How India’s direct selling industry can pivot to survive the new normal

Direct selling is one of the sectors that has gone from strength to strength as consumers look for online solutions today and homeworkers seek new ways to bolster their incomes.
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2020 has been a year of challenges for all, as well as a year of opportunities for many. Due to the crisis, entrepreneurs at large have had to change their daily routine and adjust to working in the new normal. The usual office days have turned into work from home and the long-drawn meetings have converted into video conferencing. Due to the unprecedented circumstances, some industries have ground to a halt, and some are still recovering.

Direct selling is one such sector that has gone from strength to strength as consumers look for online solutions today and homeworkers seek new ways to bolster their incomes. The direct selling industry has been flourishing through this time and continues to stride forward despite the challenges. Its distributed workforce has proven to be incredibly robust and continues to operate by being digitally savvy.

As per a report by the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations (WFDSA), the Indian direct selling industry has recorded $2.47 billion sales in 2019 with a 12.1 percent YOY industry growth. This has helped it improve its global ranking to 15th from 19th a year before. This rising trend is expected to continue in times to come.

In terms of the category mix, Wellness is leading with 55 percent of sales, followed by the Beauty & Personal Care category at 27 percent and the Household Good & Durables at 6 percent in India.

To keep up the momentum, the direct selling industry has strategically implemented ways to use technology and data as a medium to proactively retool their organisations to thrive in the new normal. 

Being virtual

Initially, the authorised direct sellers used to meet the potential consumer in person, conduct product demonstrations to exhibit the products which was certainly a time-consuming process. However, now with the changing scenario during the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and with moving towards technology tools, direct sellers can simply share a video of the product to the consumer and if the consumer finds it good enough then he/she can purchase products directly through direct seller’s proprietary webpage. 

The solopreneur opportunity

While COVID-19 disruption has caused massive layoffs, it has also permitted people to identify themselves with an unconventional career option. Direct selling is the perfect option for people who are looking forward to starting their own business with a meagre initial investment. Additionally, it offers an opportunity to work on a flexible schedule and harness their social skills and network.

The industry strongly empowers women and currently, around 3.6 million self-employed women are employed in the Indian direct selling sector, which is over 60 percent of its overall workforce in the country. Also, it could cross 20 million individuals engaged in direct selling by 2025 as per the report by FICCI-KPMG.  

Social media, a new platform for direct selling

The pandemic has hastened the move to digital, with brands increasingly going online to engage with the consumers. At present, social media is no more limited to merely relate to loved ones, friends, and colleagues.

It has risen as a powerful medium for brands to engage and influence. Given that direct selling is largely dependent on person-to-person connect, social media has immensely benefited the sector by ensuring continued connectivity and commerce.

It is also an excellent platform to use several formats, from documentation to video-based instructions and audio files for additional content.

Virtual conventions and progressive training

With the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 virus, the direct selling industry has also undergone a significant shift towards digital. Advanced training modules, seminars, e-meetings etc. help distributors and associates to have better knowhow of product prospects and enables them to continue selling virtually while maintaining sales momentum.

Unlike before, nowadays people are more inclined towards online meets as against face-to-face interactions. Today, ecommerce enabled direct selling companies can offer multiple products to their distributors through their proprietary platform which is beneficial for customer’s convenience.

The industry is riding the digital wave to become a fast-growing sector replete with opportunities. 

Digital engagement with merchants will prompt recovery

Digital avenues like sharing catalogues via social media will continue to nurture the relationship between customers and sellers. Amid the COVID-19-induced recession, many unemployed people are still looking for means to earn online and supplement their household income.

This is expected to increase direct selling companies’ workforce of distributors. Therefore, the use of digital channels helps professional development and retain sellers in a post-pandemic world.

To summarise, it will be fair to say that the direct selling industry has proven itself to be a strong and resilient sector that can withstand turbulent economic cycles.

With government-defined guidelines, the direct selling industry continues to offer employment opportunities while providing time and space flexibility along with the simplified work process driven by technology. The direct selling sector has proven to be a gift that keeps on giving an ultimate ray of hope for millions of Indians and the Indian economy today. 

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

(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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