The Year Gone By

When the first national lockdown was announced in India last year, one of the biggest thoughts on everybody’s mind was how to find essentials like food and household supplies in the face of an impending shortage. The sight of empty shelves in grocery stores was an unsettling reminder of the realities brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Long rows of empty shelves at a department store.

Now, more than a year later, we’re yet again battling another wave of the pandemic as a nation. There’s no better time than now for retailers of all sizes to reflect upon and apply the critical lessons learned during the first wave.

Fortunately, retailers like you have shown great agility, flexibility and strength. You’ve fought back by pivoting operations, meeting the changing consumer demands and adapting to product availability strategies- all this while dealing with an economy in flux.

Hope is on the Horizon

A man is seen rearranging items on the shelf of a store.

Despite media reports showing retail footfall and consumption dipping by 30-35%, the Retailers Association of India (RAI) claims that the uncertainty over rising coronavirus cases in some states won’t affect the overall growth. Most retailers even hope to attain pre-pandemic levels by June 2021.

Increased consumption has driven revival in key states like Maharashtra and Karnataka, with a GST of Rs. 16,000 crore and a 2% rise in GST, respectively. 23 states and union territories in India recorded positive GST collections in February, marking an increase in consumption.

Strategies that Paid Off 

What are some strategies retailers have adopted to keep afloat? Let’s look at some of them:

Push to Digital

Arguably, the step that retailers can’t afford to neglect any longer is to integrate an omnichannel approach with an effective e-commerce sales system. Accelerated digital transformation to meet the demands of a new “contactless” reality is the need of the hour.

For example, wholesale supermarket METRO Cash and Carry augmented their e-commerce portal, app and other social media platforms like WhatsApp to reach out to customers directly. Similarly, retail brand Big Bazaar applied lessons from the past year by streamlining the supply chain and stepping up order-booking through call centres and WhatsApp.

Overall, 2020 was a landmark year for e-commerce sales in India, with over a million kirana stores turning digital.

Going ‘Phygital’

‘Phygital’ retail spaces, a combination of both physical and digital retail aided by technology like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI), are slowly entering the Indian market. We expect this trend to grow even more.

For example, Bata launched an interactive AI-enabled platform called “Bata One”, an integrated payment gateway that can track orders and suggest products. Fashion retailer Lifestyle has also jumped on the bandwagon with “WhatsApp Commerce” and virtual tours through video calls to improve the customer experience.

With the second wave underway, online and physical stores that embrace these immersive technologies to serve consumer psychology intelligently will emerge as winners.

Innovative Solutions

To keep up with the unprecedented increase in online demand, many retail players have rapidly adopted some innovative solutions.

Turning stores into dark stores, delegating local distribution teams, accepting phone orders in case of e-commerce site instability and developing “click and collect” pop-ups are just some ways retailers have pivoted operations.

Not only have these solutions allowed for a steady flow of revenue, but employees have also been able to keep their jobs during the lockdown months.

Essential Steps You Can Take

We’ve compiled a list of three crucial strategies for you to put in place to ensure business continuity through this second wave:

Step 1: Employee safety is paramount

 Your staff is your key to success, and their safety should continue to be your top priority.

Prepare a checklist to ensure that your staff adheres to strict safety norms, regular testing, enforce social distancing and masks at the workplace and keep your shop surfaces fully sanitized.

Step 2: Supply chain transformations

 In response to disruptions caused by the pandemic, retailers have developed contingencies to protect against potential supply chain imbalances.

These include keeping alternative supply chain vendors on standby in case existing ones cannot deliver, working with multiple logistics providers to mitigate risk, focusing on local sourcing and increasing overall stock inventory.

Step 3: Robust digital channels

 An interactive online channel has become indispensable for retailers.

All over the country, companies are investing in a robust online strategy to take orders from customers and deliver them directly to their homes.

In fact, even many local kirana stores have teamed up with tech companies such as SnapBizz to create their own mobile applications and continue business digitally.

A hand holding a smartphone depicting the online website for a business.

The Way Forward

 If there’s one thing that COVID-19 has proved to the world, it’s that all businesses must be prepared to face any challenge.

According to a recent global survey by CBRE, 48% of retailers expect to see demand improving in 2021. With consumers driving sales upwards, India will see a similar trend as retail activity picks up.

Smart use of the internet, a robust digital and ‘phygital’ approach, smart marketing tactics, together with the Government’s speedy vaccination program across the country, spells good news for the retail sector’s recovery in the new normal.

During times of uncertainty, your customers will be eager to know the current status of your retail store and your digital offerings. You can reach your target audience to further power your brand’s recovery through this second wave with customized Print and Digital campaigns across Hindustan Times Media’s channels. Gain the opportunity to reach the fingertips of our loyal base of 56 million readers and 139 million digital users by visiting here.




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