As the world acclimatizes itself to the new normal, brands are focusing all of their energies on providing customers with real value and transparency for a holistic shopping experience. But, what would this new ‘shopping’ experience be like? Are consumers ready for an in-store purchase?
By: Tejashee Kashyap
Posted on: August 11, 2020
When I heard Carrie Bradshaw declare, “Shopping is my cardio,” it became my motto for quite some time, until this grave pandemic decided to pay a visit. For 4 months now, retail, flagships, pop-ups, malls have been under closed shutters. With China’s luxury market being the first one to open its doors, it sure did bring hope that the pandemic can be combated. With eased lockdown and strict safety measures after four months, India was ready to welcome its retail guests. However, with the virus lurking around and the digital medium going into ultimate soaring notes, would physical stores and malls gain back their patrons?
In the early days, the press was populated with stories of revenge shopping (in China, Hermès achieved record single-day sales of $2.7 million during the re-opening of their flagship store), but did ‘revenge buying’ happen in India too? According to BloombergQuint, “Early indications suggest that consumption has seen a spurt as the lockdown eased but economists and company executives remain uncertain about the sustainability of that pick-up.”
Priyanka Modi of Indian fashion brand AMPM says, “The future is hard to predict, but from what we have seen so far, there has been a positive shift towards conscious consumption across the board. We do think the audience will become even more discretionary and will look at many factors surrounding a brand before endorsing one. In the coming months, there will be a lot of changes in how business is conducted and how brands present themselves.”
As stores have finally opened their doors, what would be this new world of ‘Reopening Retail 2.0’ be like?
Sanitizers, gloves, masks are our constant guardians, almost like an ID, to enter any venue. While shopping happens to be a ‘personal and touch-based’ activity, stores were fast enough to confer safe services to its consumers. Good Earth has opened its stores in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Jaipur, Chennai and Hyderabad. Explaining its safety protocols, the team said, “The stores are disinfected every 2 hours. Social distancing is being maintained at all times, with only a limited number of customers being allowed at a time in the store to ensure safety. Mandatory hand sanitization and body temperature screening for both, customers and the store team. Customers have also been advised to opt for online payment methods in order to minimize contact.”
Sitanshi Talati-Parikh, Brand Head (Creative), of modern jewellery brand, Her Story, which has re-opened its boutique in Mumbai, says, “All Her Story home appointments follow the strictest guidelines and our retail representatives are in full PPE suits. We have the strictest safety guidelines and procedures in place - hygiene and deep sanitization and disinfection of spaces and products, ensuring regular temperature checks and social distancing is consistently maintained. During the current scenario, Her Story will ensure that during a client interaction, the client has exclusive use of the boutique premises, with no other shopper at the same time in the premises. Jewels are sanitized before and after any interaction or contact, and masks are compulsory while shopping.”
For clothing stores, trial rooms happen to be a useful factor. Hence, AMPM has come up with an effective solution. Ms. Modi says, “As we are not allowing physical trials at our stores as of now, customers are requested to share their measurements at the store and our team suggests the appropriate size that would fit them. The customers are then asked to take the merchandise and try it inside the safety of their homes. For this process to run smoothly, we have relaxed our exchange policies for the moment. In case a customer doesn’t like the fit of a particular garment, they can return the merchandise at the store.” AMPM has opened its stores in Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore.
Hemant Sagar, Co-founder and designer, Lecoanet Hemant says, “The entire purpose of visiting a store is to feel, touch and try your potential purchase. It then becomes our responsibility to provide a safe experience to our shoppers. Regular sanitisation of trial rooms, consistent disinfection of clothes, installation of thermal cameras are some interventions that will go a long way in fighting the possibility of transmission.”
Online V/S In-Store Purchase
With brands and organisations constantly looking for ways to reinvent and restructure their strategies, a shift to online retail and e-commerce has been an important pillar of building and sustaining purchases and consumers. A great leap can also be seen in a brand’s participation through innovative social media programs. To provide consultation at home, Ayurvedic brand Forest Essentials has introduced a personalized Ayurveda consultation session. To overhaul their in-store shopping experiences, they bought a ‘Talk To Our Expert Near You’ feature where consumers can speak to their favourite in-store beauty representative, or even video call them to order their favourite products for doorstep delivery, get personalized recommendations and updates on products just as in-store!
Design House, Raw Mango, makes its entry in the online retail space too. Although slated for a year later release, the online store’s earlier opening was necessitated by the global level shutdown of stores. “As the world faces unprecedented times, given the accelerated shift to digital space in the way we engage with brands and each other, I believe it is important to embrace innovative methods to reach our audiences,” said Sanjay Garg, Founder & Textile Designer, Raw Mango.
In the coming months, there will be a lot of changes in how business and stores conduct themselves – both online and offline. Brands are continuously encouraging customers to shop from their web boutiques, personal shoppers and customer executives assisting through video calls, and home deliveries. Ms. Modi adds, “We believe that in the next few months, even if the lockdown is fully lifted, people will exercise caution when it comes to regular social activities like shopping or eating out or going to the movies. People would want to spend the majority of their time at home, social distancing and avoiding human contact as much as possible, or till a vaccine is introduced. This will result in a major spike in online buying that will take precedence over offline sales. It is crucial for us to align ourselves to the updated consumer behaviour and accept the ‘new normal’ post the lockdown.”
The Emotional Quotient?
Mr. Sagar says, “In any scenario, whether a stand-alone flagship store or a shopping complex, a well-measured contingency plan needs to be chalked out. At the same time, e-commerce will certainly have an upper hand over the brick and mortar model. With no-contact deliveries and easy payment methods, shopping online will also become a more popular choice.” While the world is continuously adjusting to the new digital age, there will be unique moments always when people would like to enjoy ‘live’. The emotional quotient cannot be replicated in an online format completely.
It’s the time to readapt, rethink and reconsider the whole age-old concept. Brands will have to re-assess their long-established strategies and focus on providing customers with ethics along with aesthetics - which can also be ‘out of the blue’ manifestations and protocols in order to replicate the ‘physical emotions’ of purchase and shopping in a digital medium.
Ms. Modi further adds, “Before the lockdown, our retail structure was segregated in a 90:10 format, where 90% of our energies were focused on offline sales and 10% of our revenue came from online buyers. Going forward, this ratio could dramatically change to 50:50, where we will put equal emphasis on both revenue streams for at least the next one year. Moving forward, people will look for effortless fashion that is classic, sophisticated and super-versatile; putting in a united effort to buy more from our local suppliers, working with native artisans and support the ‘Handmade in India’ movement, which will gradually strengthen our national economy. The core intent is to deliver timeless designs that are true investments and wearable over seasons - designing more such investment-worthy pieces to build a more conscious and lasting wardrobe.”
Although caution is the prime key to opening stores in India along with physical distancing and clinical-level sanitization being the new norm, India’s drive into the ‘virtual format’ is at a peak too. Even after the introduction of a vaccine, shoppers might continue to prefer digital. However, there will be scenes of getting together as they used to earlier, albeit with certain precautions. Technology will remain the prime focus with the merge of ‘human connection’ being a necessary factor. It will be interesting to see the course of changes in the Indian Luxury market, welcoming the ‘New Retail World 2.0’.