave very strong indicators that this is a new stage available to us to play on," he said.

Globally, McDonald’s thrives on its drive-through outlets. In India, people prefer to get down and sit in a restaurant to eat. “That’s also because here eating out is not a daily affair," Kalra said. But covid has changed that. The company devised a plan to convert even its non-drive-through outlets into drive-throughs by serving customers in their parked cars if they opted for the On-the-Go feature on its McDelivery app.

Now, instead of looking for a McDonald’s drive-through restaurant, customers can drive to any store in close proximity and be served in their cars.

With little additional cost, the company has been able to scale up its business and Kalra thinks that some of these new practices will outlast covid. For instance, customers in cities with long commutes could continue availing the new service. The pandemic is likely to change some consumer habits for good. “Convenience, comfort, security and privacy are becoming the new foundational norms for any relationship. The trend is likely to continue and evolve further," Gupta observed.

Has covid-19 pushed companies to pamper the reluctant customer? Kalra doesn’t agree: “Businesses exist to solve a problem from a consumer standpoint. Whenever there’s disruption, businesses shift to offer added value to the consumer. And they appreciate by giving us more business. It augurs well for the long-term health of the brand."

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at

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