COVID -19 Impact on Indian Retail: Strategies to move from survival to revival

Kapil Pathare, Director, VIP Clothing Ltd.

By  Mr. Kapil Pathare, Director, VIP Clothing Ltd

When a store is the crux of your business and that store has been shut for the last 3 months, it a serious business lockdown! None of the retail businesses in India expected, that even after 3 months, they would all be reeling under the effects of the pandemic. From daily business operations to inventory and asset management to people, every aspect of the business has to now be introspected deeply. How do we come back from something this unprecedented?

Each level of the value chain in apparel retail has been hit hard –the cotton mills having a lack of demand, manufacturing at a complete standstill, and even logistics shutdown. These are some serious challenges forcing smaller businesses to shut and distressing the larger players in the industry.

How we move forward from here will decide the next 5 years of a business’s sustainability. Because until a working tested vaccine for Covid-19 has been formulated, everyone will continue to operate under the pandemic radar.

However, adversity bears some hope. This has allowed us to look closely at existing business models, operations, strategies, and people. It has stopped the industry in its tracks and forced it to look inwards on how to improve the retail experience and customer experience. While several clothing retailers are surviving on the goodwill of their customers; retail businesses will have to develop a different outlook to accommodate a changed customer and their demands.

PEOPLE – in our opinion are key. Training employees to adjust to the new working scenario and being mindful of customer experience will become crucial. Retailers should simplify existing operational processes and train employees to work with technology.

Consumer behavior has shifted; the consumer psyche has changed. A cash crunch in the economy right now, as well as safety on high priority at the moment for customers, will see judicious spending in the apparel industry. Indian retailers would have to assuage customer fears on store shopping and implement safety and hygiene policies on the floor for better customer experience.

INVENTORY – is something several retailers are currently in the mindset to dispose of immediately. Selling out inventory smartly with intelligent ideas would make a difference. EOSS on certain stocks and well thought out campaigns to move products will help liquidate stocks. Once the festive season kicks in during October, the shopping sentiment is expected to return.

COMMUNICATIONS – is the foundation of reaching out to new customers and retaining existing customers. Retailers will need to be empathetic, conscious, and value-driven in their communication strategies. From offering value in product offerings, value deals with crafting new product lines, retailers will need to test and see what works. PM’s encouragement on ‘vocal for local’ has given a good impetus to Indian retail brands; retailers must use this ‘MAKE IN INDIA’ sentiment to push locally manufactured products.

TECHNOLOGY & DIGITAL MARKETING – are no longer game-changers, but a need of the hour. The lockdown has witnessed a massive growth in online shopping, and the convenience and benefits have converted even senior citizens. An increasing number of audiences are social media savvy and are actively consuming digital content on OTT apps, digital channels, and WhatsApp. From trends on what to wear to how to cook, to lifestyle habits, a retailer’s audience is online and requires a push in the right direction to make a purchase.

Retailers must invest in technology; to improve internal processes, create efficient POS systems, easy to navigate e-commerce portals and virtual reality tech to improve the shopping experience for their customers.

Finally, what always did and continues to drive consumers today is value. If all retail businesses started orienting themselves and their strategies to deliver value at each level, a strong revival by early 2021 could become a possibility.