Venture Capital in Retail – What Attracts Investors to Retail Business (VIDEO)

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February 15, 2024

An insightful must-watch discussion, moderated by Devangshu Dutta (Founder, Third Eyesight), with venture capital fund managers, investors and entrepreneurs in retail on what factors attract investors to retail businesses.

The panelists included Vikram Gupta (Founder & Managing Partner, IvyCap Ventures), Amar Nagaram, (Co-Founder, Virgio), and Vikram Gawande (Vice President, Growth, Blume Ventures).

Top global apparel brands and retailers doubled sales in India over the past two years

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January 5, 2024

Sagar Malviya, Economic Times

January 5, 2024

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.

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, latest filings with the Registrar of Companies showed. 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,” said Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight, a strategy consulting firm. “Also, these brands have not yet reached saturation point in terms of network and hence can invest further to widen their reach.”

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.

“Spends are shifting to experience, holidays and big ticket purchases such as cars. Stronger retailers which had the right product to price proposition works for consumers who are not necessarily looking at brands from global and local lens. What helped our sales was product rationalisation, renovation of stores as well as our value proposition,” said Manish Kapoor, managing director at Pepe Jeans that clocked 54% growth to Rs560 crore in FY23. “The current fiscal has been muted and we expect election spending and improved sentiment to drive recovery next fiscal.

As the world’s second most-populated country, India is an attractive market for aspirational apparel brands as rising disposable incomes cause the consuming base of the pyramid to broaden further. “The Indian economy is on course to be among the top economies in the world. The key factors driving the India consumption story include a large proportion of young population, rising urbanization, growing affluence, increasing discretionary spending and deeper penetration of digital,” said Levi Strauss in its latest annual report.

Last year Levi’s said India is now the largest market for them within Asia and sixth largest globally while M&S said it is opening a store every month in India, already its largest international market outside home in terms of store network.

(Published in Economic Times)

Campa-Cola’s second coming: Reviving a dead brand

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September 5, 2022

Akanksha Nagar, Financial Express
September 5, 2022

Can you give a brand a second shot at life?

Reliance Retail Ventures certainly thinks so. It has acquired Campa-Cola for an estimated `22 crore from Delhi-based Pure Drinks Group on the assumption that it will not only be able to revive the five-decade-old brand but can also use it to springboard into the dog-eat-dog soft drink market in India.

It will not be a cakewalk surely. The ones who were fans of the brand—which was launched in the 70s—have moved on, and younger customers have little or no association with the brand.

Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, believes that Reliance must have been very keen on getting into the soft drinks category as a part of its overall strategy of retail expansion. In any case, it hasn’t had to shell out a bomb for the brand so it is a less audacious gambit than starting from scratch. There is one other factor that might work in its favour—which is the formula, the taste of which had near widespread acceptance in its heyday.

Sandeep Goyal, managing director, Rediffusion Brand Solutions, who is handling a similar resurrection of Garden Vareli sarees, says giving an old brand like Campa-Cola a new life will be far from easy—the Campa-Cola generation is now in their sixties and therefore there is very little monetisable value in the nostalgia.

RESURRECTION RULES

Breathe life into an old brand if:

1. The market presents an opportunity to refresh the brand without compromising on its core promise

2. There are positive connotations for the brand that can be built upon in the current market context

3. The company has the resources and inclination to be a “caretaker” or “steward” of the relationship that had been created between the brand and its customers

Courtesy: Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight

Launch versus resurrect

From the looks of it, Campa-Cola will have to fight sip for sip, bottle for bottle.

Rohit Ohri, chairman and CEO, FCB Group India, who had managed the Pepsi account for more than a decade, says it will be difficult for a new brand to find space in a market dominated by multinationals like Pepsi and Coke. While the residual equity can help get the foothold, the real challenge would be to woo a younger consumer set.

Naresh Gupta, co-founder and CSO, Bang In The Middle, concurs: “When you try to resurrect a brand, you do it knowing that the brand isn’t doing well or has been out of circulation. That is big baggage for the brand to wipe out. Often the residual awareness and following are limited to the audience that is less likely to be your core audience today.”

There is also the fact that young people in the metros are moving away from colas, preferring healthier drinks or niche artisanal products instead. At the same time, soft drink is an impulse category and needs a large dose of salience to fly off the shelf.

