Offline retail shifts to social commerce to survive the coronavirus crisis

Offline-to-online or social commerce platforms are emerging as facilitators to ease the process of transition and growth for India’s burgeoning offline retail businesses amid the coronavirus lockdown.

The COVID-19 epidemic has left the world reeling under its impact. Several countries are under complete or partial lockdowns in a bid to contain the virus and avoid further damage to the global economy.

With the lockdown getting extended in most countries, including India, business has almost come to a grinding halt and many industries are observing a downfall in revenues.

In the offline retail sector, especially those selling non-essential items like clothes and jewellery, the impact is massive along with widespread job losses. All state borders have also been completely sealed as of now, barring transport of goods.

This is likely to have a long-term impact on businesses’ supply chain and logistics, and is expected to pull down 2020 sales by around $7 billion from 2019.

While the crisis has pushed many large-format offline retailers and wholesalers to step up their efforts to serve customers online and build omnichannel models to meet the increasing demand for essential goods and groceries, small offline retailers too must join the league. They should leverage technology to explore more channels of doing business and operate seamlessly.

Offline to online: the need of the hour

The global epidemic has allowed us to unlock the true potential of online retail. The offline-to-online transition has been majorly facilitated by ecommerce companies. However, that does not mean that online sales are immune to the impact of coronavirus. Many segments, including apparel, jewellery, beauty products and services, etc, are down in both traffic and sales, as the country has banned gatherings and travel.

Amid these challenges, revival may seem tough but there are signs of optimism. The attitude of consumers in India indicates a major shift. The retail industry is expecting an increasing trend towards ordering goods that consumers would usually buy in brick-and-mortar stores online.

This means if offline retailers can increase their digital capabilities in time, they can capture the opportunity and overcome the effects of the pandemic sooner.

Social commerce making the survival game a breeze

Offline-to-online or social commerce platforms are emerging as facilitators to ease the process of transition and growth for India’s burgeoning offline retail businesses. Such platforms are enabling offline players to get a hassle-free online presence for free by leveraging the power of AI to automate cataloging and list offline inventory.

Instead of forcing traditional businesses to adopt completely modern practices, social commerce platforms are integrating certain buyer-seller behaviours of offline retailers. They are helping them get access to supplies directly from manufacturers, instant credit services, and working capital.

This will enable offline sellers to simply list their products on such platforms, sell them after striking a deal with potential customers, and ensure a faster stock sourcing and liquidation cycle, thereby ensuring a steady flow of income.

While such platforms were growing in India for a while, the customer base of social commerce was more restricted to lifestyle sellers and new businesses with no access to resources or expertise for ecommerce. Amid the coronavirus crisis, more grassroots businesses are coming on to social commerce platforms.

Offline retailers can now create their own web stores and take orders. They can market their products through Facebook, WhatsApp, TikTok, and more, and even chat with prospective customers before making a sale.

Meanwhile, to manage supply chains and logistics, yet another challenge for traditional retailers, social platforms are emphasising hyperlocal deliveries that are easy and do not require special permissions.

So, while authorities are taking steps to curb the spread of COVID-19, we can foresee the pandemic changing the way small businesses and mom-and-pop stores do business in the near future.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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