However, as business at its network of outlets came to a standstill during the lockdown and as sales suffered even after the easing of restrictions due to low footfalls at malls and on high-streets, the online store proved to be a silver-lining.
“Business in malls and high streets are not coming back at all,” chief executive Sahil Malik said. Meanwhile, online sales have more than doubled in the last couple of months. “Online is the only saviour for us, so I am focusing on it at present as a growth channel and not just as a liquidation platform.”
The online push is coming even as the New Delhi-based company is shutting about 10% of its nearly 80 brick-and-mortar stores. Like Da Milano, a host of small-to-medium Indian brands, including Chumbak, Meena Bazaar and Metro Brands, are either shutting outlets or freezing expansions even as they are ramping up their ecommerce verticals.
“We will accelerate our omni-channel activities,” said Rafique Malik, the chairman of shoe retailer Metro. So far Metro has shut about 10 of its more than 550 stores.
The Mumbai-based company is targeting to generate 25-30% of its total business from online in the next three years, from 5% at present. It is ramping up investments in technology and has lined up a 200,000 sq ft warehousing space.
For years, most of the Indian retailers have been only doing lip services to their omni-channel strategies without much action happening on that front, but the pandemic is forcing them to go digital, analysts say. It is also helping traditional retailers in mindset shifts towards ecommerce.
For example, the management of ethnic-wear company Meena Bazaar used to be divided over the five-decades-old retailer’s investment plans in ecommerce.
“But thanks to the coronavirus, there has been a shift in everyone’s mentality and everybody’s mantra is ‘let’s focus on online’,” said Sameer Manglani, a partner at Meena Bazaar that operates 33 eponymous stores. “The underline support for online within the company now is phenomenal.”
In the pre-Covid era, Meena Bazaar would upload only about five products on an average a day on its website. That has now gone up to 50 products. In the coming months, it plans to put the whole of its inventory online.
Shubhra Chadda, the founder of Bengaluru-based Chumbak, said her stores had seen an almost 90% drop in traffic while its online sales had soared by more than three times.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, the company that sells items such as handbags, crockery, home decor and apparel used to generate around 30% of its sales online. Currently it is 70% of the Bengaluru company’s total sales.
“So, in this scenario, store expansion is out of question,” she said, adding that Chumbak was ramping up its online team and digital advertising even as the company was putting stores expansion plans on hold. It is investing a “large” sum in a technology to bring the inventory of its stores to its ecommerce site. “So, the entire approach will be online first,” she said.