Brands & Ecommerce Continue To Sit Tight

Ecommerce brought an opportunity for brands, both big and small, to scale their online presence. But with changes in consumer behavior & business realities, how are brands eyeing on its advantages and preparing themselves better during this tough time?

The biggest change that could have ever come in the business landscape, more so during the pandemic, has been the ever-evolving pattern of consumption and usage through e-commerce/online placement of products. Social-distancing measures and business closures have significantly disrupted the consumer consumption habits. While this has created a period of uncertainty for many, e-commerce has instead been trending in a positive direction.

Ankur Ogra, Brand & Customer Acquisition Head, Grofers accepts that the pandemic has created tremendous affinity from consumers to shop online. “This is now, not just limited to urban cities and more affluent NCCS segments, but has penetrated even below. This could be due to multitude of factors - safety, convenience, assortment and even savings. Something that otherwise would have taken 3-4 years is now happening in a few months,” he adds.

Asserting The Advantages

It wouldn't be wrong to say that ecommerce has opened up a whole new paradigm for brands. Earlier, launching a brand or business required heavy investment in offline retail. One had to pay a steep price of acceptance on the shelves of supermarkets and retail stores. Alternatively, an infrastructure for distribution was needed, which also required a lot of investment to enter any category which required retail presence.

With e-commerce, it has become easier to build a brand which is direct to consumer. One doesn't need an elaborate infrastructure set up for distribution which also whittles down time and resources required to launch your brand. Reaching the consumer directly and doing away with multiple layers, make it a cost-efficient medium for the brand. In addition, faster buying process, affordable advertising and marketing, flexibility for customers, no reach limitations, etc. are just a few more of the many points that give ecommerce precedence over other offline marketing methods. 

For Dheeraj Sinha, CEO and Chief Strategy Officer - South Asia, Leo Burnett, real-time feedback remains to be one of the prime reasons why brands invest in the online space. “It is easy to track the online journey of your brand with the consumers. How are your sales doing, what strategies/ promotions are working for you – the whole dashboard is in real time. You don’t have to wait for a month to gather consumer research on how the brand is doing to recalibrate your strategies. This gives you room to be far more nimble in your interventions allowing you to make timely changes to your brands marketing strategies,” he adds.

Along with its evident set of advantages, setting up an online marketplace is an added benefit that attracts most. It has become much easier than it was in the last couple of years. “With the consumer base preferring to shop online in the comfort of their homes, it is helping the companies to set up their presence online. With just one click, you can visit any company’s website and check out their products, and make purchases. The brand just has to make sure that they serve the needs of the customers and provide more than what their competition is giving the consumers,” tells Ankit Gaur, DGM, Sales & Marketing, Livpure Sleep. 

Agreeing that ecommerce is in a glittering phase today, Suman Varma, Chief Marketing Officer, Hamdard Laboratories (Medical Division) says, “The buying habits that have been changing are unlikely to suddenly shift back to what they once were, even after things “get back to normal.” Because of this, now is the time to bet on ecommerce. Its future influence will be far greater than it has ever been.”

Preparing Better

Visibly, these are unprecedented and very tough times for all. Ogra warns that customer experience is critical for online brands. “If the experience is not good, then no matter how good the product, the customer won’t trust you again with his choice. 

Customer experience means good promise times, the right assortment, the delivery experience. For a lot of brands who are now entering this space, this would be the most critical and most challenging of the tasks,” he states.

He goes on to add that marketers must understand the anxieties, motivations and barriers of their consumers and try to solve for it. “To succeed, your brand experience and communication must come across as empathetic, honest and always willing to help. 

If you have to prioritise between the perennial question of supply vs demand. Scale up the former first, if you have a great offering, (scaling up demand would not be difficult). Your early customers are your lower hanging fruit and would also have the highest level of stickiness and they will also give you maximum wallet share. Experience should be supreme, followed by demand generation,” he suggests.

He substantiates by mentioning Country Delight, a brand that has performed well for itself & its consumers, especially in the past months. "Their milk subscription and early morning delivery of a very good product solves for multiple challenges for urban households- Convenience (they deliver early morning to your doorstep - You don't have to go to the Kirana for Milk and other dairy products and because of the subscription, you don't have to order everyday also) and great quality (They have their own farms and they delivery products directly from there in 24-36 hours - so its fresh and organic too)."

Ankit Saraf, Founder, Meraqi proposes some key points for new brands entering the market to make sure they are in it for the long run, "Find the right products to sell, attract the perfect customer - more money spent on media doesn't mean more relevant reach, generating targeted traffic, even if there is targeted traffic to their websites and conversions aren't happening, then how are brands capturing these leads and converting them. And in the post-conversion world it's all about retention - so what are you doing to retain them?

Lastly, it's of utmost importance to choose the right technology and platforms - i.e. shopping cart solution, inventory management, email software, CRM systems, and analytics."

He goes on to add that brands need to adapt and be open to new strategies. "F&B shifted online, apparel companies released work from home collections to keep up with the demand. So, it's a mix of tried and tested methods along with new trends to get more bang for the buck," he says.

Sinha also agrees that there’s a long queue of brands wanting to be successful on e-commerce and even in the online world many rules of the game are similar to the offline world. “The biggest rule is visibility and availability. For your brand to be successful you have to be both visible and available. And just as you jostled for space in offline retail, you have to do the same in the online world as well. You have to ensure that you are well embedded in your consumers online journey, ensuring that you are visible, available and top of mind in an over crowded space,” he explains.

For Varma, the need to be safe and save on with offers being sprung on by e-commerce platforms, the brands are preparing to make the most of the change. "From onboarding digital partners to adapting the new strategy, brands have adapted to the shift quickly and are progressing to tap the global market as well," she comments.

While it may have been a bit easier for already established brands to market themselves online, experts feel that for smaller brands, advertising correctly and making sure that people are aware of your products and the USP is what needs to be tapped rightly. Gaur describes, “With proper branding and advertising, it is easy to reach the homes of the consumers. Also, it is of the highest priority that the brand maintains its highest quality in these times as well. A focus should also be given on the hygienic and safe delivery of the products by following the protocols mentioned by the government.” 

Overall, it is a great time for brands to amplify themselves by tapping the abundant advantages that online commerce offers. Of course, the marketing tactics, product offerings and how a brand fulfils the consumer's demand will eventually make the big difference. But if Indian brands continue to bet big on ecommerce, it is expected to surpass the US to become the second largest E-commerce market in the world by 2034.