Winds of change in retail

How innovation and agility helped retailers navigate the shifting landscape in the past year

According to a report by IBEF, the Indian retail market was estimated at $883 billion in 2020, and expected to grow to $1,000 billion by 2025

By Pawan Sarda

The last two years have been a rollercoaster ride for the retail sector. The industry has resurged from this turbulence not only stronger, but also with a new purpose and vision. There were decisive shifts in consumer behaviour in 2021, as we tentatively emerged from the lockdowns. The rise of conscious shopping was one of the significant changes in consumption. People went strictly by their lists, and curbed any additional expenses as they navigated uncertainties around them. This firm grip on the ‘wants versus needs’ battle of the mind was loosened only during festivities. Festive consumption saw postponed shopping gain traction as consumers gave in to their pent-up list of requirements of the last 18 months.

Another key consumer shift was the focus on health and wellness: curation and selection of brands with advertised positive health effects, growth of the athleisure category, and yoga and other exercise equipment indicated consumers’ strong focus on self and health to be prepared for any further curveballs that the future might throw.

The age of omnipresence

The long-drawn discussion on whether an omnichannel strategy was required for a brand or not was put to rest this year. Every brand simply had to have a physical and digital presence. The digital presence could be a platform, a marketplace listing, a WhatsApp group or an Instagram handle. Whatever be the avatar, the fact that both offline and online are here to stay was evidently clear over the past 18 months.

The pandemic helped define a purpose for each space, contributing to a more holistic and robust brand experience. Physical/ store formats helped customers discover and experience the offerings, while online presence brought in speed, frequency and customer convenience. While physical retail brands like Big Bazaar, Shoppers Stop, Reliance Retail, ITC, and Unilever launched/ strengthened their e-commerce platforms, online brands such as BigBasket and Nykaa sought to establish pop-ups and society shops to gain experiential traction. Stronger together was the final mantra for every resilient brand.

New frontiers

From big retail brands to the mom-and-pop stores around the corner, everyone had to come up with agile solutions to ensure they didn’t lose their clientele, when customers couldn’t go to stores directly. Innovations such as WhatsApp catalogues and list-based shopping, closed society user groups with fixed delivery timings, and hyperlocal trader marketplaces were developed on the fly within hours of lockdown announcements. Going further, those who were digitally savvy explored Insta Live Shopping, WhatsApp video shopping, etc, to display their range, and help customers make informed and precise choices which were then home-delivered.

The biggest disruption has been the upscaling of the delivery ecosystem, and its effects on grocery buying. The speed at which the 10-minute grocery delivery of today has gained acceptance makes one think that, in a few months, technology may evolve to having groceries delivered even before you realise that you need them.

According to a report by IBEF, the Indian retail market was estimated at $883 billion in 2020, and expected to grow to $1,000 billion by 2025. The changes over the last few months have already set in motion a large snowball effect that will only gain momentum over the coming year.

The year 2022 looks incredibly exciting already with the announcement and buzz surrounding the Metaverse. With icommerce becoming the new frontier, brands like Nike, Gucci, and Coca-Cola have already started investing and embracing this new world. In today’s reality, content to commerce and live commerce are what will help brands grow by building a constant companionship and relevance to their customer base.

Data personalisation is the biggest weapon in every retail brand’s arsenal today. The right use of data to be able to filter and predict the wants before they occur, to be able to reach at the opportune moment when the customer is most likely to engage, and to be able to offer the right match of product will lift all brand metrics by a significant measure, and create an unprecedented level of loyalty.

As we stand at the end of 2021, the retail industry is on the verge of 100% recovery to pre-pandemic levels, thanks to the changes and real-time adaptations made by retailers across the world. The pandemic has, in fact, turbocharged the industry, bringing in disruptions that would otherwise have taken decades to adopt.

The author is group CMO, digital, marketing & e-commerce, Future Group

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