Gupta says Reliance can try and build on the Indian-ness that Campa-Cola exudes. His guess is the old brand will be used as a calling card in trade and there would be a host of new launches that build upon it. “Campa-Cola may fuel a lot more fresh fizzy drinks launch from Reliance,” he adds.

That said, just the sheer time an old brand has spent on the shop-shelves would give Campa-Cola an edge over any new brand that its current owner might want to launch. An old brand can appear to be proven, experienced and secure, while a new brand could be seen as untested, raw, and risky. An old brand may have had a positive relationship with the consumer but may have been dormant due to strategic or operational reasons. In such a case, reviving the brand is clearly a good idea, says Devangshu Dutta, chief executive, Third Eyesight.

Reliance could have launched a new brand but if the existing brand has residual awareness or connection, it could be the pivot around which other brand properties can be built. Here, the new owner also has the benefit of having a wide retail network. As on March 31, 2022, Reliance Retail operated 15,196 stores across 7,000-plus cities with a retail area of over 41.6 million sq ft. This, if nothing else, will give Campa-Cola a start any new brand will die for.

(Published in Financial Express)

With ‘house of brands’ model, ABFRL eyes foray into D2C market

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June 24, 2022

Written By Christina Moniz

Prashanth Aluru, a former Facebook and Bain hand, will be behind the steering wheel for this venture

The Aditya Birla Group has just announced the launch of its ‘house of brands’ business entity, TMRW, to support digital fashion and lifestyle brands. TMRW, which will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Aditya Birla Fashion & Retail (ABFRL), aims to build and buy over 30 brands in the next three years, the company said in a statement.

With this move, the company expects to make its entry into the D2C market, which is expected to be reach $100 billion by 2025. “What a brand like Shoppers’ Stop does in brick and mortar, ABFRL is doing online. While in the past, the company was known for certain brands, it is now pivoting itself towards a wider pitch with bigger variety of brands that could potentially appeal to a wider range of consumers,” said Ankur Bisen, senior partner and head, food and retail, Technopak Advisors. The launch could be ABFRL’s next step in positioning itself as a fashion major, he said.

Prashanth Aluru, a former Facebook and Bain hand, will be behind the steering wheel for this venture.

ABFRL will compete with start-ups like the Good Glamm Group and Mensa Brands, among others. The number of D2C brands and online sellers in the country have grown over the last couple of years, and experts believe that TMRW could be the company’s endeavour to become relevant to new-age consumers. Brands like Reliance Retail and Myntra are going down the same path, says Bisen.

The opportunity is immense; according to a report by IMARC Group, the Indian textile and apparel segment reached $151.2 billion in 2021 and is set to grow at a CAGR of 14.8% between 2022 and 2027.

ABFRL, which has a network of over 3,300 stores across India, is home to brands like Pantaloons, Van Heusen, Louis Philippe and Allen Solly, and has partnerships with labels like Forever 21, American Eagle and more recently, Reebok. The retail company has also forayed into the ethnic wear business and has forged strategic partnerships with designers such as Sabyasachi, Masaba and Shantanu & Nikhil.

Having reported losses for the last three years, the company narrowed its losses to `108.72 crore in FY22 on the back of revenues of `8,136.22 crore. The company reported a 55% surge in revenues during the last fiscal. While Madura Fashion & Lifestyle contributed 68.4% to the company’s FY22 revenue, the remainder 31.6% came from Pantaloons, according to Bloomberg data.

Ambi Parameswaran, author and founder of Brand-Building.com, said ABFRL has already built a good retail presence for the brands in its portfolio. “There must be significant synergies at the back end, but the brands are managed separately,” he said. “I suppose the new venture, TMRW, will offer all these brands as well as all the other ethnic brands that ABFRL has acquired in the last three years.”

He said the synergies will probably lie at the back end with supply chain, logistics, finance and HR. However, the brands will most likely be given the space to build strong individual identities.

This is not the company’s first foray into the e-commerce space. ABFRL shut down its e-commerce venture, ABOF (All About Fashion) in 2017, though in August last year, it said the brand would be made available on Flipkart and Myntra.

A concept like ‘house of brands’ is potentially beneficial to both — the large conglomerates and also to the smaller, emerging brands that are acquired. In a D2C framework, niche brands that would otherwise find it difficult to navigate the established multi-layered distribution and retail channels see greater feasibility in connecting with their customers directly through digital channels.

According to Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy Third Eyesight, this makes it viable to launch a product range, which would not be immediately entertained in established channels, and allows them to retain their distinctiveness. With the passage of time and with their growth, some of these brands could also expand into established modern retail and traditional retail formats and to a more mainstream audience.

