Brands Bridge The Digital Divide

For Kohli, the future focus for marketers must reside in striking the perfect balance between online and offline retail

In the last year and a half, we’ve been on a roller coaster never experienced before- through lockdowns, economies in a free fall, V ad W shaped recoveries, vaccinations, et al as the outbreak of COVID-19 threw a spanner in the works – lives and businesses. What it also did, is spur a radical acceleration towards digital as people increasingly began to rely on online platforms for almost all their needs, with mandated restrictions on physical movement. In fact, very few have actually ventured out at all over the last almost year and a half now. As the world remained indoors to stay safe from the virus, consumer behavior underwent a drastic shift, driving brands to quickly effective strategies that could leverage this change.  

Shopping today has a new meaning altogether. For Indian consumers, a majority of their purchase decisions are now digitally influenced – from day-to-day groceries and kitchen appliances to essential home fixtures like lights and fans – they have taken to online shopping like never before. This is a trend that began within the first few months of the pandemic last year, and has continued to rise since. In fact, RedSeer’s recent report suggests India’s consumer digital economy, which was pegged at $85-90 billion in 2020, is expected to grow to a whopping $800 billion by 2030.

Driving The Digital Space

For a lot of brands including Usha International, this period has been one of great introspection and rapid evolution. We took the crisis and turned it into an opportunity, and realigned our strategies to further strengthen the online shopping experience for our consumers. The emphasis was to adopt digital with agility and our top priority therefore was to quickly ramp up investment in e-commerce to ensure seamless growth in digital sales. 

While this shift in consumer behavior may have been accelerated by the pandemic, it seems like it’s here to stay. A report by FICCI suggests that online commerce is projected to touch $188 billion by 2025 up from $64 billion in 2020, as the pandemic driven environment further accelerates adoption of e-commerce. Keeping this in mind, we have been focused on creating unique and personalized retail experiences for our consumers, by offering unified services on a variety of online platforms like Brand Stores on e-commerce channels, posting engaging demo videos across product categories on our website, providing after-sales customer care online, curating A+ Content, and much more. 

Tier II & III Indian Markets Adopt E-Commerce

Increased digital adoption has not been limited to just the metros, it is people from Tier II and III and even IV who have overcome traditional and conditioned mindsets to change the way they consume and use digital platforms. Therefore brands that ignore these audiences will do so at their own peril. This can be attributed to the deep penetration of the internet, cheap availability of data, and quick adoption of smartphones, which has driven consumer demand to rise drastically from tier II and III cities, especially for products like fans, air coolers, kitchen and home appliances. Giving credence to IAMAI’s report, it suggests that by 2025, there will be a greater number of internet users in rural India as compared to urban. 

Brands that understood the importance of engaging with consumers in their local languages have done well by getting on to the regional language bandwagon, and are now reaping the benefits of their rapid response. In fact, in order to strike a chord with consumers, capture their attention, and ensure greater conversions, brands have now begun to heavily advertise and put out content in vernacular languages. 

Bricks & Clicks – The Hybrid Model

While digital is now a definite focus for brands across India, the key to win in this new normal lies in successfully creating the perfect balance between online and offline retail. Brands need to adopt a hybrid version of the bricks and clicks model and aim to excel on omnichannel category management. Omni-channel allows for providing consumers with an integrated shopping experience, which in turn gives them the choice to shop via various channels, including online or in a brick-and-mortar store, all the while ensuring a seamless experience for them either way. 

Ultimately, it is brands that continue to build exceptional consumer experiences online and seamlessly integrate and extend the experience at their physical retail stores that will successfully improve brand salience, foster loyalty amongst existing customers, and acquire new customers. The fine balance between online and offline is like the left and right hands working in tandem complementing each other to bring out the best results in a win-win for the brand! 

The author is Kapil Kohli, President, Retail, Usha International

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.