Revival & Survival: It’s a delta moment for all of humanity - Ritesh Ghosal
Prepared or not, India has to gear up for an exit strategy for the lockdown period. It is definitely a changed world that India is entering now, and we will have to learn to live with the Coronavirus in our midst.
A lot has been written, debated and discussed over how much the economy and business operations have been hit. We, at Adgully, aim to look at the revival story. What does it take to jumpstart an economy? That is the great narrative that we are following up as part of our ‘Revival and Survival’ series.
Ritesh Ghosal, CMO, Croma – Infiniti Retail, analyses how COVID-19 is impacting businesses, and while he refuses to conjecture on the distant future, Ghosal is all geared to meet a changed world once the lockdown is lifted.
What does the new normal look like? How much has the COVID-19 crisis disrupted business operations?
COVID-19 has impacted the entire world. Frankly, it’s a delta moment for all of humanity. Every aspect of life is affected – from how kids ‘go to school’ to how grown-ups work at ‘office’; how friends socialise to how husbands and wives feel about each other. At a macro-level, nations are re-evaluating friendships and corporates reconsidering supply chains. We are at the cusp of a new world order and it’s really very premature to predict what the future may be.
As for the business, in the initial days of the lockdown, our website, croma.com, did see a surge in traffic and a large increase in orders for laptops and even smartphones. My guess is that this was largely due to people preparing themselves for the WFH stint. However, a few days later when the complete lockdown was imposed, all our stores and DCs had to be shut as our business is not covered under the list of essential services. So, while there was demand and we did have stocks, we have not been able to fulfil the demand. Further, as the month of April is the start of the summer period across the country, cooling gadgets like ACs, refrigerators and coolers sell in large quantities; we won’t deny that we have lost business mostly in the month of April.
What should be the blueprint for a post-COVID-19 economy?
There is some evidence from China in terms of how people behave in a post-lockdown scenario, but that’s a different country with a different digital foot-print and a different level of digital maturity in both shoppers and sellers. In India frankly, the lockdown has seen a complete collapse of the logistics arms of the e-commerce sector and people are fairly disillusioned with this sector. Personally, I have had zero delivery requests honoured by any e-commerce player large or small; but for the good old kirana guy, local chemist and neighbourhood sabziwala, I would have not survived the lockdown.
The lifting of the lockdown will be a gradual process. It’s not going to be like things will go back to normal once the lockdown is lifted, in fact if things go back to being too normal, we may be very much back to the current stage. It’s a defining event in the history of the world and one thing is sure, the world will never be the same again. Long after the lockdown is over, people will be circumspect in public places and wary of social contact with strangers.
For us, the number one task is to put in place measures to make our stores safe places for our staff to work in; second will be to reassure our customers that Croma provides a safe space for them to interact with the staff; third will be to create digital channels to access the store and the expertise of our staff.
What are the 5 key measures needed to ensure a speedy business revival for the retail industry?
The COVID pandemic has affected the very psyche of the human race. It’s not as if one fine day things will go back to the way they were. It’s a defining event in the history of the world and one thing is sure, the world will never be the same again. In this game of survival & revival, we need to emerge stronger.
Be Prepared – We are preparing ourselves in the belief that the very way a customer shops in retail will change, thus whichever way the customer chooses to reach us, physically at the store or virtually via croma.com, we will be prepared to serve them.
Safety First – Long after the lockdown is over, people will be circumspect in public places and wary of social contact with strangers. For us, the most important task is to put in place measures to make our stores safe places for our staff to work in and to reassure our customers that Croma provides a safe space for them to interact with the staff.
Culture of Responsible Consumption – We will be sticking to our commitment to creating a culture of responsible consumption – buy less, use for longer and dispose responsibly. If anything, the impact the lockdown has had on the environment has reinforced our commitment to this cause. In whatever environment related campaigns we have run at Croma, we have seen great traction with this generation, and I believe that at least they will take a more activist approach on this front!
