Arvind Singhal

Arvind is Chairman and Managing Director of Technopak, one of India's leading management consulting firms advising across a wide range of sectors, including retail, fashion, textiles and apparel or education. He has previously written columns for the Business Standard and the Economic Times.

How India’s Digitization Impacts Retail and Brand Distribution

India has been on an exciting digitization journey since 2009. Many key elements that will form the backbone of ‘Digital India’ also serve to enhance retail and brand distribution.

Some of  the building blocks are already well in place, tried, tested, validated, and nationally rolled out, and others will be introduced in the next 2-3 years.


India’s Fashion & Retail Sector: An Overview

Private consumption driven economic growth, a population of 1.3 billion with huge linguistic and social diversity… amongst other challenges and opportunities to consider before entering India’s fashion retail market!

A € 575 Billion consumer retail spending, growing to reach €975 Billion by end of 2022 and very favourable demographics make India one of the world’s most promising and exciting retail markets for years to come. With India’s fashion retail segment at about € 52 billion in 2017, and poised to cross €85 billion by end of 2022, India offers great opportunities for European and other international brands.

India Fashion Retail
Select City Walk shopping centre in New Delhi (Photo: Technopak)

India’s economy has grown by over 6% CAGR over the last 25 years and is now the fifth largest in the world with a GDP of around € 2000 Billion in 2017. India is expected to deliver a real GDP growth of about 7.5% – 8.0% CAGR over the next 5 years, and a nominal GDP growth of about 12% CAGR which will make it cross € 3500 Billion by the end of 2022.

Retail in India

Private consumption remains the primary driver of economic growth, and this is reflected in the relatively high share of merchandise retail market which was about € 575 Billion in 2017 and expected to grow to about € 975 Billion by end of 2022. The split between urban and rural spending is nearly even as this graphic illustrates:

India Fashion Retail
Retail market in India (Graphic: Technopak)

When it comes to retail channels, India shows a very unique characteristic. Traditional retail (mom & pop independent stores) continue to dominate the landscape with over 18 million such independent outlets spread across 5500 towns and about 600,000 villages.

India Fashion Retail
Traditional India, fashion retail shops (Photo: Technopak)

Modern brick & mortar retail accounts for just about 8% of the total retail by share of channel, and e-tail merely 2.3%. This graphic shows the changes in the retail channels’ share over a 10-year period:

India Fashion Retail
Share of traditional, modern and e-commerce in retail (Graphic: Technopak)

With low per capita incomes, it is no surprise that food and grocery account for the largest share of consumer spending on merchandise, followed by clothing, footwear, and accessories, which in turn are (surprisingly) followed by jewellery and watches. In absolute value, the India fashion retail market was at about € 52 billion in 2017 and is likely to cross € 85 billion by 2022.

India Fashion Retail
Share of fashion in merchandise consumption (Graphic: Technopak)

The State of India Fashion Retail

In another difference from major global markets, the men’s share of the fashion market is substantially higher than that of women. Though the gap is reducing, and by 2022, both men’s and women’s share of the total fashion market is likely to be 39% each. Keeping in mind India’s demographics wherein almost 28% of the population is below 15 years of age (325 – 350 million), it is no surprise that kids account for nearly 20% of the total fashion market in 2017 and their share will actually increase marginally to 22% by 2022.

India Fashion Retail
Breakup of fashion into sub-segments (Graphic: Technopak)

With a steady increase in the overall retail spending of the Indian consumer, and specifically that of the fashion segment, India has seen a rapid increase in brands, both local and international, in recent years.

India Fashion Retail
Foray of International fashion brands in India (Graphic: Technopak)

In recent years, one of the biggest surprises (for Indian retailers and Indian fashion brands) has been the spectacular success of H&M and Zara in particular. Both these retail brands have seen strong acceptance from Indian consumers across all the geographies that they are currently operating in, with their growth apparently limited only by their ability to find suitable retail locations across India and therefore their ability to increase their physical footprint in India. H&M is now trying to address this challenge by launching their own online shopping portal which should help them access many more potential customers across India.

Fashion Retail India
Zara store in Mumbai (Photo: Technopak)

Retail Beyond Fashion

In non-fashion retail, India is seeing an exciting battle emerging in the food and grocery segment. With modern retail accounting for less than 3% of the nearly € 385 Billion consumer spending on food & groceries and severe challenges in finding grocery-supermarket suitable retail locations in most major cities, the focus has rapidly shifted to online channels. Amazon (India), expectedly, has been making a significant investment in this space to take a strong market position.

The current leader, however, is a local start-up named Big Basket which now counts China’s Alibaba as one of its major international backers and investors. Softbank of Japan has (including Tiger Global among many others) put its weight behind another Indian start-up, Flipkart, also rumoured being wooed by Wal-Mart for a substantial investment.

Hence, by 2022, India may be one of the very few, if not the only country in the world having food & grocery the largest segment for its online retail business and where online grocery retail will be significantly bigger than modern brick & mortar supermarket retail.

India Fashion Retail

Challenges & Opportunities

There are many positive drivers of growth of India’s retail (and specifically its fashion) sector. They include strong economic growth, a high share of private consumption in the total GDP of the country, very merchandise consumption friendly demographics, and a dramatic increase in ownership of smartphones, leading to extremely low-cost data access to the internet. Several challenges remain, however, both for Indian as well as International retailers and brands.

Probably the single biggest challenge of India is its sheer diversity and heterogeneity of its consumers. As mentioned above, India’s consumption is spread across 5500 towns and over 600,000 villages. While there is a strong clustering of consumption across 12-15 major metros and mini-metros, there is a very long tail for the bulk of consumption that makes it an imperative for many retailers and brands to invest in efforts (and be patient enough) to spread out far and wide geographically if they aspire to achieve large revenues from their Indian businesses.

India Fashion Retail
Fabindia is the largest Indian fashion retail chain (Photo: Technopak)

The aspirations and expectations of the consumers are equally diverse, and therefore it’s difficult to create retail formats that have a near-universal appeal within India.

The country actively communicates in more than 15 languages. While English and Hindi can reach out to a very large proportion of the target market, brands cannot ignore the need to communicate their message in several other major Indian languages like Bengali or Telugu. To best reach diverse populations, it is also important to make use of the entire spectrum of media covering both ‘above-the-line’ as well as ‘below-the-line’ mediums.

Fortunately, a national Goods and Service Tax (GST) was introduced in July 2017. While it is still being refined, the multiplicity of taxation heads in no longer as big a challenge as before.

Preparation is Key

India is also seeing a rising wave of entrepreneurial activity, backed up by access to both local and global pools of capital ranging from seed-capital to private equity and the capital markets. This is leading to a further expansion of private consumption and the creation of several new consumption categories and consumer segments. At the same time, it is leading to enhanced competitive intensity, which puts greater pressure on incumbent retailers and brands to maintain or grow their market share.

With the overall economic prospects for India looking very good over the next 5 years, the entrepreneurial activity and therefore the competitive intensity is likely to further increase these coming years. Hence, not only the incumbents but also future international companies wishing to enter Indian fashion retail markets must take note and come prepared accordingly.

About the Author:

Arvind is Chairman and Managing Director of Technopak, one of India’s leading management consulting firms advising across a wide range of sectors, including retail, fashion, textiles and apparel and Education. He has previously contributed a fortnightly column for the Business Standard and a monthly column for the Economic Times. Comment below or get in touch with him via e-mail to discuss the India fashion retail market.