Festive sales may fall ‘flat’ on extended discount season


August 31, 2012

Priyanka Pani, The Hindu Businessline
Mumbai, August 31, 2012

Even as brands and apparel retailers appear to have had a prolonged bumper sale against the backdrop of a general slowdown, festive season sales have got the short end of the stick. ‘Sale’ season in the country started around end-May, but was extended by eight weeks. For instance, Shoppers Stop is are still busy luring ‘shopaholics’ to stores with flat 51 per cent discount.

“What typically used to be a month-long phenomenon has become a 3-month affair now. Shoppers are trying to extract the maximum benefit out of these sales. The main issue now is whether demand will pick up during the festive season that starts with Ganesh Chaturthi,” said Devangshu Dutta of retail consulting firm, Third Eyesight.

Slowing GDP growth, poor monsoon and sustained inflationary pressures are hurting consumer confidence, says a report by research firm Espirito Santo. Fitch Ratings too has revised the H2FY12 outlook for the Indian retail sector to negative from stable, in view of a sustained deterioration in the discretionary spending ability. The firm has said it is unlikely to improve over the short term.

“Lot of purchases have become need based. People, apprehending a further slowdown in the economy and with the forthcoming festivities, have purchased in bulk. Retailers might not witness major shopping in the next 2-3 months,” Dutta said adding that poor monsoon could also dampen the consumer sentiment.

Retailers said poor same-store sales in Q3FY12 forced many stores to extend the sale period. Though the discount schemes helped boost volumes, it impacted margins.

Textile majors too are apprehending poor festive season sales. “There is an overall slowdown in the textiles sector,” said Thomas Varghese, CEO, Aditya Birla Textiles.

Rakesh Pandey, President (Retail and Business Development), Raymond, said the upcoming wedding season could help bring some respite.

 In a first, Bharat surpasses India in consumption


August 30, 2012

Meghna Maiti, Financial Chronicle

Mumbai, August 30, 2012

For the first time in a quarter century, rural India outdid urban consumption in the past two years, according to a Crisil study. Rural spending rode on a big increase in incomes, mainly resulting from non-farm jobs and rural employment guarantee schemes.

A young population, rising incomes and low penetration of many consumer durables mean that rural consumption has the potential to remain an important source of demand, the study says.

But to sustain this, says the study, it is critical to substitute short-term income boosters such as government-sponsored employment schemes with durable job opportunities in rural areas.

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, a retail consulting firm, says rural growth comes on the back of increasing incomes, percolati­on of aspirations and life­style from urban areas. The trend is clearly visible in the consumption of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) in the hinterland.

One company in this sector, Godrej Consumer Products, has seen strong growth in rural areas… “fuelled by wage increases and enhanced exposure to products,” acc­ording to P Ganesh, the company’s executive vice-president and company secretary. The FMCG sector also benefited from development in tier II and III cities.

Besides guaranteed rural employment, ever-higher minimum support prices for farm produce have helped raised rural incomes and standards of living.

Rural demand accounts now for around 40 per cent of Hindustan Unilever’s sales. The company claims two of every three Indians as its consumers.

Jagdeep Kapoor, CMD of Samsika Marketing & Consultants, estimates that rural areas give the FMCG industry more than half its income. The rural population is far bigger than the urban populace. With the spread of television, internet, rural consumers are now more aware of brands. Two-thirds of India’s billion-plus population are estimated to live in villages.

Harish Manwani, Hindustan Unilever chairman, spoke of the importance of rural India to his company at its recent annual general meeting. “More than 40 per cent of our products are consumed in the fast growing markets of rural India. We have been pioneers in developing rural markets through affordable brands and an unparalleled distribution reach,” he said.

Similarly, 35 per cent of ITC’s FMCG revenue comes from rural India. Hemant Malik, COO for the company’s FMCG marketing and distribution, has not seen a change in the consumption patterns in urban and rural areas. But ITC is closely monitoring this to build sales strategies.

He says ITC does not expect any change in the FMCG demand and consumption pattern in rural India. “Since FMCG items are of daily use, consumption may shift towards smaller pack sizes, and customers may downgrade or substitute items.”

Because a majority of India’s population resides in the villages, the value of goods and services consumed by them has always been more than in urban India. But the difference has been narrowing as urban India has been growing faster.

However, during 2009-10 and 2011-12, rural consumption per capita grew annually at 19 per cent, 2 percentage points higher than in urban areas, according to preliminary data released for 2011-12 by the National Sample Survey Organisation.

In incremental terms, spending by rural India in these two years was Rs 3,75,000 crore, significantly higher than Rs 2,99,400 crore spent by urban people.

With rising purchasing power, a notable phenomenon increasingly discernible in rural consumption is a shift from necessities to discretionary goods. One in every two rural households now has a mobile phone. Even in India’s poorest states such as Bihar and Orissa, one in three rural households has a mobile phone.

Nearly 42 per cent of rural households owned a TV set in 2009-10, up from 26 per cent five years earlier. Similarly, 14 per cent of rural households had a two-wheeler in 2009-10, twice that in 2004-05, although penetration remains well below the urban level of 33 per cent, says the Crisil report. More than half of India’s stock of consumer durables such as TV sets, electric fans and two-wheelers is now in rural India, the report adds.

