Aarti Ahuja

Head of Marketing, TCNS

What are some of the largest consumer trends that you are seeing in the apparel industry in 2020?

The consumer trends have shown a gradual shift this year. This is because during and post-lockdown, due to multiple factors such as public health concerns, people working from home, the closing of event, restaurants, and travel & tourism, and so on, people stayed indoors and wanted comfortable clothing. These factors encouraged the trend for low-cost every day functional wear or loungewear. The change in consumer behaviour and needs were quickly observed by the industry as the category started working for brands. Consequently, many brands have come up with exclusive WFH (Work From Home) collections.

However, with gradual unlocking until the present time, positive consumer sentiment towards the upcoming festive season is growing. Although the celebrations would be conducted in a more controlled fashion, there is a revival of demand for festive products such as ethnic dresses, accessories, and attires. People are looking forward to dressing-up which in itself is a major consumer trend. They are coming out albeit cautiously, and have started buying and spending money on festive products. This consumer trend may not match the demand created by festivals in normal times but the growing sale of festive products is reviving the sector and displaying high inclination of buying festive products. Driven by the positive festive sentiments, people are leveraging both online and offline channels to purchase the products.

How are the customer expectations from retail brands changing, and how is TCNS rising upto this challenge?

As the online and offline world converge, customers today want to have a seamless & consistent experience, similar look & feel, brand speak across channels. To ensure the same, we have leveraged technology and upgraded our various distribution channels that we have built overtime to extend a seamless shopping experience to our consumers. The aim is to become a complete omni-channel business for which we have built key capabilities such as launching omni-channel and hyper-local initiatives connecting online and offline operations. For instance, we now offer our customers the entire TCNS catalogue across all third-party and owned online channels as well as warehouses and stores, as we have invested much in building digital-to customer (D2C) capabilities from a common pool of inventory.

Have these changes also translated into marketing strategy changes?

The marketing strategy and communication has changed significantly in the past six-seven months. Since the initial phase of the pandemic outbreak, we have been focusing on sharing positivity and awareness amongst our consumers and audience. Through our communication, we have celebrated women who are managing home and also taking out time to give back to society. Our ‘W is M and M is W’ campaign communicates the blurring of gender lines with partners working together while sharing responsibilities and strengthening bonds.

With the upcoming festive season, we have a more hopeful and celebratory mode with our festive communication. Focused on higher consumer engagement & interaction, both online and offline, we are creating more avenues for e.g. virtual shopping, pop-up stores, participation in virtual events & exhibitions to reach to our consumers directly. We have launched a personal styling assistant, WEEBLE, an interactive virtual styling assistant to solve consumers styling requirements.

How has your media split between tv, print, radio and digital changed over the last 150 days?

Over the years, we have been exploring all mediums of advertising including print, outdoor, TV as well as OTT to reach the TG. The outbreak of the pandemic has disrupted the way media & content is being consumed by the TG. We are evolving with the TG and focussing on changing trends in the “new normal” by creating personalised communication for both online and offline consumers while bridging the gap. All costs are being challenged from a zero based budgeting principle. New ways of reaching consumers are being explored. Various direct to consumer initiatives like hyperlocal pop-up stores and virtual store visits are being experimented with. We are also exploring influencer marketing in a more structured and sustained manner. In terms of leveraging other media channels, it would depend largely on how the current situation evolves soon.

Do you think some of these changes (consumer behaviour and media behaviour) are here to stay or will they go back to 2019 days once Covid is over?

In the present situation, there can be no conclusive observation that can be drawn. The pandemic has not only disrupted the day-to-day lives of the consumers but has also impacted the economic and social processes and systems. The behaviour of people and their orientation towards various products and services is being guided by the new normal.

Whether some of the current and emerging (consumer/ media) behaviour will show long-term presence will depend upon how the current situation pans out in the near future and what is its long lasting impact. The long lasting trend seems to be the growing digital channels and medium, which will be, leveraged more. More people are likely to prefer the virtual world; however, the need for physical presence may revive social celebrations and human interaction.

Do you think 2020 has brought about any changes in your role as a marketer?

In fashion retail, marketing and sales have ceased to operate in silos. The two functions are highly aligned. Targeted one-to-one marketing content and communication, for instance, messaging and WhatsApp video calling, have emerged as the most successful drivers of sales by delivering customized solutions to the consumer needs. This customized experience encourages the customer to transition from the Zeroth Moment of Truth (of consideration) to Second Moment of Truth (of purchase).

The industry is operating at multiple levels to interact and communicate with customers wherever they are, online as well as offline using personalized SMS campaigns, influencer engagements, or strategic digital campaigns. With most buyers in India traditionally choosing the physical stores, marketing communication has played a strong role in driving behavioural change that can persuade the buyers to leverage online channels safely from the comfort of their homes. The idea has been to promise and deliver a unified brand experience to the customers by integrating physical stores with e-commerce marketplace.

What would be your recommendation for newer brands who are struggling to get a foothold into the Retail space in 2020?

To be successful post-pandemic, the brands(new & incumbent) should be able to anticipate and fulfil the customer's needs & requirements. It is imperative to have nimble and agile operations, able to adapt quickly to the changing retail scenario.

Technological advancement will play a key role in the retail space. How brands are being discovered, how is loyalty being built, newer trials being introduced and much more is being done digitally. It is important to interact with customers by taking digital-first approach along with direct marketing route/ going hyper-local. The businesses should focus on leveraging technology and building omni-channel capabilities, streamlining marketplace operations and enhancing functional efficiencies.

Controlling costs by negotiating leases, service contracts, rationalizing resource requirements, eliminating bad costs and conserve cash by optimizing inventory, redeployment of existing stocks, scaling back short-term capex plans will play a crucial role.

No one knows how the post-pandemic retail will look like, however, “the new normal” seems to be the way of life for now.