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Coronavirus Impact on Indian Retail Sector: How is the Pandemic Changing Consumer Sentiments and the Shopping Experience

Jul 11, 2020 2:54 PM 3 min read

Starbucks announced it will close up to 400 stores over the next 18 months. H&M  will shut 170 of its stores across its global estate. Victoria’s Secret will permanently close about 250 stores in the US and Canada this year. Inditex, the parent company of Zara, announced plans to close up to 1,200 stores worldwide by the end of 2021. Microsoft is permanently closing all Microsoft Store locations in the US and around the world, except for four locations that will be “reimagined” as experience centers that no longer sell products.

Recent data from McKinsey says consumers are likely to maintain behaviours adopted during lockdown such as more stay-at-home shopping. While they adjust to this “new normal”, it is imperative that retailers adapt, and quickly enough. 


Pivot or Perish

The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown saw many flocking to grocery and departmental stores to stock up on the everyday essentials. Discretionary spending on apparels and others naturally dropped. Job cuts, lay offs and a slowing economy might ensure that this trend sticks for long.  

Surge in demand for groceries and household essentials also witnessed a rise in interest in local shopping, at nearby mom-and-pop stores. 

As per a survey conducted by the Retailers Association of India (RAI), shopping malls witnessed 77% de-growth in the first half of June, as compared to the same period last year. Lockdown relaxations did not prove to be of much help either.


Coronavirus Impact on Indian Retail Sector


Coronavirus Pandemic Pushing Big Offline Retailers Online

Retailers must take this opportunity to enhance their digital presence and amp up their overall online shopping experience.  

For instance, retailers can depict a single clothing item on multiple models to show what it looks like on different body shapes and sizes. They can make use of AI-enabled tech to show how a particular apparel would look on a buyer. 

Retailers can set up real-time consultation with stylists and experts, who can make recommendations, customise products, guide them through the process etc.

Genuine and verified reviews would make the entire process a lot simpler. 

Delivery should be quick. Exchange and return policies should not be convoluted. 

The idea here is to develop an overall seamless and immersive ecommerce experience from browsing to researching, selecting, purchasing, and returning/exchanging. 


Coronavirus Impact on Indian Retail Sector


Back to Store

With customers worried about the spread of infection and many now accustomed to online shopping, retailers must actively seek to attract customers.  

This would not only include establishment of a robust infection prevention infrastructure, including enhanced cleaning, sanitisation and barriers, but also adequate marketing to abate any fears a potential customer would have and regain the lost confidence. 

Ensuring hassle-free and hygienic trial rooms would be key. Contactless processing and digital payments would be yet another vital consideration. 

As per HBR

“All retailers will have to make their in-store experiences even more extraordinary for those who can visit in person.  They have to give people a reason to visit that is so compelling, it justifies their exposure to health risks and overcomes the inertia of the behaviors they adopted during the shutdown.”

Physical stores can be converted into experience centres as envisaged by Microsoft. 

Retailers can in fact draw inspiration from movie theatres, which offer movie-goers with luxury experiences, including best-in-class audio-visual experience, reclining loungers, specialty food and beverages delivered at the click of a button, lavish lobby areas, bars and more, as they complete with OTT platforms.  

The idea here is not just to stay afloat till the storm passes, rather to adopt a more proactive and innovative approach to the buying experience. For “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”, as the philosopher Sun Tzu once said!


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