Big Mac’s different strokes


August 29, 2012

Raghavendra Kamath & Vinay Umarji, Business Standard

Mumbai/Ahmedabad Aug 29, 2012

Stung by a consumption slowdown and cut-throat competition from other quick-service chains, Big Mac is trying hard to give customers more reasons to come to its stores. So its latest India menu now comprises a differential pricing strategy and better in-store experience.

While Vikram Bakshi’s Connaught Plaza Restaurants, which has a joint venture with McDonald’s and has rights for the north and east, cut prices by 6-15 per cent from August 1 to boost sales, Hardcastle Restaurants, a development licensee of McDonald’s which runs West and South India operations, has refrained from doing so.

“When customers are feeling the pressure of inflation from all sides, we thought it is a good time to rationalise prices,” says Bakshi. He claims the chain has seen 10 per cent increase in sales, though it has taken a hit of 40 basis points in its margins after it cut prices. “We think 10 per cent growth is far superior than a 40 basis points hit on margins.”

Bakshi may have a point as early this year, Pizza Hut, run by Yum Restaurants India, launched the ‘Rs 29 pizza’ and KFC added two snacker burger and new beverage Krushers Frappe to its Streetwise Menu which starts at just Rs 25.

But Hardcastle’s Amit Jatia has a different take. “We do not need to reduce prices as we are seeing a strong comparable sales growth in our stores in the south and west. We believe consistency in offering ‘everyday low value’ has paid off for us,” says.

Doesn’t such differential pricing create confusion in the minds of consumers? Jatia does not think so. “Anyway, different states have different taxes which make prices different. The consumers’ perception of value is also different,” he adds.

Even retail consultants such as Devangshu Dutta, chief executive, Third Eyesight, see logic in the move. “Firstly, in India, McDonald’s has two JVs with separate P&Ls – so the opinions of the partners in their respective regions would have more weight than a simple franchisee’s would. Secondly, local relevance of product mix and pricing is a key driver of success in all retail products.”

Besides pricing, McDonald’s is also experimenting with different formats to woo customers. While Jatia’s Hardcastle is looking at bigger restaurants of 4,000 sq ft , Bakshi recently launched smaller-sized ‘remote kiosks’ which are within three to four kms of a “mother store” and located at metro stations, hypermarkets and high streets.

While Hardcastle has around 35 kiosks and 26 drive thru’s, it plans to have 25-30 kiosks and a similar number of drive thru’s in the next two-three years. It plans to open 35 to 40 restaurants this year.

McDonald’s is also opening new stores and revamping the existing ones under new designs to make them more appealing. So you have cushioned bar stools, plush LED lights and POS/EDC terminals from the earlier stainless steel furniture and dim yellow lightings. “We have learnt that design has to keep up with consumer demands,” says Jatia.

Being modern and contemporary also led McDonald’s to increasingly accept credit cards at almost all its new outlets.

Experts, however, say the improvement of McDonald’s stores should have happened much earlier. QSRs, which focus on coffee, have overtaken McDonald’s. There is no doubt that McDonald’s needs to look contemporary, soft and modern with cutting edge,” says Harish Bijoor, CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Even for Shripad Nadkarni, founder director, MarketGate Consulting, a brand consulting firm, McDonald’s stores had begun to look “dull” for some time now. “One of McDonald’s’ biggest successes is understanding the Indian palate. They draw on ‘glocal’ products which have been a huge success for them. However, where McDonald’s was lacking was in-store experience. Their stores needed improvement. It now seems the in-store experience is moving along the consumer preferences,” says Nadkarni.

When compared to its peers like Subway and KFC, McDonald’s also has to keep its target audience in mind while planning the in-store experience. “Subway caters to an adult audience, KFC looks to focus mostly on non-vegetarians while McDonald’s is about family and kids. Subway’s appeal is more towards a mature consumer segment while McDonald’s is more about family time,” says Nadkarni. Needless to say, McDonald’s’ new stores offer ample space for kids’ play area, thereby tapping its consumers’ family time.

The chain will first renovate those that are more than 10 years old. For the rest, it will adopt a ‘mini-market’ approach. “If we have five stores in the same area, then we’ll partially renovate all of them so that some consistency is managed in the design,” Bakshi says.

Macros spook food joints, but only just


August 22, 2012

Priyanka Golikeri & Nupur Anand, Daily News & Analysis (DNA)

Bangalore, 22 August 2012

Now, macroeconomic woes are impacting even quick service restaurants (QSRs), the 150-3,000 square feet neighbourhood dine-in / takeaway food joints that serve up your pizzas, burgers and rolls.

For, the slowdown, it has been found, is changing consumer behaviour and their eating patterns: footfalls are lower and bill sizes smaller. From 350-500 people per day, QSRs are seeing a 10-15% drop in footfalls, said a senior official from a pizza-pasta chain.

Moreover, from two to three visits per week, the frequency of customer visits has dropped to once a week or once in ten days. This is spooking QSRs which have been growing at a fast clip of late.

