Survival, development, sustainability and digital – the outdated “new” buzzwords for Indian retail

In a perfect world, you wouldn’t think twice before walking into a clothing store. Try several options before making a purchase. They went from shop to shop and ended up in a restaurant to wrap up a perfect evening with a good dinner.

But we no longer live in a perfect world.

“COVID has been a severe blow to us. All dine-ins have been closed and we get approximately a third of our income from dine-in, so the revenue streams have been closed overnight,” said Pratik Pota, CEO and Whole Time Director of Jubilant FoodWorks . Customers were concerned and consumer behavior had changed overnight, he added.

While food deliveries resumed after the initial phase of lockdown, sectors such as clothing were harder hit. Sangeeta Pendurkar, CEO of Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail Ltd. – Pantaloons, spoke about surviving the pandemic in the ET India Inc. boardroom, saying that there was panic and uncertainty during the first stage of the lockdown. In the later stage, when the stores were opened, safety became the first criterion.

ET India Inc’s boardroom brings together industry leaders, policy makers and economists to discuss and discuss key sectors of the economy. During the five-day conclave, experts will uncover trends and challenges in the areas of BFSI, retail, manufacturing and MSME, as well as across the economy.

Known for its aggressive mindset, Puma had to undergo a 180 degree shift. We have moved to a mindset that will survive the pandemic, said Abhishek Ganguly, MD, PUMA India and Southeast Asia. “We had to handle cash, take care of people and make sure our people keep their jobs and salaries.”

The panel also discussed the lessons executives can learn from the pandemic. “Empathy in leadership has never been more important than it was during the crisis, and now I hope it will stay with us in the period ahead,” said Abhishek.

All panelists said digitization was the way forward and that working solutions would become hybrid. “Covid has shortened the change by four to five years in six months,” said Pratik. He added omnichannel, contactless and digital will be the way forward.

Hari Vasudev, Country Head and SVP – Technology, Walmart Global Tech India, Nitin Chhabra, CEO of Ace Turtle Services and Raghu Krishnananda, CTO, Myntra Jabong, discussed the role of technology in experimental retail.

“Shopping has become omnichannel,” said Hari. While people may not be comfortable walking into a store, they prefer to head to the store’s parking lot to collect their orders. Others prefer a roadside pickup. Consumers just want to think about their shopping experience as opposed to online or offline.

According to Raghu, there are now many more customers from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. The challenge is to address the needs of these new customers – how to restore the offline experience online, address language issues and improve delivery speed.

On the way forward, Nitin said traditional organizational structures need to change. “Companies that have already worked on mobile checkout have moved to contactless. Nearby stores have switched to WhatsApp to connect with customers.”

Raghu and Hari both said that technologies like AI, ML, AR-VR and IoT will go a long way towards better personalization, better business decision-making and increasing efficiency.

The lockdown has been relaxed, companies are opening up and the economy is talking about sustainability and growth. Abheek Singhi, MD and Senior Partner, BCG, Ambareesh Murty, Founder and CEO, Pepperfry, Devendra Chawla, CEO of Spencer’s Retail, Vishak Kumar, CEO of Madura Fashion & Lifestyle, considered which business models and how they have to change in order to be sustainable to be growth.

Devendra was in a unique position to have his company operating throughout the lockdown. When people stayed home, Spencer suddenly needed more people to deliver essentials. “That’s where we teamed up with Uber. People didn’t take taxis, so we signed an MoU with Uber and showed their driver partners how to deliver contactlessly.”

He added that online sales have skyrocketed and there is a shift to “back to roots” such as natural and home remedies and diets for customers. Brands, he said, need to understand that.

Abheek said consumption, credit, and trust will be the main drivers for the future, while Ambreesh said awareness and appreciation for all of the things at home have grown. Turning to the future, Vishak said the trends will be “back to the office”. The big fat Indian wedding is going to be back, the festivals are going to be big, and health and fitness are going to be of great interest too. “Hanging out will return with a vengeance and travel will be re-used,” he added.

Girish Budhiraja, Chief Product & Marketing Officer of SBI Cards & Payment Services, Sudipta Roy, Group Leader – Unsecured Assets, Cards and Payments, ICICI Bank, Vidya Pradeep, Head of Credit, Debit Card Portfolio, Payzapp & Smartbuy, HDFC Bank, talked about Retail Loans in One Panel discussion moderated by Praveena Rai, COO, NPCI.

Girish said online spending as a percentage of spending in various age groups has risen to over 50%, which is encouraging, while Sudipta said that some segments like travel are still performing badly but overcompensating for others. “POS was hit while contactless transactions increased, indicating security concerns,” Vidya said. PMI growth has increased significantly, she added.

All panelists agreed that new customers in tier 2-3 cities are on the rise, have purchasing power, and are disciplined. The speakers also talked about the huge scale of the digitization of B2B payments, the emergence of new categories and the demand for more tools, products and solutions.

Check out Day 2 of the ET India Inc Boardroom

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