Retailing in India: Reopening with a New Makeover

The Indian wellness and beauty industry is reopening with new safety protocols in place and service levels aimed to win back their customers’ confidence and trust
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Posted June 26, 2020

For consumers seeking essentials during the pandemic, beauty treatments are seen as non-essential. The impact of this, for this hands-on beauty industry and practitioner, has been devastating.

The latest pre-pandemic FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry) and EY reports on the Indian wellness and beauty industry estimated the total business of salons, spas and cosmetic dermatology in India to be $4.9 billion USD in 2018 and growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 27 to 30 percent. According to the National Skill Development Council (NSDC), the total practitioner employed in the industry is estimated to be 12.31 million in 2020.The lockdown has disrupted estimations in revenues which have slid to almost nothing in the last three months.

Despite the current climate, leading players in the wellness and beauty industry have made the best of a bad situation. First, they proactively shut stores before the official lockdown was in place and then stayed connected meaningfully with their customers throughout. Industry experts estimate more than 20,000 neighborhood salons in the country were using social commerce and video calls to stay connected and sell grooming products via delivery partners.

Unlock 1.0, the latest easing of the lockdown, has permitted the reopening of stores as per stipulated government safety guidelines. A recent consumer sentiment study by Retailers Association of India and Litmus World reports an encouraging 69.59 percent of consumers preferring to shop offline for beauty, wellness and personal care products. However, 57 percent of them prefer minimal staff interaction that demands hygiene protocol, such as industry-approved Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), temperature checks, more single-use products, disposable covers and a strict code of conduct for employees and customers. Extensive staff training was given in preparation for new normal service expectations of quicker processes, near zero-touch service and use of new safety related equipment.

The way outlets are reopening, with the lifting of the lockdown, indicate how leading players have prepared their brands, workers and store environments to win the trust and confidence of their customers. Here are a few leading players who are showing how to effectively do this:

Salons: Enrich

Founded in 1997, Enrich is one of India’s largest unisex hair and beauty salon chains with 87 stores across six cities, manned by more than 1200 beauty technicians serving roughly 125,000 customers every month. Unlock 1.0 enabled about 20 percent of its stores, all standalone formats, to reopen. During the lockdown the brand took many initiatives to stay relevant. It changed its brand tag line from “Love Begins with You” to “Love Begins with Us” to signify solidarity with the community. Daily video training for staff enables them to be prepared for new service levels. Timely relocation of their call center equipment to the homes of staff enables them to provide a unique service called “Call is well” which allowed customers to call in to get complimentary video consultations from the technicians who serve them regularly. Webinars, too, were offered for groups of customers seeking specific DIY advice or information. Recently, a few of stores opened, equipped with stringent hygiene and safety protocols maintained throughout the customer journey. PPE for both customers and technicians, disposable covers, frequent sanitization and temperature scanning have become the new normal ritual for welcoming customers.

Aesthetic dermatology: Kaya

Kaya started its journey 17 years ago and today has 93 state-of-the-art clinics offering specialty skin and haircare solutions delivered by a team of expert beauty therapists and dermatologists. The brand also offers 13 distinct skincare products developed from deep research, which delivers a range of solutions. Recently Kaya reopened 86 clinics in unlocked zones operating at service rates that have dropped from eight to10 per hour to five to six per hour, owing to challenges in delivering service involving intricate procedures while following the new safety protocols. During the lockdown period, the dermatologists and therapists have been able to keep in touch with clients to offer advice on at-home skin and haircare. Their stores recently opened with best-in-class PPE and equipment to ensure protection for customers and staff. The use of special UVC lights in every therapy room ensures sanitization before and after every session. The group’s innovation cell is working on a sanitization UVC light chamber, reportedly the first of its kind, which enables non-disposable elements used in therapies like gowns, towels and accessories to be securely sanitized in bulk every day.

Spa: O2

O2 Spa, founded in 2012, is India’s largest chain of more than 100 spas, operating in 16 airports, 23 malls, 50 hotels and eight neighborhoods across 21 cities. It serves more than 1500 clients with  roughly 1000 professionally trained rejuvenators. O2 has been instrumental in revolutionizing wellness in air travel in India by including spa services as a “must have” in airport retail. This category of service is the last to get back on its feet in the beauty and wellness industry due to it being positioned as leisure or luxury on the list of needs for consumers. Recently, neighborhood stores have opened to 40 percent of their regular business, driven by relevant promotions. During the lockdown period, a survey was done with the brand’s loyalty base of 50,000 customers on their willingness to return to spas post-lockdown. The insightful findings indicate that 67 percent said ‘yes’, 30 percent  said ‘maybe’ and 3 percent answered ‘no’. Their stores opened with meticulous planning of PPE and consumables used during the sessions to build trust and confidence in returning loyal customers.

Looking ahead

Optimistic industry experts in this segment predict that as people start going out and socializing, their need for a beauty and wellness regime will move higher on their list of priorities. This is expected to drive demand and bring the industry back on its feet again. In response, established brands are leading the way in winning consumer trust and confidence by integrating uncompromised safety practices and technology-driven conveniences in their operational practices – and communicating this extensively. Hopefully, this will help create a “new” normal for the ecosystem of demand and supply that learns to coexist with and negate the unpredictable effect of the pandemic.

Acknowledgement:
Mr Bhupesh Dinger, Director, Enrich Salon
Mr Rajiv Nair, Group CEO, Kaya Limited
Ms Swapna Reddy, Co-Founder and Director, O2 Spa

Surender has more than two decades of experience in the Indian retail industry in retail strategy, store design, planning and development, retail marketing, visual merchandising, writing and academia. He’s held senior positions at leading retailers like Shoppers Stop, Reliance Retail, Mahindra Retail and as a senior retail consultant working with leading retailers and brands in India. Reach him at surenderg.retail@gmail.com.