“Large companies, on the other hand, can find it difficult to grow their existing brands beyond a certain pace, and often may not be able to break new ground in terms of product development and customer experience. At some point, inorganic growth by acquiring other businesses and brands becomes an important element of their strategy,” Dutta said.

The house of brands model, to be sure, comes with its fair share of challenges. Angshuman Bhattacharya, EY India partner and national leader – consumer products and retail, said the strategy must have clear synergies from an operations and distribution perspective. “Possible challenges could emanate out of the non-compatibility of categories with the distribution. Another potential challenge could be in supporting multiple brands with marketing investments, failing which the realisable value envisaged during acquisition could stay unfulfilled,” Bhattacharya said.

The other downside, as Dutta pointed out, is that over time there is consolidation of market power within a handful of companies. This has happened across the globe and across sectors, and can negatively impact consumer choice, supplier dynamics and pricing.

Source: financialexpress

Retail Wasn’t Born Yesterday

Devangshu Dutta

August 17, 2019

Retail is such a pervasive and dynamic a sector of the economy, that it is impossible to identify a single point at which modernisation began. I’ve met countless people who perhaps entered the retail sector during the last 15 years, and who mark the beginnings of modern retail around then. There is no doubt that there has been an explosion of investment in retail chains in the last 2 decades, but we need to acknowledge the foundation on which this development is built. The current titans of the sector are standing on the shoulders of previous giants who have created successes and failures from which we are still learning.

This piece is not an exhaustive history of the evolution of the retail business in India, nor a census of all the brands operating in this sector, but the aim is to capture the flavours of the phases of development. (PDF available here to download.)

Early Years

If we were to trace back the growth of “organised” retail (mind you, I dislike that word!) or modern retail to the first retail chains, we will have to cast our mind back more than a hundred years. While many businesses of that time have disappeared, a few pioneers continue to survive, straddling three eras: the British Raj, the Socialist Raj and the Liberalised Lion economy. The businesses that continue to stand, having been through multiple transformations, include:

  • Higginbotham’s (1844) – beginning from Madras (now Chennai), it spread to Bangalore, and then to other locations and is known around southern India.
  • Spencer’s (1863) – one of the earliest grocery retailers to grow into a chain across undivided India, it moved to Indian ownership in the 1960s and was acquired by the RPG Group in the late 1980s.
  • AH Wheeler (1877) – launched from Allahabad Railway Station, it has been operating from railway stations (along with Higginbotham’s in some locations) – while it lost its monopoly in 2004, it has certainly played a key role in the growth of paperbacks and magazines in the country, keeping passengers company across billions of kilometres of rail travel.
  • Nilgiri’s (1905) – started with a small shop in Tamil Nadu focussed on dairy products and other groceries, it expanded to a large store in Bangalore in 1936 led by the founder’s son, and then spread across the southern states with a well-established reputation in dairy, bakery and poultry products. In recent times it has been acquired by the Future Group.

Fifty Years of Independence

The 1950s and 1960s remained fertile times, post-Independence and before the heavy-handed Socialist Raj truly began squeezing the life out of Indian businesses. Leading textile companies such as DCM, Bombay Dyeing and Raymond, and footwear companies such as Bata and Carona established chains of retail stores including company-operated stores as well as authorised dealers operating under the companies’ banners.

The 1980s brought the Asian Games, colour television, and a new up-to-date car model to India, all marks of a new vibrancy. Over the 1980s, a new retail wave was led by indigenous ventures such as Intershoppe (launched by a fashion exporter), Little Kingdom and The Baby Shop (children’s products), Nirula’s (fast food) and Computer Point (home computers, PCs and accessories). Many of these were certainly ahead of their time: the critical mass of consumers had yet to develop, the business infrastructure was inadequate, and funding norms were unsuitable to the capital-hungry business of retail. Unlike the textile companies that had large manufacturing and trading businesses, these new retailers were like shooting stars, glorious but visible for only a short period of time. This period, unfortunately, also witnessed the degeneration and disappearance of some of the older stalwarts such as DCM and Carona that were beset by labour disputes, management issues and disconnection from the transforming market.

Numero Uno, an indigenous denim brand, was launched in 1987 soon after VF’s American denim brands were launched, and it took nearly a decade for Numero Uno to reach other geographies in India. Nirula’s, one of the oldest fast food restaurant chains based in North India, expanded across the Delhi NCR in the 1980s and 1990s, and also explored other cities, albeit with mixed success.

