Sales of formal wear, ethnic wear, and party wear nosedived in the pandemic amid the prolonged closure of shops, malls, and offices and curbs on out-of-consumption that kept most consumers indoors in 2020. It was not long in 2021 that the falling number of cases created a beacon of hope for the apparel businesses by reopening of malls but soon the second wave brought the businesses again to the brink of losses and zero sales.
High-end apparel brands in the face of the largest human health crisis are considering the D2C route to stay afloat and keep the demand ongoing despite lockdowns and limited opening store hours. Apparel brands such as Ritu Kumar, Forever New, Marks, and Spencer, United Colors of Benetton, Shoppers Stop, Raymond, Van Heusen, Peter England, and Ensemble have launched or are yet to launch their online store in the pandemic.
What was the need for Apparel Brands to take the D2C channel?
According to the domestic rating agency Investment Information and Credit Rating Agency (ICRA), the apparel businesses to generate revenues like pre-covid times will have to wait till 2023. ICRA also stated that after cases began plateauing in the December quarter of 2020, the apparel brand’s revenue had touched 70 percent of pre-covid revenue levels. It was expected to show revenue growth of 23-25 percent in 2021-2022, but the strike of the second wave crumbled the revenues again. Zero to less footfall in shops has hampered the apparel brands business due to mounting rental costs, and lower demand for new clothes especially formal wear, party wear, and ethnic wear. Though the brands have listed their products on the e-commerce aggregator platform, it prevented the apparel brands from engaging better with consumers with a sensitive approach. Hence, the D2C strategy will be the coping mechanism for the brands in such times.
What are the Apparel Brands Doing?
With Work-from-home becoming the norm, the formal wear segment has taken a backseat impacting brands like Van Heusen, Peter England and Raymond. Brands are introducing a new clothing wear range to focus on comfort and casualisation. Raymond has introduced a virtual shopping experience through WhatsApp and Zoom video calls for fulfilling the demand for tailored garments from the comfort of consumer’s homes. Shoppers Stop has introduced its D2C store where it has introduced 100 of its exclusive brands that are not available on other aggregator platforms. Brand Ritu Kumar receives orders from its online portal as well as WhatsApp.
According to ICRA, the apparel businesses to generate revenues like pre-covid times will have to wait till 2023.
Apparel Brands Exploring Channels Other than D2C
Beleaguered by zero footfalls in stores, Pepe Jeans launched its fashion retail truck in Delhi and Gurugram to allow customers to buy denim clothes. This strategy will aid Pepe Jeans to scale their business in small cities as well. Besides, apparel brands malls are seen taking the shop on wheels. Inorbit Mall reached the premier societies with its mobile shop consisting of brands like Soch, US Polo, Skechers, Flying Machine and Ceilo in the cities of Hyderabad and Mumbai. A similar strategy was adopted by fashion retail chain Bazaar Kolkata that introduced a movable mini store ‘Bazaar on Wheels’ to cater to the fashion needs of shoppers in Kolkata.
The Gain and Reach of D2C stores of Apparel Brands
Brand label Ritu Kumar’s WhatsApp shopping accounts for 10-12 percent of its store sales while online sales account for 14 percent of the overall sales. Online sales for Forever New account for around 25-30 percent of its total sales. Similarly, for United Colors of Benetton, its online sales cover 20 percent of its overall sales. Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail has witnessed a strong double-digit growth of 15 percent in 2021 from 7 percent in 2020 from its e-commerce platform.
Learnings for Apparel Brands
For survival it will be imperative for apparel brands to consider the following:
- Curbing the unnecessary expenses
- Bolstering the last-mile delivery operations
- Adopt click-and-collect model
- Timely delivery
- Offer quality products and value for money
- Taking the D2C channel for better linkage with consumers and not neglecting the omnichannel power
As more people shop online, apparel brands should evaluate their sales channels and supply chain systems to elevate the online shopping experience for customers. In addition to this, brands should quickly adapt to new consumer interests of leisure, activewear essentials, and lightweight clothing and serve their needs in the best way possible.