Studying The Stationery Segment With Tanveer Khan

An uptick in demand and positive momentum is expected in 2021, he believes

I am sure we all must have resonated with the old adage by Charles Dickens- “There was something very comfortable having in having plenty of stationery”, at some point in our lives. 

Consumers' love for stationery is well reflected in the growing popularity of Indian stationery market, supported by rising per capita expenditure on education and government’s encouragement towards new education startups. Today, the industry stands at Rs 4000 crores, with major domination by local stationery players (80%). With influx of international brands (Faber Castle, Kores, Maped, etc.) in this category and organised players making their way, the sector has become highly competitive, in both quality and price. Now with promising consumer-buying patterns and large amounts of money being pumped into the market, the future of stationery industry in India looks glittering.

In an interaction with BW Marketing World, Tanveer Khan, Director- Marketing at BIC Cello India, discusses the segment’s battle with the pandemic, trends that emerged out of it, changing consumer preferences and their playbook for the coming year.


Challenges and opportunities in the stationery segment post COVID-19

India’s growing education sector offers tremendous growth potential for the local stationery market. The increasing number of schools and offices, in addition to the improved standard of living and the consumer shift in focus from inexpensive to premium quality products, are important factors driving demand for stationery products in India. In addition, government initiatives such as the National Policy on Education and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan that ensure low cost and quality compulsory education for all will also contribute to the growth of the stationery market in India. We estimate the market to have a compound annual growth rate of 7-8 % in the next four years.

The pandemic has impacted consumer behaviour, as we saw a boom in e-commerce that was complemented by the growing internet penetration in tier two, three and four cities. We recently surveyed more than 400 parents and found that the majority of Indian parents, especially in Delhi, have purchased school supplies online. And we expect e-commerce to continue growing post-COVID-19.

As the country went into lockdown and schools shifted online and businesses adopted remote working policies, demand for stationery products naturally saw a dip. When talking to parents, we found that the average spending on school supplies has shot up from INR 8,000 to 20,000 or more, primarily due to investment in electronic items, while a significant dip of Rs 5,000 is seen in stationery, arts and crafts and learning toys. However, parents did say that screen time has significantly increased for their kids and that they were trying to engage their children more with offline activities, such as colouring, to help them express their creativity.

2021 signals signs of recovery with schools, colleges and offices set to partially open. We expect an uptick in demand and positive momentum. Additionally, with a refreshed focus on education and a growing young population, the outlook remains strong for the stationery segment. We see a huge opportunity to engage with the consumer by focusing on newer and alternate channels of growth like e-commerce and modern trade.

Trends of 2020 that reshaped the stationery marketing ecosystem 

The biggest takeaway for us from 2020 was the importance of having a balanced portfolio that reaches consumers through multiple channels. As consumer digital consumption peeked, brands, including BIC Cello, needed to shift their route to consumers and bring their activities online. 

We know that creating a seamless experience amongst all digital channels helps us better connect and engage with our consumers. As a brand, we will be focusing on strengthening our omni-channel marketing strategy this year and offering true continuity in order to provide consumers with a seamless experience no matter where they are or what device they are using. Consequently building an e-commerce friendly portfolio and newer channels of modern trade is on our priority list for 2021. 

Your thoughts on the evolving consumer preferences in stationery segment

Education and creativity are the two most important elements driving a purchase decision in this sector and BIC Cello is deeply committed to both these pillars to drive awareness and category growth. We are pleased to see that despite the drastic changes in the education model, there are some positive changes children and parents have adopted. Children are expressing themselves creatively through offline activities, such as handwriting, colouring and drawing along with their parents. At BIC Cello, we are proud to provide families and children with the essential tools they need for learning, working and self-expression, and we hope we can help spark joy and imagination during these difficult times. Our Signature range and Celebrations kits proved to be popular gifting options showing promising growth. 

From an industry standpoint, consumer preferences in the stationery market are constantly evolving. The audience is quite diverse in terms of age, occupation and demographic which is why the requirements for the products are also equally diverse.  Additionally, the rise in digital content and influencer marketing around stationery products has also led to more awareness and understanding of exciting and premium options available in the market. Gone are the days where stationery was viewed as a functional and low involvement category. Today, it is more of a style and personality statement with consumers veering towards brands that satisfy their creative needs and reflect a strong purpose through their communication.

Focus on purpose-led communication and empathy-led marketing initiatives 

Purpose is the reason why a company or a brand exists. It is the underlying essence that makes a brand relevant and necessary to its customers. A brand must solve a problem or meet a need. How well it does that, and how well it creates loyalty, affinity and connections with its customers sets it apart from its competitors. At BIC Cello, we aim to create a sense of ease and delight in the millions of moments that make up the human experience. It is the passion for bringing simplicity and joy to our consumers that drives our team members each day. We want our products and our communication to connect and resonate with our consumers. 

Brand’s growth strategy in the post COVID-19 era

2020 reminded us all that we need to focus on what matters to us the most. And regardless of how great a story you have to tell, if you don’t tell it with authenticity and with empathy, you are not going to build a lasting relationship with your audience. The great benefit of the stationery and hobby sectors is that consumers are open to experimenting. Product innovation and having a robust portfolio to answer every consumer’s need is key in terms of building a strong brand. However, strong engagement is primarily driven when a marketing strategy leads with content instead of products. For example, for the colouring category, our social handles push out a lot of content around unique ways to engage with children. We focus on educating consumers on the importance of creating the right environment for children to enjoy using crayons to spur creativity and essential motor skill development that fuels their cognitive development. Similarly, inspiring consumers has now become even more critical as the second phase for engagement. What serves as inspiration on one delivery platform, doesn’t for another. We are determined to create platform curated campaigns that help forge an emotional connection with our consumers.

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