Sushmita Balasubramaniam
Practice Head-South Asia – Kantar Shopping Insights

The Indian consumer landscape is in the midst of transformational change. We can look at millennials, with their growing independent earning power, as one facet of India’s so-called demographic dividend. Young and economically productive Indians represent a potentially massive segment of demand. Their presence in the market is accelerating greatly the pace of innovation in technology. These structural changes, occurring during a period of social and cultural churn, are leading to significant changes in the consumer mindset, including in the needs, triggers and influences that shape the path to purchase.

In this session of the Retail Jeweller India Forum 2018 (RJIF), Sushmita Balasubramaniam, practice head–South Asia, Kantar Shopper-Insights, outlined these key changes and analysed their impact on shopper behaviour and jewellery retail.

Change-drivers

Balasubramaniam described how consumer preferences in jewellery retail are shifting gradually from pieces that are heavy in weight to those that focus on design. Rapid advances in consumer technology are fuelling a boom in media consumption. The same factors are also driving women’s empowerment and other socio-economic change. “The individualistic behaviour of people indulging in jewellery is noticeable,” she said, as people have begun to value a personal connect to their jewellery.

“There is an [overlap] of online and offline platforms today, with respect to research and purchase,” she said. “Available technology is driving the trend towards customisation in jewellery.”

Ecommerce is a great leveller, said Balasubramaniam. Nearly half of all online shoppers in this country, she said, are located in towns with a population of about 1 million. To this noteworthy statistic she added a counterintuitive statement: male shoppers are instrumental in shaping the e-retail landscape.

The impact on brands

This changing consumer landscape is having a disproportionate effect on brands whose offerings vary from one outlet to another across a city. Based on demand in each locality, such micro-targeting allows a brand, as Balasubramaniam said, to “evolve location-specific retail strategies”.

This kind of localised strategy is routine, she said, but it clashes with the present age of ecommerce — which requires a retailer to develop a consistent brand experience. Balasubramaniam argued that retail in small-town India is booming because that market has gained access to national and international brands. Despite the significant differences between metropolitan and small-town retail environments, these brands strive to give their customers a uniform brand experience.

Consumers, wherever they may live, are intensely brand-aware. While citing the example of a big departmental store from where customers shop several brands, she said, “they may experiment with a secondary brand for some specific product, but will remain loyal to their (primary) point of purchase (the departmental store)”. This applies to jewellery as well.

On sale days such as Akshaya Tritiya and Dhanteras, she said, “our core customers are the ones who return to us for shopping. Achieving that brand loyalty should be every retailer’s goal.” Loyalty is not a privilege exclusively of long-standing brands. Offering the example of Patanjali Ayurved, a young but fast-growing FMCG brand, Balasubramaniam suggested that Indian consumers today, to varying degrees, want to feel a connection with authenticity and “tradition” through the products they buy. The same holds true in the case of antique, vintage and tribal jewellery, she said; these are good areas for retailers to experiment in.

Balasubramaniam went further, explaining that the recourse to traditionalism is not sufficient in itself. Jewellers should also innovate, she said, in new lines of design, novel combinations of materials and affordable jewellery to entice customers to shop a bit more. Reward points or discounts based on previous purchase, she said, are another approach that may help build consumer loyalty for jewellers.

“Aspirational loyalty” and exclusivity, she said, are key areas for retailers to work on. She recommended, “reducing broad-brush discounting, or limiting the practice to a few outlets at a time, so as to retain customer trust and protect demand.”

In addition to such steps, she said, jewellers should simplify the choices they offer to consumers. They should strengthen their brand by revamping their stores regularly, focusing on look and feel. They should ensure that, “each customer’s engagement and familiarity with the brand continues long after the purchase, with well-designed after-sales services that continue to build brand value, she said.

Balasubramaniam also reminded her audience that Indian jewellers have the opportunity to use technology creatively to provide a superior customer experience. She offered an instructive example, from a premium product category that, like jewellery, combines tradition with precision and a high degree of personalisation: eyeglasses and frames.

“Nowadays, [interactive] mirrors can give you style recommendations,” she said. “For instance, a Sweden-based eye-care company has opened a store in Hyderabad where shoppers can experience the products and get to know the brand heritage. This can help turn potential customers into actual customers.”

In India, she said, “many brands and products have a glorious back story”. This new interactive mirror technology should be a blessing for jewellery retailers, she added, because it can combine informative engagement (presenting a product’s back story and brand’s heritage) with personalisation (style advice).

Changing path-to-purchase

Modern retailers cannot afford to ease up on engagement with their customers. Balasubramaniam urged the jewellers in her audience to stay in contact with their customers through multiple channels or touchpoints. A bricks-and-mortar store and ecommerce are not unconnected arms of a retail business, she said; the two must go together to make a retailer effective and ease the consumer’s path to purchase.

The presentation concluded with a brief survey of big data as a pathway to offering consumers a more personalised and interactive experience. “Past purchase records, analytics, data from searches on websites, and cart abandonment,” Balasubramaniam said, can be used to produce “a more curated inventory that will attract more potential customers.”

The most obvious way to engage with consumers is, of course, via social media. “A prominent online presence is mandatory,” she said, so that a brand can leverage “the many social-media influencers and celebrities who have active followers, and in time build up its own customer base.”