‘Revenue from e-commerce has grown threefold’
Beauty brand The Body Shop has completed 15 years in India. While e-commerce has emerged as a significant retail channel, offline expansion will remain key for the company, says Shriti Malhotra. She talks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about the brand’s retail channel experiments, the product categories that are driving sales, and the influx of D2C players in the beauty business.
Before the second wave hit, to what extent had business for The Body Shop recovered? Were sales mainly taking place on online marketplaces?
Last year, during the lockdown, we thought we would come out of it in a couple of months, and we expected to see a V-shaped recovery. But that has not been the case. The sentiment of the consumer was buoyant during the festive period — we saw a 70-80% recovery in business. After that, demand plateaued and plummeted recently in the wake of the second wave. Categories like skincare and body care have been in demand throughout, whereas the demand for make-up and fragrances has been impacted. Recovery is following a cyclical pattern and stands compromised now.
We have had a threefold growth in our e-commerce sales. Revenue from online marketplaces and our own website has grown from 15-18% pre-Covid to 40-50% in 2021.
Other than e-commerce, what digital interventions are you leveraging to reach out to consumers?
Providing convenience has been the most important cornerstone during the past one year. Customers want assistance, and our assisted sales approach has been a growth driver. We offer video consultations, WhatsApp shopping, same-day delivery and three-hour delivery through partnerships with local logistics providers. There is no fixed solution; it is a fluid multichannel approach to interact with consumers wherever they are comfortable. WhatsApp shopping started off as a test, and we plan to expand it. We are also adopting an omnichannel view of the consumer.
What kind of products are seeing an increase in uptake?
We are addressing the requirements of consumers and providing products that they need. We are approaching it from a ‘care over commerce’ point of view. The essential products category has been a big anchor for us throughout the pandemic. We have also seen that specific performance products — those that provide a salon-like experience at home — have also done well.
People are looking to invest in products that improve hygiene and safety. For instance, our tea tree antibacterial range has seen a huge upsurge. Consumers also want products to help calm them and enhance their mental health. To address this, we will be launching a wellbeing range next year.
The personal care industry has seen an influx of online D2C brands. How do you retain your edge in this competitive market?
The Body Shop is a brand that stands for natural ingredients and sources them from local communities. As a result, the emotional connection that consumers have with the brand is very strong. Our business philosophy has been our differentiator. The D2C brand phenomenon is global in nature. Most of these brands adopt a targeted approach, making 10-20 products. We have an umbrella approach and cater to all the needs of a consumer, from skincare to make-up.
Will you be adding more offline retail stores in 2021?
We have faith that the market will rebound. We plan to open 15 new stores this year. Since January, we have opened stores in Srinagar, Gangtok and Dimapur. We have about 200 stores across 65 cities in India. We are going beyond the metro cities and approaching micro-markets. Both malls and high streets will remain a key part of our expansion strategy. We plan to be present in more neighbourhood markets, as proximity to the consumer is important to us.
The Body Shop takes up several sustainability initiatives. How do you make consumers equal stakeholders in your projects?
The customer has transformed in the last few years. With more young customers coming into the fold, there is a lot of awareness about social good and environmental issues. However, there is a larger drive required to find ways to involve people beyond the store and ‘talk the walk’ by creating greater awareness. This is a huge task and that is why, for the next few years, working towards bringing activism around waste management, recycling and pollution will be a top priority.