Saturday, June 14, 2014


Fashion Retail comes of Age

By Harish Bijoor

Fashion retailing is finally coming of age in India. As the entire nation of fashion retailers stop plucking just the low-hanging fruit of opportunity, and reach out at the higher branches that offer a different set of opportunities that need to be plucked  with a different set of skills altogether,  its time to sit up and take note of some changes.  Changes that speak the language of the front-ended consumer of fashion, rather than just the back-ended guy who manages the sourcing, the supply-chain and the entire process of reaching out the item on offer to the store that stocks it.

Let’s start with advertising.  Study the advertising of a nation, and you understand its people.

I follow this diktat to the core when I study a nation, its culture, its peoples, and its brand and marketing formats. Advertising used by the marketers of a nation reveals more than hides.  While the reality is that consumers must define advertising, advertising often defines consumers as well.  However, on more occasions than most, advertising of a nation is a great barometer of its people and their resultant consumer behavior patterns.
We see a fair bit of change in the current consumer behavior stances that manifest themselves at the retail shop floor. We will witness a lot of it morph even more un-recognizably in the years to come. For the purpose of this piece, though we have data and diagnostics that pertain to men, women and children as retail purchase groups, let me focus on women in this piece.

Consumer behavior patterns among women in India have changed radically and continually over the last nine decades and more. The earliest decade of it all saw literally no participation by women in what they bought.  In the early twenties, if you were to peek into the life of your grandmother or great grandmother for that matter, women just did not show themselves to be active buyers at all. The woman sat at home, and consumed just about anything that the man and men of the house brought in. There was indeed a time when it was taboo for a woman in early India to go to the corner grocer even. Women just did not expose themselves to the retailer at large. Never mind that the retailer at the corner was related to you in some way of the other. Women expressed their choice to their husbands and brothers and fathers and the men bought. At times bought tailoring everything to their own choice even.

Women came into their own in terms of expressing choice and articulating it all in purchase behavior of every kind much, much later. In many ways, the way marriages were and are conducted in India says it all. The women had little choice in the men they chose to marry. More often than not, “purchase behavior” here was dictated as well.

Today however, things are a bit different. Love marriages are in vogue, and a woman literally has the choice to marry anyone, just as long as they are of the opposite sex and are human. As this trend cascades, consumer behavior among women gets more accentuated, articulated and driving in its motion. Marketers today study consumer behavior patterns among women differently as opposed to that among men and children.

The years ahead in the tenure 2014-20 will see dramatic changes in the consumer behavior patterns as articulated by women. Expect lots. Expect the woman to be getting more and more ‘I, me and myself” centric than she is today. Today she is the benign mother, wife, daughter and daughter-in-law, overseeing everyone’s happiness. Expect this trend to shift more to the “I”. This will have women looking to buy products and services that are leveraged to their personal choices more than aggregated family choices.

Expect women to destroy and decimate the paradigm think of many a marketers. Expect the woman to stop thinking the same old pinks and bright-yellows in color choices, whether it is clothes, auto, microwaves or fans. Expect women to exhibit consumer behavior that is that much more “non-womanly”. Expect radical shifts here.  Expect lots!

Expect the woman to be making many more decisions on her own as well. She will decide on which mini-skirt to buy, just as she will decide on how short or long it must be. She will decide as well on which car to buy, which Insurance product to latch onto and which bank to operate an account out of.

However, expect 2020 to erase much of this gender divide as well.

Man today is seen to be the calculative one, and women are seen to be the impulsive ones. Marketers and advertisers don't want to break this imagery up, as it divides the sexes and their dominant appeals clearly. Any attempt to bring fuzziness here, will result in confusion. Marketers and advertisers are in many ways postponing the inevitable, one ad at a time! The death of the differentiator between the genders is going to happen, later than sooner. But till it exists, reap it to your advantage. And guess what, both the genders love it. As of now.

2014 is here. The consumer in our midst is morphing mindlessly. The consumer is amoebic as well. There is just no straight line analysis that works in understanding what will come next.
As of now, this is the day and age of Twitter. A day and age when attention spans of young people, in age and mind, is rather limited. Limited at times to just a plain 140-characters altogether. Let me therefore make this article brisk, crisp and as matter-of-fact as possible. Here goes…

In-store is an excitement. As opportunities every-where else dries up, and as opportunities every-where else gets saturated and cluttered, one finally looks in. In-store.

The In-store opportunity that lies ahead of us In India is immense. We are a nation of shopkeepers. At last count, we were a nation of 14.6 million shopkeepers. Few nations can boast of such a number.

The reality however remains that bulk of our shops are in un-organized retail. Only a nano fraction of it has been opened up in organized retail. While in percentage terms the value of output from organized retail in India is today pegged at 5.2% of the total value generated out of the Indian retail business, the reality remains that only 6000 plus stores dot the country in terms of outlets that reach out through the means of organized retail. The category remains dominated by un-organized retail. This is not even what is described as Mom and Pop retail in the markets of the West, this is really ‘Bunty &Babli’ retail. Retail that exists in the nook and cranny of the great Indian market. Spurred on by micro-entrepreneurs I will call Bunty and Babli for the moment. Retail that earns the livelihood for as many as 81 million directly affected individuals and as many as 220 million people in this country indirectly touched by the profits of ‘Bunty & Babli’ retail.
As the in-store opportunity stares back at us in India, there are two segments to track and keep note of. At one end is the big in numbers ‘Bunty&Babli’ retail, and at another is the high profile and growing in value format of organized retail. The savvy marketer of tomorrow is going to have an eye on both. The easy one of the lot seems to be the one that is all about organized retail. Here, we have established formats that come in from the developed super-markets of the world. Store formats are laid out, planograms have been researched to death, efficacy levels are proven, and more often than not, what one requires is a roll-out and ramp-up for Indian conditions where the consumer is a very much more tactile entity.

The trick in the tale is however the fact that everyone sources from the same location. How then do you differentiate and customize the In-store experience for India. Big retail has plenty to learn on this. Solution providers in this space are a wanted species. A much wanted one.

The challenge seems to however lie in the realm of “Bunty&Babli’ retail. Out here, the numbers are large, value-churn is low and profit margins are wafer thin. Business is however brisk. The way to the mass eyeball and hand-stretch in Indian retail is certainly not one to be restricted to modern organized retail alone. Instead, it is all about the small ‘Bunty&Babli’ retail format, where the largest numbers will be reached by the largest numbers of outlets. Outlets that attract a custom of just 60 customers a day even. Outlets that generate at times a daily turnover of just a plain old Rs.600 even!

One more issue to track. While in markets of the developed world is it is just fine to write off Mom and pop store retail as something that will occupy a niche of the pie forever, in India, it is just way too difficult to do this. ‘Bunty&Babli’ retail looks a forever-relevant model for a country the size of India, and a country with a buying profile that is as variegated as in India. And a big in numbers format at that.

The challenge ahead for In-store science in India is therefore one of catering to both segments well. The challenge is to ensure that one segment is not ignored at the cost of the other. In-store solutions across the spectrum of automotive, apparel, grocery and food, and literally everything else, except for luxury retail needs to have an approach that covers the big and small retail alike.

Therefore, in these set of years ahead from 2014-20, think just two big things. Think woman, and think In-store!

Harish Bijoor is a brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
You can follow him on @harishbijoor


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