Once upon a time, shopping was a stress buster. Now, safety and savings is a higher priority than fun and style. In important categories such as grocery, household products and apparel, consumer preferences have entirely changed with the pandemic.
In a recent study on consumer experience and customer-centricity, research organisation Kantar has rated DMart and Amazon as the best players in the grocery and apparel segments respectively. This is an intresting finding as it indicates a prominent shift in consumer preferences.
The grocery segment has several large players including Future Group and Reliance Retail
. Similarly, the apparel segment has popular players like Westside and Lifestyle in brick and mortar form. The online channels see apparel and accessory speciality sites including Myntra and Jabong from the Flipkart stable. We tried to decode Dmart and Amazon's approach that has led to their dominance in essential grocery and apparel segments during Covid-19.
Food, grocery and household goods are categories in which customers have limited choices of timing. There is a significant increase in demand for health and hygiene related products. Immunity builder products have shifted from non-essential to essentials today.
Customers are looking for reliable products at affordable prices these days. Known brands get more importance in the minds of customers. DMart has over 200 stores across the country. While other large retailers may be promoting products of their private label, DMart predominantly sells national and regional brands at favourable prices.
While private label products are more profitable for retailers, well-known national and regional brands are more trustworthy in the minds of the customers. Large retailers such as Big Bazaar and Star Bazaar offer an extensive range of products whereas Dmart provides a limited number of products and brands in its stores. In many supermarkets, shoppers get a broader range of products, to nudge them into impulse purchases. At good times, this was a great shopping experience. However, during the pandemic, shoppers are looking only for essential products offered by reliable national and regional brands. Even in basic categories of grocery and cleaning products, affordable, authentic brands are leading. Further, larger sizes are preferred to avoid the need to go to stores frequently in an unsafe environment.
Though Dmart has a large number of stores in many parts of the country, in Mumbai, which is a focal city for the company, it operates an online model in addition to its physical supermarkets: DMart Ready. These are smaller stores, comparable to typical neighbourhood kiranas, for customers to pick up their online-ordered products. While the retailer also delivers orders at the customer's doorstep, it comes at an additional charge. DMart Ready stores are basically pickup points. During the lockdown period, footfalls dropped significantly in its supermarkets, and the company had to close some of its stores. To take care of this challenge, Dmart changed its approach and started to deliver products to large societies in bulk, priced at the same cost as Dmart supermarkets. This approach enabled convenience, along with savings to the customers. The retailer has also expanded its network of delivery and pick-up points for customers.
There is an increasing interest among customers to order grocery from leading pure-play e-commerce firms like Amazon and Big Basket. However, as analysed by Kantar, DMart remains the most preferred chain for grocery.
Physically checking outfits and accessories doesn't seem to be the priority anymore, as shoppers order clothes and footwear online, with the option to exchange them as needed. With no weddings and mass parties, customers are looking for functional apparel and accessories or even masks. With such changing shopping preferences, shopping is no longer the same.
Dr. Rakhi Thakur, Associate Professor, Marketing, Bhavan’s SPJIMR (S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research)
[This article has been reproduced with permission from SP Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai. Views expressed by authors are personal.]