RETAIL REALIGNED: WHAT'S DRIVING BUSINESS TODAY?
Business Of Fashion|December 2021
Much has been said about how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way businesses think and operate. In the fashion retail world, where product lifecycle from creation to delivery was once a long-drawn process, business are now looking to be more agile and quick, invest more in technology to make systems more automated, and lead with empathy. People and culture have taken precedence over sales generation. Experts from the sector share some key insights with us on changing yardsticks.
Vedika Negi

The last quarter of year 2021 has been positive for fashion retail across categories. But, this relief comes after much turmoil over the 18 months preceding it. Brands have had a roller-coaster ride and business has seen several ups & downs. And those that survived have a telling account of their learnings.

Panellists

Abhishek Ganguly, MD & Head – South Asia, Puma India

Devang Sampat, CEO, Cinepolis India

Rahul Vira, CEO, Skechers India

Vineet Gautam, CEO, Bestseller India

Vishak Kumar, CEO, Madura Fashion & Lifestyle, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited (ABFRL)

Session Moderator:

Anurag Mathur, Partner & Leader – Consumer and Retail business, Strategy, part of the PwC network

Sharing his experience of those 18 months, Abhishek Ganguly, MD & Head – South Asia, Puma India, speaking at the Phygital Retail Convention in Mumbai in November, said, “Our category did go through a positive trend which has acted in our favour. But if I go back in time, we were all taken aback when COVID struck and lockdowns happened. It now seems a long way down, but a lot of things have changed fundamentally. Businesses have realised the need for speed, nimbleness and flexibility - things we probably did not focus on in the past, especially in our industry of fashion which has a long lifecycle from product creation to reaching the consumer. We all have to relook at our business. But, I would say that if you take the challenge that we all went through, the second wave was virulent for our teams. A lot of us lost team members, but in the midst of all this, to carry on because business has to go on, required leadership and everyone to really stand up. So, one of the things I take forward, which I think is extremely important in such a dynamic environment, is empathetic leadership at the core of whatever we do. It has become critical for all industries and all companies, and that is one of the big takeaways that I have had over the last 18 months.”

The pandemic has definitely made people more empathetic. Echoing Ganguly’s thoughts, Rahul Vira, CEO, Skechers India, said, “One of the key learnings we have had in the last 18 months is that people have become so important. There were days when we were all sitting at home or operating from the constraints of our room, but our staffwas operating the stores. Respecting those people actually became a very important thing while a lot of other things also happened, such as business planning, product lifecycle planning, supply chain planning, negotiations with malls, etc. But, the guy standing at the front level, servicing the customer with a mask on, was really touching. Valuing people became a very important learning during that time.”

Even while business was severely impacted, companies were working hard to get their staffvaccinated, a challenge that kept them on their toes for most part of the pandemic. Sharing his view, Vineet Gautam, CEO, Bestseller India, said, “Between finding stocks and running stores, we were trying to find vaccines, so it was a very different time. Today, almost 99% of our employees are fully vaccinated, which I think is a big achievement. When I look at our counterparts in Europe, some of them have not even got a single dose. Still, I think a bigger challenge was how we could be fluid and keep working.”

“In offline shopping, targeted shopping, where people come in just to buy a particular product and leave, would not last because shopping will get back to being an experience and people would see that as a part of their life’s entertainment”

Abhishek Ganguly, MD & Head – South Asia, Puma India

One major area where investments are growing is supply chain planning. That is a major thrust, coupled with technology. Manpower and getting the right people - those are the challenges and I hope at some time we are able to overcome them”

Rahul Vira, CEO, Skechers India

“This was a time you could actually make some amends. In the flow of business, a lot of inefficiencies are ignored. But when you have a hard stop like this, you start to revaluate everything. That has given us a lot of positivity. We have come out stronger as an organisation and as a business”

Vineet Gautam, CEO, Bestseller India

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