Desi versus videshi retail: Global brands are making more space for themselves

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January 29, 2024

Economic Times, 29 January 2024

High aspirational value, rising disposable incomes in non-metro markets, premiumisation, and social media boosting brand awareness have led to international retail brands growing at a fast pace while desi brands go easy on expansion.

Global brands such as Zara, H&M, Bugatti Fashion, La Vie en Rose, Adidas, Nike, West Elm, Starbucks, Uniqlo and Marks & Spencer are fast finding favour with Indian buyers. A significant propeller of their growth is small towns where buyers, willing to spend more, are getting more brand conscious.

According to CBRE, about two dozen international brands entered India in 2023 and expansion by global brands that are already present in the country have fuelled the demand.

Videshi retailers make more space

The retail sector recorded an all-time high leasing in 2023, taking 7.1 million sq ft across eight cities, an increase of 47% from last year despite large retailers slowing down on store expansion. A prominent factor in the growth was international brands. Retail leasing by international brands was almost 25% in 2023 compared to 14% in the previous year, ET has reported.

Canadian lingerie retailer La Vie en Rose made its debut in India in partnership with Apparel Group India and launched its first store in Delhi-NCR in July 2023 and later expanded in Pune and Bangalore. Similarly, Rimowa, a German luxury luggage brand, entered India through its partnership with Reliance Brands and opened its first store in Mumbai.

Other notable expansions by international players include French fashion & apparel brand Bugatti Fashion and the American furniture brand West Elm opening their stores in Pune, and American lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret opening stores in Hyderabad and Pune.

Making inroads into small towns

Three dozen big brands entered tier-II cities in the first nine months of 2023, as demand from smaller cities continued to be strong even after the pandemic. A good number of those were global brands.

Brands such as H&M, Marks & Spencer and GAP have entered cities like Indore, Mangalore, Patna, Ranchi, Mysore, and Coimbatore, according to data by CBRE. “India’s first retail REIT has encouraged developers to aggregate and upgrade their existing facilities, apart from developing new malls. Moreover, domestic and international fashion brands are looking to expand in non-metro cities, fueled by a well-aware and well-travelled consumer set,” Ram Chandnani, Managing Director, Advisory & Transactions Services, CBRE India, has said.

Desi retailers turn cautious

While international brands are expanding at a strong pace, desi retailers are turning cautious. India’s top retailers have significantly slowed down their store expansion this fiscal year, after opening a record number of outlets last year, ET has reported based on their latest investor disclosures. The top five retail chains – Reliance Retail, Titan Company, Avenue Supermarts that owns DMart, V-Mart Retail and Shoppers Stop – together opened 44% fewer stores in the first three quarters through December compared with a year earlier.

Top industry executives attributed the slowdown in store expansion to more focus on profitability when consumption had not picked up the way it was expected to and as most of the new markets are already filled up with two-four retailers, leaving little room for more outlets. It appears global retail brands are less vulnerable to these pressures.

Global brands buck the trend

Top global apparel and fast fashion brands appear to have struck a strong chord with young customers, racking up sales growth of anywhere between 40% and 60% in FY23, bucking the trend in a market where the overall demand for discretionary products slowed down, ET has reported based on latest filings with the Registrar of Companies.

For instance, Swedish fashion retailer H&M and rival Zara reported a 40% increase in its topline while Japanese brand Uniqlo saw a 60% jump in sales. American denim maker Levi Strauss and British brand Marks & Spencer posted a 54% increase. Dubai-based department store Lifestyle International, too, saw a 46% jump in revenues on a large base. These brands garnered combined annual revenues of nearly $2.6 billion, more than double compared to FY21 when it was $1.1 billion all put together.

“With consumers getting brand conscious, global brands have a natural advantage. There is a distinct aspirational momentum for international brands that carries them through. Also they can sustain having unsold inventory and discounting better than smaller peers,” Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight, a strategy consulting firm, told ET recently. “Also, these brands have not yet reached saturation point in terms of network and hence can invest further to widen their reach.”

Even as international brands are aggressively adding more physical stores, the revenue surge was also led by brands’ shifting focus on ecommerce, which now accounts for more than a quarter of their sales, even as they face intensify competition from both local and global rivals in an increasingly crowded market where web-commerce firms continue to offer steep discounts. Over the past two years, sales growth for most retailers have been price-led, reversing the historic trend when volumes or actual demand drove a bulk of the sales.

The fashion retail segment has been struggling with a demand slowdown since January last year due to inflationary headwinds. The overall retail growth slowed down to 6% in both March and April, increasing marginally to 9% in August and September before falling slightly to 7% in October and November, according to the Retailers Association of India.

(Published in Economic Times)