Digital Assistance – We have 4 years of experience in running an omni-channel operation. While majority of our customers pre-lockdown closed their final purchase at the store, we now anticipate our business to largely go digital. Thus, one of the key things that we will be committing towards is digitally assisted selling.
Realign with new tomorrow – Understanding ‘Need of the hour’. The large number of people working from home created a demand for IT products and services. Unfortunately, with our stores shut, we were unable to fulfil the request for products, but we did launch a virtual IT trouble-shoot service, which has been well appreciated by our customers. Going forward as well, we will be moulding our business deliverables basis what the customer needs/ requires.
How are you strategising for the remaining quarters of this Financial Year 2021?
There will be three kinds of behaviour that I foresee:
- Some people will want to shop from the comfort of their homes
- Some will want to visit the stores, but be very sure that there is no crowding and all steps are being taken to maintain hygiene before they enter
- And finally, some people will want to go back to the good old days of just turning up at a store, not taking any precautions themselves nor expecting any from the retailer
At Croma, we are gearing up to serve the first two types and to protect these two from the risks posed by the third. We expect heightened demand in two categories: (1) Products that make the home more comfortable – from convenience gadgets like dish-washers and robotic vacuum cleaners to entertainment gadgets like TVs, gaming consoles and music systems, and (2) Products that help us be more productive – laptops, printers, wifi-routers, etc. We also expect people to prefer buy-now-pay-later options given the current environment of constrained liquidity.
In the coming weeks, as we resume operations in our stores, apart from of course ensuring all safety measures and precautions, we will also be emphasising on digitally assisted shopping. One such key business innovation for the next phase is the launch of ‘Connect to Croma’ feature, that allows people to book an appointment at the nearest operational Croma store to avoid standing in queue or request a call-back to for a Croma staff to assist in making a purchase without visiting the store.
How do you see businesses and the Government working together to undo the lockdown disruption and address the market uncertainties?
We have assisted the Government in whatever way we can during the entire lockdown phase – be it complying to all the regulations laid down by them, to encouraging our staff to volunteer in delivering essential services and also helping people visiting our website contribute to the PM Cares fund. Now again, as the Government gears towards a gradual revival, we are opening stores and carrying out deliveries within guidelines as directed by the Government. We are opening our high-street stores in areas with all the possible safety measures in place for both our staff and our customers.
I believe the businesses and government will have to work in tandem to ensure the economy is revived and normalcy is attained.
How do you visualise the economy and your sector a year later? How much would it have recovered by then?
I am loath to crystal-ball gaze. Even in normal circumstances, we do not like to predict the future – the bedrock of Croma’s business is based on the belief that predictions have a habit of going wrong and never to bet on what might happen. In a situation like this which has no precedent, it would be fool-hardy for me to compete with assorted sooth-sayers, shamans and consultants in predicting how long the health crisis would last and what impact it would have on the economy.
That said, we do believe there would be 3 phases to the retail activity when the lockdown is removed:
- A short period of frenzied activity where consumers try to buy of what they missed most in their locked-down life and retailers compete with each other to sell-off their inventory
- A period of supply shortages as global supply chains stabilise
- A prolonged period of demand sluggishness as the economy recovers from the shock of lockdown
Coming to the recovery part, the enforced lockdown period has highlighted people across the income spectrum on just how important it is to have a comfortable home. From laptops, printers, a reliable Wi-Fi connection to be productive; to kitchen appliances that help one cook a meal; to an AC or cooler to make the work-station convenient during the summer day; a washing machine and vacuum cleaner to substitute the elbow grease of the household maid; and a TV and access to content to pass time in the evening. These are all likely to feature high on the list of people as they come out of lockdown. We are confident that once the situation normalises, things will get back in track. But again, this is speculation – we will only know when we know…and then we will respond.
We have faith that the future of India is bright. If not in a quarter or two, definitely sometime soon India will resume its status as the fastest growing major economy in the world and we want to be a part of that story.