The blue denim is the uniform of the world, the way we all want to look when we’re feeling easy, moving fast. It’s a way of life
Today, 43 years later, jeans, more than ever before are a fabric of our lives and a staple in wardrobes all around the world. Never has a garment had such a universal appeal. An appeal, that has lasted more than a 100 years. Why? Denims have constantly reinvented themselves to keep pace with the changing times. Denims (read jeans) have been able to achieve a stature that no other garment has been able to keep pace with.
Denims (jeans) are a badge of individuality, even if bought off the rack. As aptly said by Govind Shrikhande, Managing Director and customer care associate, Shoppers Stop, “Denim is no more a ‘youth only’ category. It is the single largest category that cuts across socio economic classes, age and sex. It represents a cool quotient.”
Denims create meaning in people’s lives. They mean different things to different people. For some they are the epitome of comfort, for some a durable and easy to maintain garment, for some a measure of whether they have gained weight or remained steady at the waistline and yet for others they’re sexy and cool.
Jeans as a category has constantly evolved with the times, stayed abreast or even created some of the latest trends, introduced new technology in its manufacturing process, reinvented the way it is sold, redefined display and experiences to match consumer aspirations.
Can department stores that sell denims afford to remain complacent and continue to meet the aspirations of their customers?
Will the current structure and style of selling denim as espoused by department Stores match consumer expectations or will they lose some of their critical consumers to other more relevant, contemporary and engaging alternatives?
Why should department stores focus on Denims at all?
1. Denims as a category is a large opportunity area: More than a 1,000 crore of denim sales up for grabs amongst large format players by 2017. According to a report by Technopak Advisors, the denim market is growing at a CAGR of 15 percent and is pegged to reach approx. `13,000 crore in 2017. Of the anticipated `6,500 crore, branded segment (2017), large format stores across the country will contribute anywhere between 12-15 percent of the overall sales of Denim brands translating to approximately `1,000 crore by 2017.Not a small figure by any measure. Not a category that anyone would want to ignore.
2. Per capita consumption of denims is increasing and in the last decade denims has seen an even wider acceptance in India. They cut across age groups (no longer just about youth), across genders, across socio-economic considerations (jeans can be available for as little as `499 to as expensive as `18,000 and beyond) and markets (both urban and small town) and yet the current denim consumption across India is just 250 million pairs; an abysmal 0.2 pairs of jeans per person in India, compared to a 1 per person in China and 8 in USA. (Source: Wazir).
The challenge really comes from the fact that Department Store consumers unlike the larger population are very close to their international counterparts in their purchase behavior.
They own more than 6-7 pairs, are constantly updated with the latest trends and want more engaging shopping experiences. So what are department stores doing to hold their attention?
Department stores realise that addressing just the basic consumer expectations will not create preference and therefore they are constantly experimenting and reinventing strategies to stay differentiated and relevant
1. Segmentation: It’s not about being young but being nifty Denims, once considered the mainstay of the youth, today cut across customer group. There is a clear strategy required to ensure that the needs of every member of the family are met – each consumer segment understood and gratified based on their needs
2. Consumer Understanding: One jean definitely does not fit all Department stores are focusing on understanding the consumption patterns of their consumer, evaluating the hierarchies involved in the decision making of denims. Data available within the stores, consumer research, information provided by brands as well as external research data are studied.
The reasons why denim is primarily bought have undergone radical changes in the last couple of years. Women’s jeans category is growing at a much faster rate 18 percent when compared to men’s jeans which is growing at a rate of 12 percent.
Department stores have a large customer base which provides them the insights into understanding their consumers better – what makes them tick and what brands really connect According to Cotton Inc’s Lifestyle Monitor the top five factors(globally) for women are 1. Fit 2. Comfort 3. Flattering look 4. Price 5. Durability The needs of the Indian woman are not very different according to most managers of the stores interviewed. Women place fit, comfort and look way above brands unless buying for special occasions.
The Indian Men on the other hand differ from their International counterparts to some extent. Indian men have a strong brand name focus which comes in number 3, after fit and comfort in the pecking order of what they look for while buying jeans.
THE STRONGER THE ANALYTICS, THE SHARPER THE BUYING, THE GREATER THE CHANCES OF A SATISFIED CUSTOMER WHO GETS WHAT HE OR SHE WANTS EVERY TIME SHE COMES TO THE STORE
The stronger the analytics, the sharper the buying, the greater the chances of a satisfied customer who gets what he or she wants every time she comes to the store.
3. Give consumers a solution: Be it through brands, private brands or labels department stores are currently able to attract a wider audience because of their focus on giving the consumer what they want. Their armory consists of brands and labels to meet expectations.
a. International and domestic brands: Create the customer pull through their advertising and communication, help build some of the environment in the store, provide trained staff and therefore are the main crowd pullers. Most of these brands are chosen on 3 key parameters:
i. Brand positioning
ii. Assortment – fit, colour, trends, size etc.
iii. Price points
b. Private labels and private brands: These share a symbiotic relationship with department stores. Each of them play to their strengths. The private brands or labels are product focused whereas the stores are focused on sales. The large format stores provide a ready customer base and data which enables these players to streamline their range and offering.
i. Plug and play on niche tastes and needs: Private labels and brands are able to produce products aligned to the specific needs of the Indian consumer, which are often not available in the repertoire of foreign brands. e.g. Embellished.