Future Group, which today has a large retail and consumer brand portfolio, launched trousers under the name Pantaloons in 1987, initially as a distributed brand, and then denimwear under the brand name Bare. Within a few years the company also launched exclusive stores by the same names, to provide focussed visibility to the brands. About a decade of growth later, the group launched its first large format store under the Pantaloons name, but by now covering a much wider range of products, which became its launch pad for achieving scale.

The RPG group that had acquired Spencer & Co. relaunched it in 1991 in a spanking, new format as Spencer’s in Bangalore, and a short few years later rebadged it again as Foodworld in a joint-venture with a foreign partner. It subsequently went on to launch other formats such as Musicworld and Health & Glow.

Also in 1991, the Rahejas converted an old cinema into a department store, Shoppers Stop, aiming to provide an international shopping experience, although initially focussed on menswear. The store added women’s and children’s sections in subsequent years and the second store was launched four years later after the first one. Subsequent large scale retail expansion only came about towards the end of 1990s.

Little Kingdom is a notable example that I would like to dwell on briefly (partly for the purely personal reason that it was my first retail job!). The business was launched in 1987, headed by alumni of the illustrious IIMs around the country, built on processes and IT systems that could have been the envy of many retailers even 25 years later. The company – Mothercare India Limited – was the first purely retail company to start up and launch a public issue in 1991. During the early 1990s, it was the largest retail chain present across the country, in its categories. In 1991, it also attempted to bring the first home computer, Spectrum, to forward-thinking parents through a mix of in-store sales and door-to-door direct-selling. It was admittedly one of the first to expand internationally, opening a franchise store in Dubai in 1992. During its short life, the team launched multiple brands and formats, including Little Kingdom, Ms (a womenswear brand), The Baby Shop, and became a partner to the international giant VF Corporation’s Healthtex children’s brand and Vanity Fair lingerie brand in India. But, by the mid-1990s – financially overstretched between multiple brands and formats, and backward integration into manufacturing – it was gone.

Physical retail was not the only avenue being explored for growth during these decades. An Indian company imagined replicating the success of western catalogue companies, and launched the Burlington’s mail order catalogue retail venture and even became a joint-venture partner of one of the world’s largest catalogue retailers, Otto Versand (Germany). Other models included direct sales business, such as the Eureka Forbes introducing vacuum cleaners through demonstration parties (which was emulated for the Spectrum home computers mentioned above). With the growth of private television channels, products also began being promoted during non-peak hours through infomercials, though serious TV shopping was still a few years away, coming up in the mid-2000s with dedicated teleshopping channels.

The Foreign Hand and Corporate Retailing

The 1980s and 1990s also saw the launch of international brands from global giants such as VF Corporation (Lee, Wrangler, Vanity Fair, Healthtex), Coats Viyella (Louis Phillippe, Van Heusen, Allen Solly), Benetton (UCB and 012), Levi Strauss, Lacoste, Reebok, adidas, Pepe and Nike, grocery retailers such as Nanz (a three-way German-US-Indian partnership) and Dairy Farm International (with RPG Group’s Spencer’s Retail) and Quick Service formats such as Domino’s, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Baskin Robbins and KFC.

India was reopening to business, global management consultants were writing glowing reports about the untapped potential of the (mythical) 200 million middle-class customers and global retailers wanted to own part of the action.

Due to the lack of large-format stores and suitable environments, international brands that entered the Indian market during this phase needed to create exclusive stores to ensure that the brand could be communicated holistically to the consumer, in an environment that was more in the brand’s control, and many of them were, in a sense, “forced” to become retailers in India.

However, around 1996, a very senior member of the cabinet is reported to have said, “Do we need foreigners to teach us how to run shops?” It was an unexpected condemnation, coming as it was from a person and a party otherwise seen as champions of an open economy. It slammed the doors shut to foreign investment and, to my mind, the sector is still yet to fully recover from that ban and the policy contortions that have come over the years to allow international brands and retailers to play a more active role in the market.

Internal weaknesses compounded the decline or exit of some of the businesses. Nanz folded due to various operational challenges and lack of adequate experience. British retailer Littlewoods’ wholly-owned subsidiary pulled out of the market due to problems back home, and in 1998 sold the sole store to the Tata Group, which eventually renamed it Westside.

