Saturday, September 18, 2021

5 things that kept Indian retail going through the last one year

By N Jayalakshmi | March 25, 2021

A year ago, a stunned nation went into a pandemic induced lockdown, forcing industries and businesses to think of never before ways of surviving and sustaining. In the midst of this, how did retail, one of the pillars of the economy and one of the worst hit, fare in the last one year?

Commemorating the anniversary of the Covid lockdown would seem a bit ironical, given that it has completely overhauled all aspects of our life.  Yet as one looks back, it is fairly evident that despite all that went wrong, retail as an entity survived in India and demonstrated its resilient spirit. Here’s a look at some factors that kept it going and which perhaps will keep it going through the coming times.    

  • The cool Kiranas: If there is one entity  that has been finally acknowledged as the unsung hero during the past one year, then it was the  neighbourhood Kirana store, a unique part of Indian retail.  From innovative ways  of retaining loyal customers to getting on the technology bandwagon to serve customers better, the Kiranas store owners really upped their game, rising up to the challenge. It has also seen the  entry of many new tech startups seeking to empower the Kiranas across aspects such as payment solutions, logistics, shopper data solutions and more.  

  • Offline/-online - when foes became friends:  Today a huge part of the retail space is occupied by e-commerce and what is interesting is that  erstwhile rivals became allies. Indeed, while e-commerce   was seen as eating into the brick and mortar space, most brands, especially FMCGs, realized that in order to survive sluggish sales and diminished store walk-ins, it was important to embrace the e-model. Soon even categories , heavily dependent  on a physical store format, such as fashion/apparels/lifestyle/luxury, went ahead and placed their penny on the virtual platform. Bottomline: Today brands  realize that the physical and virtual don’t have to be two independent entities silos, but can happily co-exist leveraging each other’s strengths. And thus we go back to the one of the most overused buzzwords of this industry in recent times- omnichannel. Perhaps now is the time for omnichannel to really take on a meaningful role.  

  • Nimble and adaptable: Much like the what the word ‘Jugaad’ evokes   - a unique Indian characteristic of getting innovative at a very basic, fundamental and raw level -  Indian retailers began to innovate in term of formats - mobile stores, video shopping, makeshift stores at residential complexes, etc. While many of these innovations were restricted to a few categories and more importantly, brands who could afford it, it did demonstrate the dynamic nature of Indian retail.   

  • Evolving shoppers, evolving markets:  This is the reason, retail exists. Indeed , without shoppers, there would be no retail. Much of the  evolution happening in retail is  a reflection  of the evolving pace of that entity called the shopper. Digitally averse shoppers were suddenly adding items to their ‘carts’ on online marketplaces; and a generation of shoppers used to negotiating with store sales staff and browsing products on  the store shelves were getting comfortable making purchase decisions based on online catalogues and video demos .  Evolving shopper profiles also means evolving market profiles. Besides,  a huge and varied geography means that brands in India are never short of new markets to explore. If  the metros are saturated by brands and bogged down by high real estate  costs and  space constraints,  not to mention the greater pandemic fears, there’s always the huge, untapped tier 3/4 and 5 markets to go to - ever aspirational and ready.

  • Dynamic ecosystem: Last but not the least, is the industry supporting the retail industry - the retail solutions and services segment, which has played its  own role in keeping retail going during the last one year . No doubt,many players in this industry  have been badly hit  by diminished retail spends, post-Covid. But that hasn’t stopped many of them from exploring new ways of serving their customer needs. Whether designing a safe, touchless,  digitally enabled brick and mortar store,  coming out with a ‘phygital’ fixture, a safe lighting solution, a safety signage solution or  other solutions for a Covid safe store, the industry has kept pace with the evolving needs of retail. Various technology solution providers have also entered the space across areas - from logistics and payment gateways to data analytics  and AR solutions,  making the  whole eco- system more dynamic.

    Now it remains to be seen how this dynamic ecosystem moves ahead through 2021, navigating through the lingering effects of 2020.



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