WHILE THE PRODUCT STRATEGIES SEEM TO BE IN PLACE (THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM FOR INNOVATION), IT IS THE CONSUMER ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES THAT NEED TO SHAKE UP THE CATEGORY AND WILL CREATE THE PREFERENCE FOR ONE STORE OVER THE OTHER
jeans which an International brand like Levis may not introduce but is a need of the Indian consumer for her party needs would be met by a private label or brand.
ii. Price point: These brands also help in bridging the value proposition. They are able to provide a better price- quality proposition.
iii. Profitability to retailer: These brands are able to provide better margins and profitability to the retailer. Given that they do not advertise, the department stores actually help them build their brand and equity through in-store communication, strategic placement alongside brands.
iv. Adaptability/faster turnaround time from design to store: These labels/ brands are able to adapt faster to the changing market needs, are able to design based on the pulse of the market and bring the latest fashion faster to the shop floor. They are more nimble than the larger Indian brands/International brands.
4. Promotions and Festivals: It’s all in the attitude. Department Stores over the years have been conducting some innovative promotions to attract customers. While some of the promos like ‘Do your Denim’ from Shoppers Stop encouraged consumers to experiment with their denim, today more and more promos focus on offers and freebies and nothing which helps the attitude of denim come alive. Promos too have started to get a feel of ‘sale/ discounts’.
Time to change
While the product strategies seem to be in place (there is always room for innovation), it is the consumer engagement strategies that need to shake up the category and will create the preference for one store over the other.
The markets are changing, e-commerce is redefining shopping, consumer loyalty is waning and this should be enough for Department stores to re-look some of their strategies. There is a need to break some age old traditions, experiment with some new formats, take some risks – after all the business seems worth it.
Bring back the attitude in display and selling: Denim as a category is sold on attitude, each brand has a distinct brand persona and lends itself to being sold differently . When one juxtaposes how denims are sold in individual brand stores to how they are displayed in department stores with standardization of fixtures, no strong visual display in the sections, walls and gondolas full of products stacked liked commodities, the individuality and attitude associated with denims dies a natural death.
Demolish the denim wall: The denim wall is the diagnostic sign that the shopper is in the denim section and the theory is that visual merchandising of this sort stands as a statement of sorts- if the shopper takes the time, he or she will find something to their liking. With online retailing becoming stronger showing that you have a lot is no longer going to be as strong a proposition as it was a decade back What then should and will be the new visual merchandising answer to the traditional denim wall?
Sustainable Solutions Denim brands have been moving in this direction. Maybe it’s time department stores leveraged their consumer reach to become the catalysts to movements such as “Blue Jeans Go Green”.
Beyond Jeans: When one speaks of Denim, most buyers/merchandisers immediately tell you that Denim = Jeans in this country. With Denim ( through jeans) has been able to create such as massive following is there an opportunity to take this blue fabric forward and extend it to other products… world wide jackets do well, we have seen the introduction of denim bags and shoes and there are stores which are dedicated for denim lovers to everything from recycled denim products to . Today, when across board especially with denim accessories (everything from shoes, and bags to bean bags) gaining acceptance, is it time for department stores to look at creating a denim offering beyond the conventional jeans, shirts and jackets?
In Conclusion, Department stores will have to continuously experiment and evolve in order to capture consumers attention and take a larger share of their wallet.In the future there will be no room for mediocrity for those who want to sit on the fence. The future belongs to the brave – stores who are willing to experiment, stay attuned to consumer needs, break out of the shackles of classical department store thinking and create experiences which are bigger, better and more memorable than those delivered by brands at their stand alone stores.
A case in point is the Denim Studio – the World’s largest denim department with 26,000 sq.ft. space on 3 levels at Selfridges London. Stocking 60 brands, from Primark to J Brand, Levi’s to Christopher Kane, offering jeans priced from £11 to £11,000 for a pair of jeans.
Denim lovers are served by 50 denim specialists. Denim by appointment, the denim tailor as well as the jeanius bar are things which keep denim lovers hooked once they enter. Closer home, In the late 90s, Shoppers Stop had created a brand called Blues Bizaar – a 3,000 sq. ft store for denim lovers. It stocked not only the best denim brands in the country, but also had the widest selection of denim accessories (ranging from bean bags, to shoes and bags to a camping tent. Blues Bizaar was discontinued a couple of years later. In retrospect was it way ahead of its time then and is it the right thing to re-launch today?
Stores which have the courage and are willing to believe in the future of denims are willing to put their reputation on the line like Selfridges are the one who will be able to change the game in the future.