The Survival and Revival of the Retail Sector

India's retail sector has undergone fundamental changes ever since the pandemic hit our shore and the vaccine drive is instilling hopes in businesses for revival.


With the collapse of Indian health and economic infrastructure in 2021, the only hope for survival and revival of the country is an accelerated vaccination effort against COVID-19. Only a joint effort between the central government and Indian states, along with the contributions from the civil and business society at a large scale, would help India to come out of the pandemic crisis faster. That, in turn, will help in the survival and revival of the economy and create jobs in a post-pandemic world.

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The disruptions that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought barely need any explanation. While similar to other countries, the economic contraction that India has witnessed is unlike any in scale.

The only flicker of hope for revival and survival in these unpredictable times is the outlook that a vaccine drive will inoculate enough Indians to curb the virus’s spread in the closely packed, almost 1.4 billion people-big nation. 

Apart from the elected government, which has till now been an underperformer in its COVID response, there is a massive responsibility on the corporate world and companies of all sizes to advocate for mass vaccination. This entails leveraging the forces of hospitals, doctors and attendants. There is also a crucial role of digital technology like effective online vaccine registration and immunisation certificates using QR coded details.   

Survival and Revival of India’s Retail Sector: Pandemic Induced Transformation

It is imperative to look into all businesses that need a recovery path in a post-pandemic, primarily vaccinated nation. Here, we look into the vast Indian retail industry, which is the second-largest employer in India and provides a livelihood for a large segment of the population. 

To put things in perspective, small and medium-sized retail firms in India employ about 400-450 million people and undertake a monthly business of about $70 billion. With e-commerce augmenting in India, growing at a 40% CAGR, enterprises have been on a reinvention spree with the channelling of new retail supply chains.

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E-retailers have given rise to a new generation of consumers driven by choice, convenience and discounts.

Fighting the pandemic while satisfying customer demands needs a fundamental understanding of customer value and a rethink of traditional retail supply chains not designed to handle large assortment at low cost.

Tips for Revival and Survival of India’s Retail Businesses

You Should Shift to New Channels

Rapid changes and increase in online, mobile, and social trade transactions have surged in 2020 and 2021 with changing customers shopping habits. The current 2020-21 rates of online commerce growth of 25-30% have already touched the 2025’s projections in India. MSMEs and the millions of small retail businesses in India must move to mobile-friendly solutions like apps and websites for their survival and revival.

Large retail businesses like Big Bazaar, Reliance and e-commerce players like Flipkart, Amazon India and Snapdeal must embrace the workplace vaccine policy to ensure a return to standard and growth of the country’s retail segment. Their newfound focus on connecting India’s vast sector of unorganised Kirana and other small retail stores will also find new life as more vaccines are injected, and businesses return to normal functioning.  

Revival through Essential Items

The very meaning of product distribution and categories has changed during this pandemic. The change in basic product definition and requirement has triggered a complete overhaul of the supply chain, demand planning, inventory optimisation, and replenishment cycles. 

Businesses, both existing and new start-ups, must capture this opportunity to launch themselves with caution and fill the new gaps in the supply chain by pushing their ideas, products and services. For funding support, they can avail numerous state start-up benefits as well as the aid from the recent $125 million Start-up India Seed Fund for start-ups and incubators.

Revival and Survival Hope: Sharp Economic Growth Predictions

After facing a downward financial and economic turn for multiple quarters now, the economic trends are bound to have a V-shaped recovery from the pitfalls in the sales cycle and logistics gridlock. While the GDP contraction has been a disaster for millions of businesses, healing is inevitable for most of them, if not all, as soon as the vaccination reaches its threshold. 

The RBI and many private analysis firms predict positive growth for the Indian economy by the end of 2021. A growing vaccine manufacturing line by companies like the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech backs this hope. 

Migrating Online and Shifting Marketplace 

The ability to adapt, seamlessly integrate, and sell anywhere with a seamless connection has never been more apparent than it came to shine in the past one and a half years. E-retail and e-commerce are decisively pegged as the accelerator of the retail sector’s growth. 

Big players are throwing their weight behind the digital way to grow themselves while bringing small businesses and retail SMEs to the forefront with hyperlocal services like Flipkart Plus, Amazon Local Stores, Dunzo, The New Shop and many others. As the digital overhaul bolsters, the marketplace for all retail businesses, both small and large, will widen, and the opportunities will increase simultaneously.

Retail sector in India Survival and Revival Just a vaccine away

Survival in Pandemic and Revival in a Post-pandemic World

Regardless of the scenario, several truths are starting to become straightforward for retailers as they look ahead to survive the challenges in a post-COVID-19 world. Undoubtedly, companies further down on the path of digital business transformation along with a self-vaccination plan will be better equipped to handle this disruption. 

Digital Revenue Growth

In the coming months, retailers will need to focus on accelerating digital sales as shoppers stay at home and use online channels to meet their day-to-day needs. This puts extra pressure on the supply chain and contributes to the situation that retailers are already anticipating.

Data and Algorithms (AI/ML) in Supply Chain

The COVID crisis is also an opportunity to delve into the flexibility and strengths of retailers. A recent B2B e-commerce market survey found that many of the challenges faced by retailers in an interconnected space are related to the supply chain. Delays in products, problems with consumer confidence and insufficient stocks are the main challenges for retailers.

Businesses can use Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Machine Learning (ML) solutions in: 

Invoicing
Consumer Behaviour Prediction
Inventory Management
Online Ordering, and 
Checkout Services 

This can help retailers of small and medium sizes to overcome challenges. Tech start-ups in this segment can further simplify solutions to benefit even the remotest retail businesses in both urban and rural India using mobile apps and simple scanning tools like QR codes, among many others.

Clearly, COVID-19 has redefined all the old normal and has set a new normal for the times to come. In a nutshell, the retailers who will survive through the COVID-19 crisis are the ones who try to look at the current situation more as an opportunity and start driving on the road to recovery with precautions and plans in mind. 

By leveraging data technology to accelerate digital channel innovation and enhancing supply chain and warehouse capabilities, retailers can develop strategies to address future business challenges while transforming their organisation for the future.

Aakash Sharma
Aakash Sharma
Aakash writes on Startup Ecosystem, Policies, Legal and Regulatory aspects of business planning. An alumnus of Delhi University, he is assistant editor at Dutch Uncles.

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