Reliance Retail aims to be one of the world’s top retailers, but for the last couple of years, it has been a buyer, not a seller. It has bought a string of retail brands — from online pharmacy Netmeds and online furniture retailer Urban Ladder to digital lingerie seller Zivame, online grocer MilkBasket and haute couture label Ritu Kumar. The latest acquisition was Sri Lankan lingerie brand Amante.
Written By Vaishnavi Gupta
D2C brands are taking the traditional retail route to scale up
Analysts say that the move to offline retail makes sense for digital-first brands in categories where experiencing the product is an important driver for purchase
While brands across categories made a beeline for e-commerce during the pandemic, physical retail earned prominence among direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands. Melorra, Plum, Pee Safe and Libas, among others, have been building their offline presence over the past year.
The total retail market in India is estimated to be worth Rs 63 lakh crore, of which 95% buying happens through offline formats, according to Devangshu Dutta, founder, Third Eyesight.
Having started as an online-only brand in 2013, Pee Safe launched its first exclusive store in India in February, 2021. The personal hygiene brand currently operates a store each in Gurugram, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad; and plans to launch 50 offline stores in the next 12 months. “There is a strong demand for personal hygiene and wellness products in the offline market. Hence, opening exclusive outlets is a crucial element of our growth strategy,” says Srijana Bagaria, co-founder and director, Pee Safe. These exclusive brand outlets (EBOs) will be launched through the franchise-owned and franchise-operated (FOFO) model.
Online ethnic wear brand Libas, meanwhile, unveiled two brick-and-mortar stores in New Delhi in September, 2021. The brand has an ambitious target of 200 more stores by 2025 in malls and high streets across metro and tier II cities. A click-and-collect facility will be operational soon, says Sidhant Keshwani, managing director, Libas. “We are aiming for our offline market share to be 25% in the coming two years,” he adds.
The brand offers a range of wedding and occasion wear, as well as ready-to-stitch fabrics exclusively in its offline stores. Soon, it also plans to foray into the kidswear and menswear categories, as well as home décor.
Beauty brand Plum, which has been retailing online since 2014, launched its first store in Mumbai in October, 2021. Plum’s founder and CEO, Shankar Prasad, says the goal is to take the store count to 50 by 2023, and for EBOs to contribute “10-20% of our total sales in two-three years”.
Jewellery brand Melorra extended its presence offline back in December, 2020. “We have been growing 200% year-on-year; we expect to post even stronger numbers this year with the addition of offline stores. We are looking to touch $1 billion in revenue in five years,” says the company’s founder and CEO, Saroja Yeramilli.
A good step?
Analysts say that the move to offline retail makes sense for digital-first brands in categories where experiencing the product is an important driver for purchase. “D2C players have so far done a great job of owning the consumer journey which is largely online. They now see that for the next wave of growth and penetration, they need good representation in a larger set of touchpoints,” says Rachit Mathur, partner and MD, BCG.
However, online is likely to remain the primary revenue stream for these digital-first brands. “Brands such as Lenskart, Nykaa and FirstCry have done a great job in driving strong retail presence and viable productivity, but continue to have a higher bias of online sales,” Mathur notes.
D2C brands could perhaps try a mix of formats for an offline foray, from EBOs to a presence in departmental stores, or even small SIS (shop-in-shop) counters in shopping centres. But brands would need to be cognisant of the fact that consumers behave differently depending on the shopping environment they are in. Hence, the interface, service offering, and even the product mix may have to be tweaked. “Simply bringing in technology into an offline environment just because you are an online-first brand may do nothing to enhance the consumer experience, and may even detract from it,” Dutta says.