COVID-19 and the subsequent complete and then partial lockdowns since early 2020 have changed too much too soon in the overall fashion retail industry and these changes are now dictating the current shopping behaviour of consumers as also how the retailers operate. While the industry was betting on 2021 as the year of revival with sales nearing pre-Covid levels, it was hit by the second wave of the pandemic leading to partial lockdowns, closure of malls, and curbs on late evening movement that kept consumers home. The second wave has come as a strong headwind to the apparel sector that was already under pressure after facing heavy losses and concerns over working capital and liquidity.
While the entire retail industry is indeed very badly affected by the pandemic, especially segments like apparel which are in the consumption space, brands leveraging online medium kept the engines running. According to ICRA, the pandemic has led to an increase in adoption of online retailing in India, and a number of retailers are reporting more than 50 percent jump in online sales in the first nine months of the fiscal albeit on a low base and this has led to an increased proportion of online sales within the overall mix.
One of the majors in the e-commerce space, Amazon reported 40 per cent year-on-year (YoY) growth in its fashion category in the financial year 2020-21. The online giant stated that the fashion industry had ‘re-strategised’ amid COVID-19 curfews and lockdowns that pushed customers towards ordering products online.
Saurabh Srivastava, Director & Head – Amazon Fashion India, maintains, “These unprecedented times have affected everyone in the business and the fashion industry is no different. As the world continues to get digital, we have seen a huge acceleration and step change across online channels. When the lockdown began again this year, customers put a hold on their discretionary expenses, but with the nation unlocking gradually, we foresee the market moving at a faster pace. The COVID-19 wave 1 brought with it a myriad of changes within the industry and with wave 2, e-commerce has taken on an increasingly important role in our lives as a convenient and safe means to shop.”
What’s in demand?
The second Covid-wave has delayed the recovery of the segment till FY ’23, but the situation is not all that bad. Brands are now more prepared than the previous year and Amazon Fashion is making sure that it meets the customer demands head-on. “In recent times, we have observed a shift in consumer buying patterns and their shopping habits. Fashion styles like athleisure and relaxed casualwear have seen a huge acceleration during this period. With respect to beauty, while the eye category saw maximum acceleration, the lips category is slowly picking up pace with the demand for transfer-proof and matte lipsticks growing. The focus on professional skincare and haircare products has multiplied, since customers are experimenting with DIYs and self-grooming. Amazon Fashion is the largest fashion destination that caters to both customers seeking popular fashion items at great value as well as upscale designerwear. Our four pillars of growth: Selection, Convenience, Value for Money and Safe Delivery have always helped us become a preferred marketplace for our customers,” prides Saurabh Srivastava.
In terms of trends, athleisure and comfortwear in breezy and comfortable fabric has continued to take precedence in the fashion segment. Besides, the demand for sustainable fashion is growing at a fast pace since 2020 leading to sustainability holding a solid grasp over the fashion industry.
Saurabh Srivastava says, “The pandemic has brought back the idea of ‘no rules’ in the fashion space, giving the industry an opportunity to explore multifunctional values of clothing. The sales for formal and party appropriate clothes, shoes and accessories have seen a momentary dip. Travel essentials are no longer in demand. Over the last six months, customers have veered towards comfortable styles that seamlessly transitioned across seasons and occasions. Breezy fabrics and comfortable fit are fast emerging as favourites. Some of the broad trends that we have seen are: Athleisure, which is an amalgamation of activewear and leisure that took on the fashion world last year and is still going strong; relaxed silhouettes or laidback styles which have become a staple with those working from home; and breezy dresses and kaftans in bold colours and tropical prints. There has been an increased demand for maternitywear and newborn apparel as well.”
While these are the current trends, the future of fashion is expected to be more flexible. From not restricting themselves to specific seasons to preferring comfort along with style and showing an inclination towards sustainable fashion, consumers are making conscious changes to their shopping habits.
What’s keeping the engines running?
Even as the situation is grim, this is the second time the pandemic is impacting the industry this way and so, the retail brands are better prepared to deal with it with all the strategies that helped them stay afloat the previous year. Brands have studied the changing customer shopping behaviour, put in place their digital strategies in line with this and have upgraded their websites, worked on their omnichannel strength to provide their customers with best-in-class experience.
