From slow demand to rising discount, how 2020 will pan out for retailers


December 27, 2019

Devangshu Dutta talks about how 2020 could see retailers get inventive to drive footfall and sales

Written By Guest

Remember the year 2000? After Y2K passed safely, that year some optimistic analysts predicted that India’s modern retail chains would reach 20% market share by 2015. Two years after that, another firm declared that modern retail will be at around that level in 2020 — but wait! — only in the top nine cities in the country. Don’t hold your breath: India surprises, constantly. As many have noted, “predictions are tough, especially about the future!” What we can do is to reflect on some of this year’s developments that could play out over the coming year.

The discount wave

In many minds, 2019 may be the ‘Year of the Recession’, plagued by discounting; but that demand slowdown has been brewing for some time now. However, there’s another under-appreciated factor that has been playing out: while small, independent retailers can flex their business investments with variations in demand, modern retail chains need to spread the business throughout the year in order to meet fixed expenses and to manage margins more consistently.

To reduce dependence on festive demand, retailers like Big Bazaar and Reliance have been inventing shopping events like Sabse Sasta Din (Cheapest Day), Sabse Sachi Sale, Republic Day/ 3-day sale, Independence Day shopping and more for the last few years. In e-commerce, there’s Amazon’s Freedom Sale, Prime Day, and Great India Festival; and Flipkart’s The Big Billion Days sale. This year, retailers and brands went overboard with the Black Friday sale, a shopping event concept from the 1950s in the US linked to a harvest celebration marked by European colonists of North America.

We can only expect more such invented and imported events to pepper the retail calendar, to drive footfall and sales. The consumer has been successfully converted to a value-seeking man-eater fed on a diet of deals and discounts. With no big-bang economic stimuli domestically and a sputtering global economy, we should just get used to the idea of not fireworks, but slow-burning oil lamps and sprinklings of flowers and colour through the year. Retailers will just have to work that much harder.