Shifting the Focus to get more Focal

Shifting the Focus to get more Focal


With the lockdown we went from Essentials of Merchandising to the Merchandising of Essentials. Yamini Devpura Somani, Senior Merchandising Manager at Frendy parallels her experience with start up culture internationally and at Frendy. She also discusses the shift she has had to make from Fashion merchandising to only working with Groceries/Essentials and shares insights into the differences between the two.  

The last few months have been all about learning the new rules of safely co-existing, staying away yet staying connected and emphasizing on the basics to survive and sustain. This has been the mantra for endurance. For businesses, with an unprecedented scenario, came unparalleled strategies to strive. Survival became the core, even if it intended to adopt new ways of working, downscaling, or pivoting.

Gauging the situation, Frendy, like numerous other companies, decided to shift gears and focus exclusively on the core. Making Grocery stronger as a category, product range & consumer base was the motto, the entire team swiftly started working on. Grocery, what was previously a door-opener for the customers with several other categories to engage in, like fashion, beauty, electronics, and home & living, became the very lifeblood of the business.

With new customers being added to the Frendy family each day, we saw April as our strongest ever month in revenue and orders fulfillment, all driven exclusively from a single category. To add on, all driven only from a single city – Ahmedabad. We saw a surge of app downloads and new sign-ups, pushing customers beyond one of the big barriers to entry. Customers were impressed with the exceptional service and come-what-may attitude of the team.

My journey at 406, Shivalik Abaise, a highly energetic and motivated workplace began in December of 2019, just after 3 months of the launch of the app. It was not only the beginning of a new job but the start of an unexplored ride. A Fashion Management postgraduate from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, I have been working on merchandising for several national & international Fashion & Lifestyle brands, especially on the e-commerce side of the business. I have been privileged to have worked with diverse brands and companies and it has been an enriching journey throughout.

Associated with giant category leaders like Reliance Brands Limited & Fibre2Fashion, with set systems & processes; also with the then start-up Zivame, that had a dream to revolutionize the way Indian women shopped, but operations still being defined and refined, at the time. I worked for Brown Thomas, a 170-year-old premium luxury department store in Dublin, Ireland as a part of their multi-channel (online) team which had started soon before I joined, thus launching Lingerie & Kids categories on the BT website and handling Beauty category which accounted for 40% of the total revenue. It was a great experience working in a team with people from different countries, in a great work-culture, open & equal both in terms of opportunity and appreciation, irrespective of nationality. Working with the Frendy team, for almost 6 months now, I feel liberated to be a part of an environment similar to that of BT’s in terms of openness for ideas, motivation for initiatives, and inspiration with the energy of each one on the team.

For close to 7 years now, I have been honing my skills in making the right products available for the right audience at the right prices, building on branding and marketing strategies to the ultimate goal of selling them well. Frendy was different for me for more than one reason.  This was my first profile where I would be working on non-fashion categories, as well. This was my first assignment with an application-based business. The social e-commerce angle was also new and interesting. Not to forget, this was the first time I was supposed to be merchandising for Bharat, the core and roots for most of us. I now often have work conversations with my mom, talking to her about what new products and business strategies we are working on and it’s insightful to understand her views on it which invariably helps me understand the common customer perspective even better.

This new change was both exciting and challenging for me. Little did I know of what was approaching in the near future; that this change would be so significant, driving me to push boundaries toward working with the new major – Grocery. The pandemic situation became a major aspect of this changeover, helping me learn this new business dynamic. Three months into the business and I was working with an entirely new set of products, developing an understanding for a new category, and getting up to speed with it. I often wonder how connected/disconnected is merchandising, for these 2 worlds – Grocery & Fashion. Here are some important comparisons between merchandising for Fashion and Grocery in an online environment, especially during this time of crisis.

Prioritize Right: Normally, at this time of year when we would be curating the perfect summer wardrobe and vacation wear for our customers. Merchandise and promote setting the tone right for their dream summer holiday. Instead, we are struggling and hustling each day to get their choicest essentials and make them available in low supply – high demand scenarios.

✓ What better example than Salman Khan launching his personal care brand FRSH and bringing Hand Sanitizers as his first product into the market. He understood the need of the hour and hit the right chords making not a new movie release but a new hand sanitizer release, this Eid.

Merchandise Planning: Merchandising in this setup is majorly focussed around making things available and making sure that available things are visible with utmost ease to reduce the time spent on the platform rather than a more exploratory approach in fashion categories, where the focus is more around increasing the duration of customer interaction, which invariably helps sell more.

