Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beginning of the End...




I was in Germany for a month in June 2008. Not on a holiday, but on a mission. I was part of a five member team sponsored by The Rotary International that visited the Stuttgart region as Cultural Ambassador of India to spread friendship and strengthen business relationship between the two countries. We weren’t on vacation but as guests in the houses of German Rotarians. It was a fabulous four weeks and we learnt a lot about the country while also sharing the greatness of our own homeland. During the course of the stay, I had the opportunity to visit a couple of Retail points – a Hypermarket, a Supermarket, a Mall, a famous High Street and a Factory Outlet city. During my course of interactions with various people within the Retail business and outside, I learned one thing – consumers are the same world over! Irrespective of their origin or culture, what they seek when they buy something is the same – “value”. They could have grown up shopping and aspiring for various brands across borders and cultures, but the most important thing that they seek is the product should deliver value and the brand has to stand for its stated attributes. The city that I am referring to is Metzingen, famous for its factory outlets, attracting people from all over the world. Hugo Boss, which was founded in Metzingen and still has its headquarters there, started first with its factory outlet and was soon followed by other companies (e.g. Armani, Joop, Strenesse, Escada, Bally, Puma, Adidas, Reebok, etc.) who offer a range of their clothing and accessories at reduced prices. I was told that shoppers visit this city in large groups and spend a lot of time and money. All this, in the country of Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes!


It’s quite common to see Retailers and Brands mark-down and sell their products after the season cycle is over. Typically, the fashion cycle is aligned to climatic conditions – Spring Summer from Feb – July and Autumn Winter from Aug – Jan. Once the season is over, the left over stock of the previous batches are sent to specialized shops popularly known as Factory Outlets. Such outlets are located outside the city due to low real-estate costs, provide basic amenities – may or may not provide a/c, nil or minimal personalised staff service, and limited parking for vehicles. The outlets do not stock the full range but shoppers do not complain as the goods are heavily marked down, ranging from 15-60%. While street-wear brands were pioneers in this line of business, premium and even luxury brands have joined this trend since the mid-1990s. It is quite common to see such outlets all over the world and India is no exception. Since mid-2000, a number of such small localities have come up in the city outskirts and attract large crowds, especially during the weekends. Large format stores such as Brand Factory (by The Future Group), Mega Mart (by Arvind Mills) and many such Retailers operate today and are slowly getting near CBD areas too.


While the Factory Outlets are a sure shot dump-yard, brands try their best to liquidate their stocks from within their stores, at lower mark-downs but “higher discounts” that appeal to shoppers. And this was born the concept of “End of Season Sale” or EOSS. Almost every brand across the spectrum offer EOSS twice a year, just after the season is over. The Sale begins as early as Jan and July and goes on for 4-6 weeks. While the discounts are lower during the opening weeks, it gets deeper as weeks pass by, but shoppers may not get their preferred sizes and colours, so stocks get liquidated quite much during the opening weeks.


One would have noticed during the last few days, various brands offering deep discounts at their outlets. While consumers keep track of who is offering what, they usually wait for the big boys – the Department Stores such as Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Westside and Central to commence their EOSS. Since the size of stock-holding is substantial, the discounts offered by them are also deeper. India’s largest Department store chain by size, Shoppers Stop (which operates more than 25 stores across the country including at Bangalore International Airport & Hyderabad International Airport) and Lifestyle offer a preview for two days to their privileged customers, their Loyalty card holders (First Citizen and Inner Circle). Westside offers an additional percentage of discounts if shoppers use a particular bank’s credit card. The newest and the most premium Department Store format, The Collective from Madura Garments that stocks brands such as Hugo Boss, Armani, Ralph Lauren, etc also goes on Sale!

The season has just begun and is expected to continue for the next 6-8 weeks. My friends in the apparel business say that the recent Spring-Summer season reflected healthy sales – same store sales growth of over 10-15% YoY and hence the discounts this season may not be very high (unlike last year same time where the average discount was 40% and went as high as 70%). Whichever way, the same product is going to be available at a price lower than before (remember, it’s only the price that is lower and not the Brand value0, so what are you waiting for? Rush to a store near you and I guarantee that you are in for a surprise. Happy Shopping...


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