NewsX was recently joined by a power-packed panel of India’s biggest business leaders from the Retail & Home industry for a session on consumer behaviour. Six business leaders were part of the panel who reflected upon their learnings from the pandemic and discussed that what lies ahead for the industry in the year 2021.

The panel included Mr Mahesh M, CEO of Creaticity & Session Convenor, Mr Govind Shrikhande, Mentor & Ex-MD at Shoppers Stop, Ms Latika Khosla, Founder & Design Director of Freedom Tree Design, Mr Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO at RAI (Retailers Association of India), Ms Kavitha Krishna Rao, Country Commercial Manager at IKEA India and Mr Ashish Shah, Co-founder & COO at Pepperfry.

Addressing the pandemic, Mr Ashish Shah, Co-founder & COO at Pepperfry said, “Pandemic, of course, was a very different event for all of us. I think what it did to us is that it bought all of us sitting at home, as we spent more time at home, not only our appreciation for and liking for the living things but also, all the non-living things went up significantly. Therefore, in my mind, it did a lot of good to the category and people started thinking about the piece of sofa that should be replaced so that they can watch Netflix at home more properly, suddenly, they realized the need for having a dining table so that the family can have lunch together, etc. So just by the means of observation that people started doing at their home, the category started to benefit significantly.”

Mr Shah further said that early on, when things were opening-up in May-June-July, the way he saw it was that it was the first time in life that they got time to sit back and think about themselves. He added that this event kind of redesigned things for them.

“I think all of us here would have restated our priorities, our value systems for the future and therefore, there are very clearly called out action points that we would want to take in our lives or lead a certain way of life going ahead and I do not see that changing because I would not want to go back to times when I used to be in the office at 9.30 in the morning and leave at 11, 6 days week and working 14 hours a day, etc. I know that all of that can be accomplished through Zoom calls, being at home and also spending time with family. So I think there is a significant change in what we are now defining as our priorities. Therefore, going back to the same regime, way of working, etc, in my mind, won’t happen. So therefore in my mind, this is something which is going to stay. I think it is a very different way of consuming things, not only what we want to consume but how we want to consume and where want to consume has also changed and therefore I don’t see this going back in a short time,” said Mr Shah.

The Country Commercial Manager at IKEA India, Ms Kavitha Krishna Rao joined in the conversation and shared her views on the topic. Ms Kavitha shared two perspectives on the topic, the first one being around the pandemic and the second one was the home category in itself, despite the pandemic. Agreeing to Ashish’s statement on how people have started spending more time at their homes, Kavitha added that clearly the need for furniture and furnishing related to home has increased and it was exactly the trend they saw at IKEA as well. She said that it was not just the work from home space but there were a lot of aligned categories like cooking & eating, storage & organizing, outdoor furniture, etc where they had seen an increase in the interest among consumers. She added that there’s a lot of growth that is coming within the home category.

Putting forth her second perspective, Ms Kavitha said, “We’ve looked at a lot of reports and it talks about typical households spending about 2.5 per cent of their income on products related to home or services related to the home. This is still very low if you compare it with the global averages, which also means that as consumers begin to see how essential furniture and home furnishing is and the fact that it can actually make a difference to their everyday lives, I clearly see that the Indian household is also going to start spending much more money in the home category. So that is also the reason why I feel that this growth and this increase in interest in the category is something that is going to stay for the long term. So if you look at the next 10 years, I definitely expect that this is a category that is going to see immense growth.”

Throwing some light on “massive shifts” in the home lifestyle, Mr Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO at Retailers Association of India (RAI) said, “One of the things that we realized almost at the start of the pandemic was that suddenly everybody is refocusing on where they are. Recently, I had a chance to go out of the house and I went to one of the Shivaji Maharaj forts in Maharashtra and I was wondering if, at that time, a fort was getting created, the kings would make sure that the fort had everything inside to make sure that even if they have got somebody coming and attacking them, just being inside the fort, they can handle everything. This is what individuals felt like when they were sitting inside their houses when this whole pandemic started. Suddenly, 1000-2000-3000 square feet house became the fortresses that they were inside. This meant that every single customer was looking at that place and thinking that it’s not just my house, it’s also the place where I am going to work from, this is also the school for my kids, this is also the place from where I am going to do my gym, many also decided to make their own gardens. So I think lots of new initiatives started and then they also realized that they are talking to various people, so multiple studios were there in the house for them to do various things.”

“When someone from outside came to their house, they also had to make sure to take all kinds of precautions and that created its own protocols. So this is exactly the way people would have felt when they were sitting inside the fort in those days and this has definitely shifted. Also, the thing is that when you are sitting inside a fort and when you have to go out, you start thinking about what do I need to do to make sure that I am safe and how do I come back after accomplishing what I want to accomplish and this is what I am seeing happening to consumers. So if you look at all our retailers, the first good news is that one of the earliest categories to recover was definitely home. The ticket size has also doubled and I think that is because they were sitting in the house browsing as to what they want. The home also became the place where the discovery phase of shopping was happening, so they were thinking about various things from a digital perspective and then they were going to the store and buying whatever they wanted to buy and come back soon enough into their houses,” said Mr Rajagopalan.

Joining in the conversation around consumer behaviour, Ms Latika Khosla, Founder & Design Director of the Freedom Tree Design started her address by saying that the way things have been, there’s been no place to go but home for the last few months. She said, “People would ask earlier, there’s competition. I would not consider other home brands as a competition but your competition as somebody stops and decides to have lunch or they have got some school things to do for their children, so the budget goes into that. If there’s a vacation or there is a family wedding, the interests were distracted. At the moment, we have all been blessed that the interest is entirely on home and the lessons to learn from that have been that there’s been just an over utilisation of home, the capacity over utilisation of home.”

Latika added that she feels that the realization that its time to look after home because there are a lot of people who buy from them particularly at Freedom Tree were busy professionals and they have been blessed with this time to be able to look after their home. She said that she feels that people had realized that it was the space that nurtured them the most for when they really do need to step out.

“The two biggest shifts that really have happened for us was very quick online and offline seamlessness, anybody who came to the store, made a purchase. They were not generally browsy, they risked to come out and they would make a purchase. What surprised me the most was the unusual categories, the bigger category investments. What also surprised us was the purchases of better quality, higher-value products. I guess people are thinking that look I am buying it for myself, finally you really are investing for yourself, so those were the unexpected things,” said Latika.

Mr Govind Shrikhande, Mentor & Ex-MD at Shoppers Stop said, “Covid has been one of the worst phenomenons for working women and I think I would like to highlight it because classically a working woman was leaving home to her mates, leaving the kids to school and was then going to work peacefully. Now that she is at home, she has to take care of her own work, she has to take care of her husband, she has to take care of her home as well as the kids, so normally she works 8 hours a day is now 24 hours a day. So I think it has been one of the worst impacts, this was part one. Part two is, yes, WFH will stay on but I still believe that human beings are social animals, we love touch, we love feel, we like to talk to people so we cannot be stuck in a fortress. There’s a great word in Marathi, “Natyabhoomi”, it’s called “Firta Rangmanch”. So in Marathi when you say firta rangmanch, the same drawing hall suddenly becomes a playground, the same playground becomes a kitchen and the same kitchen becomes a school which is what it is.”

Mr Shrikhande further said that certain things that were luxury till yesterday have become a necessity today, some wants that were really wants yesterday have become needs today, for example, now that the maids were not coming, a dishwasher became a permanent part of people’s home.

Reflecting upon the change in consumer behaviour, Mr Govind said that all the additions actually became a need from a luxury earlier and that is the change in consumer behaviour.

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