Talk Trends: Unlike groceries, fashion products do not expire or surpass the best before the timeline but most go out of style. Seasons and trends are a major driving force for the fashion industry. With consumers not interested in buying clothes right now, it is worrisome to think of what will happen to the existing stock of clothes building up in stores and warehouses.

✓ Fashion brands around the world are voting for clothes to have a longer life than what’s attributed to them. High fashion brand Gucci, officially abandons the traditional fashion calendar and moves to a seasonless schedule. On the other hand, Immunity boosters have become the trend talk in the Grocery business. Sales growth for health foods and immunity boosters is growing at an annual rate of 20-40% which previously was around 5-10%.

Brand Loyalty: The online fashion space is extremely competitive and cluttered. The customers are bombarded with too many choices, too many brands especially private labels. The fashion category is driven more by the look and price rather than the brand. There is a very significant representation of the rat goodwill. Grocery, on the other hand, works on brands. People have been trusting & consuming products from their preferred brand for years and this doesn’t change frequently. More so, during this time people prefer investing only in standardized products centered around their loyalty & trust.

✓ A family using Colgate, satisfied by the brand performance, would continue to use the same brand irrespective of the entry of new players in the market. Especially during the pandemic, where the major focus is on product quality, they would not opt for a cheaper replacement for an essential.

Depth vs. Width: Fashions as a category establishes its foundation on trends, choices, and variety. Customers judge a selling platform based on a wide range and options available for them to choose from. Customers would rarely/never buy a second piece of that same product. Businesses thus aim at a wide inventory base with ample choices as per the latest season or trend, for their clientele to choose unique. When it comes to grocery essentials, inventory depth is a more important aspect than width. Core favorites rather than having several options need to be stocked deeper for volume buys.

Product Choices: CoVid-19 and Lockdown have pushed consumers to divert their maximum expenditure on essentials based on their usage and necessity. Food is an essential expenditure while fashion is a discretionary purchase, whilst one can postpone the purchase of a new top almost indefinitely subject to the size of one’s wardrobe, one has to eat. People are more conscious and mindful decisions while grocery shopping whereas fashion purchases are often based on customer impulses and aspirations.

✓ People are bound to choose differently as compared to pre-CoVid times. Households have started indulging in snacks and ready to eat products. Such would be the new product choices. Restaurant outings would thus be replaced by a more trusted, hygienic & cost-effective option.

Spend Shift: When the wallets of the consumers feel a little light, it is easy to understand that spending on non-essential items will drop. Fashion taking one of the first positions on the non-essentials list. But instead of cutting out personal treats altogether, there has simply been a shift from big fashion purchases, to smaller luxury food purchases.

✓ People would invest in the ingredients for a small homemade chocolate cake to get counted in the list of luxury food shopping rather than investing in a new dress. Moreover, people are ready to spend on a relatively higher-priced grocery item rather than a decently priced dress. One would still shop for a higher-priced essential grocery product but prefer buying two ₹500 kurtas over a single ₹1000 one. And this shift is here to stay for a while in an average Indian household.

Customer Demographics: The target market for Grocery is much larger and varied as compared to the fashion market niche segmentation. Setting the tone for a huge chunk of potential customers is the core of the new marketing strategies. Fashion category tries to carve out a niche for itself while for groceries the focus is towards broadening the marketing reach.

✓ With more and more men and youth with diverse spending power coming online and hunting for groceries, women are now not the only family members buying groceries these days, as was the case in most regional households in the pre-CoVid times.

Brand Influencers: While digital media space was full of fashion enthusiasts and micro-influencers in the recent past, food recipes, skincare routines, and product reviews of essential goods have taken that limelight. Social media has become more of a reflection of people’s current lifestyle and focussed around how to make more out of what we have on hand rather than what’s new to get this season. Haven’t seen a “dress-up and look how amazing I look” kind of brand endorsement for a long time.

✓ Karan Johar’s new indoor ad campaign with Godrej Expert Rich Crème Hair Colour talks tons about the changing face of brand associations. Celebrities as big as Karan Johar promoting a consumer brand with utmost modesty, rather than a designer brand in a fancy setup represents the new narratives for the world of brand influencers.

I believe that when we come out at the other end, people’s values, perspectives, and the overall purchase decision would have been shifted. I think it’s an opportunity for all of us to be creative, develop understanding, and strategizing for the new normal and make the most for the larger business mission. And that is how “Main se Hum” shall prevail.