Despite the early hiccups, India continued to attract international players on account of the high growth and changing social norms. Not only was there greater purchasing power available amongst more Indian consumers, there was a shift in consumer attitude from saving to spending. Several brands, including fashion, luxury and quick service formats, entered the market through licensing, franchising, and joint ventures.

During this period the domestic retail market also drew in more corporate houses, attracted by the apparently abundant market opportunity for them to mine alone or to act as a gateway for foreign companies interested in India. Most were significant diversifications from their existing businesses.

Tobacco, paperboards, agri-commodities and hospitality conglomerate ITC ventured into retailing through Wills Lifestyle and as well as its rural initiative e-Choupal in 2000, followed by John Players and Choupal Sagar respectively. Pantaloon Retail launched a partial hypermarket format Big Bazaar in 2001 and went on to Food Bazaar in 2002, Central in 2004, Home Town and Ezone in 2006. Reliance entered in 2006 with multiple stores of Reliance Fresh being opened simultaneously and over the next few years the company expanded through multiple formats such as Reliance Mart, Reliance Digital, Reliance Trendz, Reliance Footprint, Reliance Wellness, Reliance Jewels to name a few. Telecom major Bharti set up a joint-venture with Wal-Mart at the back end, while the Tata group tied the knot with Woolworths and Tesco in two separate businesses supplying its retail stores, even as it expanded its successful watches and jewellery businesses, as well as Westside.

Even a retail operation like Fabindia, born as an export surplus outlet of a handicraft product business found investors to back a rapid expansion spree, becoming more of a corporate retailer than a front-end for producer organisations and craftspeople.

Through the 1990s and beyond, the market remained in ferment. In 1997 Subhiksha, a small modern retail format for food and grocery was launched. Venture-funded Subhiksha expanded rapidly and over the next decade grew to 1,600 outlets. However, in 2009 the business closed down owing to a severe cash crunch, amidst accusations of criminal mismanagement and fraud.

New product areas emerged highlighting the pace of change of lifestyles, cafes prominent among them. Café Coffee Day opened its first store in 1998 in Bangalore and became the largest organised coffee chain in India by far, though it is now living under the shadow of the recent death of its founder. Barista was also launched in 1999 as India’s Starbucks-wannabe, found its footing, scaled up and lost its way, going on to be sold to Tata Coffee and the Sterling Group, who turned it over to the Italian coffee company Lavazza in 2007, who also exited seven years later. Its current owner, the Amtex Group, is itself going through financial troubles in some of its key businesses.

In the last two decades, while some retailers have gone out of business due to unrealistic business plans, mismanagement or lack of funds, most have taken opportunities to rationalise their operations by shutting down unviable or underperforming locations, aligning businesses to market needs, assessing their brand consistency across various touch points, improving organizational capabilities right down to front-line staff, and focusing on unit productivity.

It’s not just Indian retailers that have faced trouble. Foreign brands have had their own share of problems – some have overestimated the market, or their own relevance to the Indian consumer, while others have had misalignment with their Indian franchisees or joint-venture partners. A number of foreign brands and retailers have also churned partners, or exited the market outright, but most remain committed and invested in the market for the long-haul. The last few years have also seen the successful launch and humongous growth of global leaders such as Zara and H&M, even mass-market Chinese retailers like Miniso, as well as the largest investment commitment made by Ikea (about US$2 billion).

Showing on a Screen Near You

The late-1990s also witnessed a dotcom frenzy that led to a plethora of travel sites, and a few product sales businesses such as Fabmall, Rediff and Indiamart.

However, the online market lacked critical mass in the 1990s and early-2000s. Despite apparent advantages of the online business model, success depended on internet penetration (low!), the appearance of value-propositions that were meaningful to Indian consumers (questionable), investments in fulfilment infrastructure (lacking) and the development of payment infrastructure (regulation-bound). Malls and shopping centres – the new temples of retail – seemed to be sucking up all of the consumer traffic, in any case.

By the mid-2000s the business had reached just about Rs 8-9 billion (US$ 180-200 million), despite 25 million Indians being online. Dotcoms became labelled dot-cons, with an estimated 1,000 companies closing down. However, multiple changes took place in the mid-2000s, among them being the price disruption of the telecom market and explosion of mobile connectivity, as well as a renewed funding appetite among venture funds.

This laid the path for growing the second crop of ecommerce in India. Billions of dollars of investment was poured into creating India’s Amazon wannabes, the high streets ran red by ecommerce-fuelled discounts, aggressive advertising budgets (most promoting discounts) and mergers/acquisitions pushed through by venture investors.

