What & HOW of engaging customers in a post- COVID World- Retail Industry

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Pune,  29 April 2020 -Recently an insightful and knowledge sharing initiative – a virtual Home & Home + Conclave was organised where over 780 users registered for this session which was free of cost and moderated by Mahesh M, Convenor – Home & Home Conclave and CEO Creaticity. The speakers who attended the virtual conclave were industry captains who shared knowledge on what and how of engaging customers in a post COVID world.

The speakers were leading names in the Retail business right from Kavitha Rao of IKEA, Ashish Goel of Urban Ladder, Anil Mathur from Godrej Interio, Manish Parekh from Nilkamal Limited and Kumar Rajagopalan from Retailers Association of India who spoke on “What & HOW of engaging customers in a post- COVID world.”

The speakers shared valid insights during the virtual conclave:

Kavitha Rao, IKEA India said, “The silver lining in today’s scenario is that e-commerce or digital marketplace can be the lifeline that we all need right now. Online behavior will be more dominant across the country in the coming period in multiple domains and categories and reaching out to the consumers through digital platforms might bring a positive outcome because of the constantly increasing users. Sustainability and environment will also become dominant factors that will be considered in the future. While many consumers will like to stay home, there will be a large chunk that will just want to break free and will go to larger format retail stores. It will all then come down to in-store engagement, personalization and interaction with the team that will then drive sales.”

Ashish Goel of Urban Ladder said, “The coming days will require us to bring innovation clubbed with technology and physical detail in order to catch consumer’s attention and integrate them in our selling processes. In-store technology integration to practice social distancing while getting the business running must be a key focus for us as retailers. Physical stores need to bring dramatic affordable solutions and implementing them smartly and being process oriented. Importance of sales people doesn’t go away and with a humanitarian approach, a balance needs to be identified so that more and more members can be retained.”

Anil Mathur from Godrej Interio shared his views and said, “Consumers always prioritized their essential and functional needs even before this pandemic happened. The consumers will be focusing more on essential items rather than discretionary spends. However, furniture was earlier more of a want and was brought in as a functional need, with the trend of WFH increasing and people spending more time at their homes, it will also give rise to the emotional needs of the consumers towards furniture and home products which should be looked as a positive aspect during these trying times. He also mentioned that continuous and constant communication is necessary with existing and potential customers”

Kumar Rajagopalan from Retail Association of India said, “The middle-class in the country has carried out work streams in their homes in the last one month which no one ever thought they would. They are exploring their homes more and are feeling a need of items they never thought would be needed. Hence, it will be observed that the traditional definition of essentials will also substantially change with the trend of people working from home nowadays. These are tough times but these are also the times where people can work and reboot the economy because once you reboot, what used exist before will not exist in the way forward and there is a lot of segments WFH commodities like study table and lamps which on reboot can deliver positive results.”

Manish Parekh from Nilkamal Limited said, “With cash flow becoming more difficult, consumer focus will drastically shift towards affordability, great deals and the feasibility to avoid the crowd places while making purchases for themselves. Consumer behavior will vary in different cities and consumers will realize the need of different home products after this when they have spent so much time at home. Shift in spends from conventional to digital marketing will accelerate in the coming days. Personalized communication and marketing will drastically increase.”

The second session had thought leaders like Ajith Mohan Karimpana (Founder & CEO, Furlenco), Ankur Bisen (Senior VP & Head – Consumer & Retail, Technopak), Kirit Joshi (Co-Founder, Spacewood) and Robin Lim (VP- Sales (Asia), Ashley Furniture Industries)

The theme of the panel discussion was “How do retailers generate Consumer Demand in the Home Category post lockdown” and “How do retailers engage with the customers in the post Covid-19 times.”

The discussion kickstarted with the tangential question, What would the furniture renting market be like post COVID-19 and would consumers move towards renting furniture considering discretionary spends are likely to go down post lockdown?

Mr. Ajith proceeded the conversation by opining that rental is not a discretionary spend but rather a way of millennial lifestyle as it has been observed in different consumer driven verticals. Post COVID-19, there will be an inclination in the consumer behavior towards renting. This change might not be permanent but will definitely be there for at least a few months after the lockdown is released. It can range from 20-30% up swing from where the current rental businesses are.

Ankur Bisen felt that it is a broader point of view and it is important for us to understand that Pre-Covid and Post-Covid times will be different altogether from a customer standpoint. Because of this pandemic, there are certain shifts expected in the consumer behavior. Factors like salaries, job security, social distancing are going to be significant elements that will drastically influence the psyche of the consumers in the coming days and we need to appreciate this psyche of the consumers while repositioning ourselves and adapting to the changes.

Kirit Joshi shared his opinions on how consumer demand can be generated in the coming times. Kirit felt that in terms of demand, metro cities will be impacted more rather than Tier2 or tier 3 cities. He also predicted that post lockdown, the demand for factory made furniture products would increase since consumers might not want to engage in a carpenter and spend more of getting the product. Moreover, since the demand structure is not completely devastated, it will become highly important to provide value for money products to the customers since the salaries and wages of the consumers will be impacted of this pandemic.

Taking the interesting conversation forward, Robin felt that demand for products might stay stable for smaller goods after the lockdown and will get better once people start finding jobs and going out. Another factor that will attribute to this demand will be the fact that during the lockdown, people have been spending more time with their families and have better understood their needs and requirements.

Retailers must understand and take a note of is to establish a more effective and better relations with their vendors and improve their digital efforts like shortening their lead time post covid to progress and adapt efficiently.

Mr. Mahesh then further moved the conversation towards Mr. Ankur by asking him if the retailers should become more conservative and save cash in the coming times or we should be optimist and generate demand through more aggressive promotion and stocking up on goods? Ankur felt that as retailers, we need to see the situation as glass half full and appreciate the fact the demand will change and as long as we are in line with the change and appreciation, we should be okay. The design sensibility will definitely see some shift and consumers will start looking for functionalities more than grandeur and this must be taken into account while planning and going ahead.

Mr. Kirit added that though consumer demand is likely to go down, there are certain phases like festive buying and marriage purchases that will keep the demand afloat and might help the retailers in achieving good numbers rather than the advance buying during the conservative sales period.

Recommendations to the retailers

1. Expect shifts in consumer trend and purchasing patterns reposition ourselves as per the changing demand and psyche for better results

2. Product demand is likely to go more towards functionality rather than grandeur and that too towards readymade furniture products. It is important that such shifts are anticipated and acted upon.

3. Digital efforts need to ramp up rapidly and at a massive scale to further engage with the consumers and shorten the lead time

4. Tech upgradations like integrating AR/VR will result in positive results while coming back post lockdown if the fundamentals are worked upon strongly and are made error free.

5. Rental furniture will see an up-swing in the coming days and incorporating such models might help the retailers

6. Sales person need to up-skilled and should be trained to be become more of a Product Manager rather than a Sales guy to manage and handle customer effectively.

The Webinar went on for over an hour and half and all the users were logged in right till the end which speaks a lot about the interest levels of all the participants and the topic.

In tough times like what we are going through currently, it gave a huge insight to business owners, retailers and brand owners on how to cope up with the current scenario, suggesting solutions and what is to be done post COVID to get the trust of our customers and get them back, as it was earlier.