Overall, India has managed to leapfrog so many retail trends and is now honing its retail game to grab a larger share of the future. Backslash, the cultural intelligence unit of TBWA, delved into emergent culture to find some big themes that will impact the future of retail. What are the implications for India?
Theme 1: Flex retail
There are decades when nothing happens, and then there are weeks when decades happen. Physical retail stores will never be the same again. For GenX and the Boomers, URL is the new IRL, and online commerce is booming. Paradoxically, social isolation made everyone value their physical interactions even more. We are seeing that in India, retail is finding a way to create more experiential connections with its customers.
Malls are reinterpreting the use of spaces. Brands are getting unique opportunities to create immersive experience zones to recount their brand story and engage visitors. Weekend farmer markets and live music gigs are slowly coming up in cities like Delhi and Bangalore. This becomes another way for retail areas to engage with the customer beyond the sale. Retail spaces are slowly transforming into extended community circles that help people reconnect with society in the post covid world.
Theme 2: Retail’s tech tightrope
While retail ceded primacy to e-commerce and technology to ensure that consumer needs were met, the key question all retailers are asking is: when will the customer come back? While the customer is willing to spend in a physical retail store, the expectations have changed. A seamless experience is now taken for granted.
Retailers have to marry their personal touch with tech to deliver an impeccable and repeatable experience. For example, Decathlon in Mumbai has enabled a touch-free checkout experience with its app. Within the store, the customer scans the QR codes on the product in the aisle, pays for it on the app, and walks out with the product. This eliminates the long queues at checkout while maintaining higher levels of cleanliness in the stores.
Today, real estate in India relies heavily on VR to help people walk virtually through show flats, auto brands are using similar technology to showcase their cars and Honda even went one step forward by letting people buy cars off their website. Similar tech interventions within the shopping experience are making Indian retail regain importance in the post-Covid world.
Theme 3: Networked commerce
In 2020, Indian discount supermarket Kirana leapfrogged into the future and asserted their market dominance with the adoption of technology. This is driving a networked economy that thrives on mutual benefit and success.
The inherent flat nature of this network means that brands have to trade control for partnerships. Marketers who recognise this shift and leverage this data will be able to broadbase their offerings. They can drive stronger human connections to their brands, beyond just the metro areas.
Brands like online marketplace Meesho are helping homemakers in the most remote villages tap into their local networks to create better livelihoods for themselves. Brands that can localise experiences at scale and speed will have a far greater chance of winning converts for life.
Theme 4: Lifecycle luxury
Today, brands are chosen not just for their product, but also for their point of view about the world we live in.
The pandemic has ushered in a large surge towards self-care and making the quality of everyday life better. This has made brands strengthen their stance on sustainability and environment. For example, Iro Iro, a zero-waste lifestyle and fashion brand, works with handweavers in Jaipur, Rajasthan, who weave recycled textiles to create beautiful, modern, and handmade clothing. Since its inception, Iro Iro has upcycled more than 5000kgs of waste fabric to create sustainable fashion.
Satva makes comfortable organic cotton leggings, while Stretchery makes eco-friendly, durable, and allergy-free clothing. These and many other brands are tapping into the functional- leisure- loungewear pandemic lifestyle to carve a niche for themselves and build their brand.
What these four broad themes tell us is that the entire retail ecosystem is undergoing a shift, from where you sell to how you buy and what gets purchased. The changing context is evolving how we Indians will adapt to this new retail reality. These trends are not yet mainstream, and if viewed through the lens of emergent culture, they can help companies prepare better to connect with consumers in the future.