“What used to be a weekend family eat-out routine is now happening every fortnight,” said Krishna Kumar, CEO of Curries Hospitality which runs a chain of sandwich and pasta joints.

Rising inflation and negligible pay hikes have weakened customers’ propensity to spend on discretionary goods, say experts.

“When there is no hike in salary and the cost of every commodity only goes up, people cannot think of spending Rs400-500 every second day on quick bites,” says the official from the pizza chain. People might eat out, but instead of ordering for a large pizza with cakes and soft drinks, a person might restrict himself to a medium- or small-sized pizza minus the cake, he says.

Kumar says growth this fiscal will range between 12% and 13%, much lower than the 18-20% seen last year.

QSRs account for 18% of the $74 billion informal eat-out sector which includes restaurants that serve traditional Indian snacks like idli, dosa and chaat, as per estimates by market intelligence provider Euromonitor.

QSRs are the most difficult segment in the food market, says Harminder Sahni, MD of retail consultancy Wazir Advisors.

“Players need to get several factors, including delivery and supply chain, right to crack the market. Competition from other organised players having a big brand pull is another challenge.”

Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy Third Eyesight, says players are cautious in the wake of the correction witnessed during 2009-11. “It is not that outlets are closing down. But cooking at home is much cheaper than eating out.”

Nevertheless, QSR chains have their expansion plans intact. Dutta says this is because rentals have dipped and advertising costs have corrected. “Players are taking the opportunity to cement their position. They are cashing in on e-commerce and changing their menus to make it more region- and city-specific than earlier.

These chains are also reducing entry price points to attract more customers.”

Amit Jatia, vice chairman of McDonald’s India, says the company will invest Rs500 crore and add over 150 outlets by 2014 in the west and south regions that he oversees. “We have not seen any significant slowdown in demand and are seeing double-digit growth.” McDonald’s currently has 135 outlets in the two regions.

Likewise, Kaati Zone, the rolls joint, will add 30-35 outlets by March 2013 to its current 32, says CEO Kiran Nadkarni. It will also consolidate in existing markets like Mumbai, Bangalore, Coimbatore and Hyderabad. “QSRs cater to mass markets and are less expensive than fine dining. Hence, they are immune from downturn.”

Kumar says Curries will add 25 outlets to Crusty’s 79 this year in places like Mysore, Chandigarh, Nagpur and Lucknow.

Sale frenzy morphs into retail worry


August 21, 2012

Nupur Anand, Daily News & Analysis (DNA)

Mumbai, 21 August 2012

Retailers are bleeding. The ‘sale’ season whose duration has been stretched of late, has pushed brands and retailers to despair, in spite of shoppers’ frenzy. The sale season in its present form is unsustainable, retailers say.

Traditionally, seasonal sales used to start in August. Last year, they were advanced to July to give shoppers additional time to indulge. This year’s sales started in June.

“‘Sale’ was originally introduced to boost sales. But this prolonged sale and deep discounting are not a good strategy. Retailers need to take stock and devise a way out of these frequent sales now,” says Arvind Singhal of Technopak, a retail consultancy firm.

Companies and retailers may get hurt as quality-conscious customers who may not be bargain-hunters, are likely to stay off markets during the sale duration. And bargain-hunters are likely to behave likewise after the discount season, leading to subdued demand for long periods.

So, the consequent demand-supply mismatch leads to huge inventories which, in turn, necessitate longer sale periods. Companies are now trying to correct this phenomenon by preempting inventory pile-ups.

“Companies need to and are trying to get their demand forecasts right to avoid pile-ups and to maintain profits,” says Sanjay Vakharia, director at Spykar Lifestyles.

What this can mean for customers is a shorter sale period and fewer, and lower, discounts.

“The companies may take a couple of quarters more to get their stock pile-up right. Consumers can then say goodbye to these three-month-long sales,” says Abhishek Ranganathan, analyst at MF Global.

Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consulting firm Third Eyesight, thinks consumer demand has been subdued this year, and is unlikely to change any time soon due to the dampened consumer sentiment and dismal macroeconomic scenario.

“Companies are not going to repeat their mistake of a making wrong demand forecast,” says Dutta. “To check the mismatch between anticipated demand and actual demand, companies are reducing the time between orders and deliveries. With this, they will have less stock to clear at the end of a season and this will possibly lead to shorter discount sales.”

This is a much-needed change, say retailers. “Besides brands, malls organise their own discount sales to increase footfalls. Long promotional offers are bleeding companies. The retail industry is finding this sale frenzy unsustainable,” says the CEO of an apparel-and-retail chain.

Retailers are also worried about changing consumer behaviour and expectations. These days, shoppers wait for the sale season to start before they step out with cash/ cards to buy. Given frequent sales, the wait to buy stuff at half the cost is never too long.

Up to 70% discounts are another worry for the industry. “We are forced to offer deep discounts as everyone else is doing so. We don’t have a choice,” says Sanjay Bindra, director at Seven East, an ethnic wear brand.

Retailers acknowledge that sales and discounts attract consumers to retail spaces like malls that would otherwise wear a deserted look. But such footfalls, they bemoan, have come at a huge cost to them.