“We have observed that brands have constantly evolved by innovating and facilitating the immediate needs of the customers. At Amazon.in, we are always looking to engage with our customers in differentiated ways. We look to provide relevant and inspiring content around fashion and beauty to our customers. We continuously aim to enhance customers’ shopping experience and make their ‘Har Pal Fashionable’. Our core focus remains on offering the widest selection that is accessible, affordable and easily discoverable,” avers Saurabh Srivastava.
Besides tapping on the changing customer behaviour, fashion segment is relying on word of mouth through social media to drive purchasing decisions. Influencer marketing is the new in thing and with the increasing number of social media users, the growth of influencer marketing in India is at an all-time high.
Saurabh Srivastava agrees, “Unique social interactions and aesthetically curated content have led celebrities, influencers and bloggers to fairly contribute to the fashion and beauty industries, as they build immense exposure and aspirational value for brands. Today, the impact of emerging influencers across the country has risen exponentially. We have a large affiliates program where influencers can host their page on Amazon and direct traffic to it through their channels. We also have multiple channels of customer engagement and acquisition across customer touchpoints such as FoundIt and Fashion Influencer Program, from which we continue to see a rapid increase in our customer base.”
Furthermore, discounting is something that has been attracting shoppers in India as well as world over and so, fashion brands – both online and offline – are floating discounts to attract more consumers. On these lines, Amazon has started its 9th edition of Amazon Fashion’s Wardrobe Refresh Sale (WRS), starting June 19 till June 23 midnight.
“The sale is showcasing the trendiest fashion and beauty styles at exciting deals and offers. As the nation gradually unlocks, customers can shop to their heart’s content and tick everything off their fashion and beauty wishlist. Given the current situation, while customers are looking to shop, sellers who have been severely impacted are looking to get back on their feet and we are committed to supporting our sellers and customers to get what they want. We remain committed to ensuring the safety of our customers and we believe e-commerce is the best way to deliver a wider selection of products while upholding the tenets of safety and social distancing” maintains Saurabh Srivastava.
The 9th edition of WRS features a variety of brands and unique selection from thousands of sellers and small businesses. The sale offers deals across 1,000+ top fashion brands and 40K+ styles from top brands like Levi’s, Adidas, Hopscotch, BIBA and GIVA, among others, along with 12 lakh+ beauty products and 10K+ luxury beauty selections, to meet the unique demands of customers across markets.
While offering the consumers the convenience of shopping from their homes, Amazon has been continuously working on making this shopping experience seamless and personalised by providing virtual guidance and integrating technology in their functioning.
Saurabh Srivastava tells, “Amazon Fashion has launched a variety of initiatives on the platform over time, helping customers across India make the right decisions while shopping. There are brand-specific size charts, multiple-angle product imagery and videos, and technological features such as Outfit Builder (recommends styling ideas and complementary product suggestions in a visually elevated way), Style Snap (an image-based search tool, which allows customers to upload an image and get recommendations on fashion products like the ones found in the image), Brand Logo Farm (enabled for top searched fashion keywords and allows customers to filter search results to a particular brand in a single click) and Virtual Try On (allows customers to virtually try the products on themselves). In addition to this, we have a no-hassle return policy for fashion products that will ensure that the customers do not risk choosing the wrong size or the wrong fit. With increased internet penetration, customers can shop from within the comfort and safety of their homes enabling them to browse millions of products with a single click.”
The road ahead
The pandemic has surely impacted the fashion industry in ways never ever thought of before. However, brands and retailers who pivoted with time and need are the ones to stay afloat and survive the crisis and Amazon is one such e-commerce companies who continued innovating as and when required.
The online major also ensured that it penetrates the vast market in the hinterlands of the country with its network and easy delivery facilities in Tier-2 and beyond regions. It confirmed that 65 per cent of its overall demand emerged from Tier-2, Tier-3 and Tier-4 regions.
“Customers from Tier-2 and Tier-3 towns and cities shop from both domestic and international brands as well as thousands of sellers and small businesses. With the rise of social media, customers have become better informed about making smart shopping decisions. At Amazon Fashion and Beauty, we have seen increased penetration and coverage of online shopping from Tier-2 and Tier-3 regions over the past 4 years. We also offer our customers the option to browse in their preferred language, such as Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and now Marathi to give customers an immersive and interactive experience,” concludes Saurabh Srivastava.