After more than a decade of the second coming, India’s ecommerce business accounts for a market share of total retail in the low single digits. India’s Amazon – if one can call it that – is the Flipkart group, now owned by Walmart, bought at an eyepopping $21 billion valuation and still bleeding cash, and the runner-up is relentless Amazon that continues its aggressive push to own what could be one of the three largest markets in years to come. The Chinese internet giants Tencent and Alibaba are also trying to hack piece off the market, having fulfilled their aim of kicking out Western competitors from their home market.

However, the wild card has just been played by the Reliance Group – having moved from textiles to fibre to oil, the group has made its move into telecom and data (didn’t someone say, “data is the new oil”?). It has strategically pushed handsets and cheap data plans into the hands of the consumers and, according to the latest announcement on Jio Fiber, will soon offer High Definition or 4K LED television and a 4K set-top-box for free. The play is to grab as much of the customer’s share of spend on products and services (including entertainment) as possible.

Looking Ahead

Possibly the biggest driver of modern retail in the coming years will be the shift in the demographic structure of the country. The young consumers who are joining the workforce now are a distinctly different set from previous generations. This is a generation that has grown up in the liberalised economy and has been exposed to innumerable choices since their childhood. The most important factor is that these consumers are increasingly located outside the top 10 or 20 cities in the country, and are becoming more accessible as both physical and virtual access improves for them.

A large number of them may have only occasionally, or perhaps never, experienced modern retail first hand while they were growing up, but they have seen this upmarket environment emerge before them and are not shy of spending within it, even if it is only on select special occasions. Most of them are handling mobile phones (even if it is their parents’) while still in school and being socially active online even on the go. Certainly most of them have hardly ever visited tailors, growing from one set of ready-to-wear clothes to another. It is this set of young consumers whose outlook and habits will drive retailing very differently in terms of product categories and services in the future.

There is another significant set of consumers whose number is swelling annually: that of working women. As they add to the discretionary household income available to spend, they gain influence in purchase decisions, and with them the entire household’s lifestyle also undergoes a shift. There is a greater demand of time-saving solutions and convenience products to make their lives easier. Modern retail environments where their various needs can be taken care of under one roof, and convenience pre-packaged products are natural winners in this shift. Ready-to-wear products for women, grooming, beauty and personal care, women-oriented media products, processed foods and eating out get a boost. Another important shift is that, due to busier lifestyles, they are time-crunched and more likely to rely on branded products and services that they can trust. However, given the nascent stage of the market, these brands could just as well be retailers’ own labels, if they are managed well.

In terms of business, significantly greater efficiency needs to be achieved, both at the front-end and in head office and supply chain operations. Process and system-led planning and execution needs to become the norm. With India’s burgeoning population, people are treated as a cheap resource: on the contrary, each extra person can be expensive beyond just their salary cost to the organisation. Each extra person adds some friction to decision making, reducing the responsiveness of the business. Smart business will begin to realise this, and look closely at employee efficiency and effectiveness in the context of the overall business, rather than just in terms of individual costs.

Even as the retail business in India is far from saturation, and fragmented growth continues, the business will also undergo consolidation simultaneously, as large scale retail operations are enormously capital intensive. Mergers will be a strategy that will be explored to improve the viability of many businesses in this sector.

Should you be tempted to think that, squeezed between large corporates, international retailers and ecommerce giants, it’s “Game Over” for smaller domestic retailers and brands, let me say that the India retail story is not only not over yet, but continues to be written and rewritten. As the market grows and matures, retail businesses also need to differentiate themselves, investing more in product selection or even product development through private label growth to help them stand out in the market. A one-size-fits-all strategy doesn’t work in a country as diverse as India. For the size of the market, we have surprisingly few brands, many of them virtually indistinguishable from their competitors. Development on this front, of indigenous brands and product development capabilities, is an absolute must.

The good news is that already there is more talent available than ever before. Most importantly this management pool has experience of the retail sector not just in good times but during (many) downturns as well.

Eventually, what is needed is a mix that will be healthy for India’s ecosystem at large for a long time to come. This will not be delivered by a blind transplantation of international templates or a rapid-fire expansion across the country, nor by fearful protectionism or regional parochialism. It will only be achieved by the evolution of market-appropriate business models and a mature approach that can be make the Indian retailers robust enough to grow not just domestically, but possibly even globally over time.