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Covid-19: Retail Therapy

Retail Therapy

Titan, Tata Motors and Voltas have found ways to continue engaging their customers despite closure of malls and non-essentials stores in the Covid-19 crisis

July 2020     |     1,117 words     |     4-minute read

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The first phase of the lockdown to counter the spread of Covid-19 mandated the temporary closure of all non-essential businesses, including standalone stores and dealerships or those in malls, which meant an almost 100 percent impact on consumer-facing businesses like Titan, Tata Motors and Voltas’s retail segment.

Changing consumer priorities

Even now, as these businesses resume operations in a steady, calibrated manner, and as per the government’s easing of certain restrictions, demand and supply remain unpredictable. “The restrictions on travel, change in lifestyle and habits, adoption of work from home, and an increasing focus on safety and essentials, means that discretionary spending is expected to take a backseat,” says Guenter Butschek, MD & CEO, Tata Motors. “However, we choose to remain agile to cater to dynamic demand. We intend to scale operations in a graded manner as the entire enabling ecosystem of suppliers, vendors, dealers and customers comes up to speed.”

Titan Company Ltd’s entire bouquet of brands, including favourites like Titan Watches, Tanishq, Fastrack, Titan Eyeplus and Taneira were unavailable for customers in the lockdown’s first phase, as stores were closed and e-commerce for non-essentials was not permitted. These are now opening up in the second and third phases of the lockdown. “We are primarily a retail business that requires customers to visit our stores,” says CK Venkataraman, MD, Titan Company.

"The initial response is quite encouraging. Our safety protocols have been deeply appreciated by customer," says CK Venkataraman, MD, Titan Company.

“This depends on two factors: stores being allowed to open — which has now started to accelerate in different locations across the country — and people feeling secure enough to step out after overcoming fears of infection. The initial response is quite encouraging. Our safety protocols have been deeply appreciated by customers. We are also doing live video demonstrations and Try@Home approaches to push our omni-channel journey and help customers overcome the barriers they have buying online.”

Tanishq stores are all set to welcome customers with all safety protocol in place.

Income, expenditure and lifestyle changes are also to be taken into consideration. “Many of us who have been working from home have gotten used to a certain way of life,” says Mr Venkataraman. “We’ve been wearing simple clothes for weeks, and we may not feel the need to get dressed up in the next many weeks. We may not invite people home or go to anyone else’s homes. We may hesitate to dine out or go to the movies. If we don’t go out, we don’t dress up, and thus, do not spend our incomes on any goods that are a part of dressing up, like clothes, watches or jewellery. Our task will be to create that desire and impel people to want to dress up, for their own motivation and satisfaction.”

Keeping engagement going

With a lull in buying behaviour, companies are looking for different ways to remain connected to consumers. For instance, Voltas, whose retail business was completely closed in the first phase of the lockdown, has been engaging with customers by fulfilling its promise of convenience through maintenance assistance. “We’ve extended warranties that were scheduled to expire through lockdown, uploaded DIY videos on basic maintenance know-how to YouTube, shared regular educative and awareness videos on basic safety precautions, and executed many other such digital initiatives that help us continue to play a role in the lives of our customers during this lockdown,” shares Mr. Pradeep Bakshi, Managing Director and CEO, Voltas Limited. 

Tata Motors has also constantly been in touch with its customers since the lockdown started. Business units have been actively engaging with customers on various platforms — call centre executives, product specialists and dealership staff connect with potential buyers through phone calls, WhatsApp video calls, messages and emails to provide them with essential information during these times.

“We have also launched ‘Click to Drive’, which is an end-to-end digital sales initiative that has taken our entire passenger vehicle sales process online,” says Mr Butschek. “This initiative will help customers buy cars from the safety and comfort of their homes. It has been integrated with all Tata Motors dealers from more than 750 outlets across the country and will also offer vehicle home delivery for our customers at a later date.”

“At Tata Motors, the safety of our customers, dealers and their staff is of utmost importance,” says Mr Butschek.

Moreover, the company has gone digital with some of its launches of BSVI models from the commercial vehicle portfolio. Additionally, sales teams are engaging with customers all across the country via digital communication apps, to disseminate information about the newly-launched products and accept bookings.

Tata Motors also initiated #ThankYouIndianTruckers — a campaign to recognise its commercial vehicle customers, many of whom happen to be frontline warriors. The company has been providing various facilities across the country for truck drivers through its dealerships, workshops and Saarthi Aaram Kendras, while engaging with those plying the highways by offering free food, sanitisers and masks.

In-store precautions

Tata Motors has used the time during lockdown to design new ways of working, while respecting mandatory safety norms and aggressively adopting digital as a means for engaging with and selling to customers. And over the last few days, customers have initiated new bookings, deliveries of passenger vehicles have commenced and workshops are seeing an increasing inflow of vehicles for servicing.

“At Tata Motors, the safety of our customers, dealers and their staff is of utmost importance,” says Mr Butschek. “Accordingly, we have developed and shared a new, comprehensive set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) that includes maintaining prudent social distancing, adhering to prescribed hygiene and sanitation standards across all customer interaction areas, both inside and outside each dealership, as well as its workshop and back office. We are virtually imparting training to our dealers for practising these SOPs.”

At the time of publishing, over 650 dealerships and 500 workshops for passenger vehicles and over 1100 sales outlets and 1300 workshops for commercial vehicles had begun operations with this new set of standard operating procedures (SOPs). 

“Many people may have lost weeks of income, salaried or non-salaried, or have other monetary pressures, and will look for lower priced products if they do decide to spend.” 

Titan Company, too, used the lockdown period to plan protocols for its stores, ensuring any stores that open, whether in markets or malls, are able to focus on safety. The company plans to substantially reduce the number of chairs in the store to reduce crowding, sanitise stores frequently, use PPE like gloves and masks for its staff, among other measures.

Future trends

With experts predicting that Covid-19 may be with us for months to come, many businesses are watching trends and revisiting strategies going forward. Mr Venkataraman says that affordable price points in every product category are going to be important. “Many people may have lost weeks of income, salaried or non-salaried, or have other monetary pressures, and will look for lower priced products if they do decide to spend,” he says.

—Anuradha Anupkumar, Arushi Agrawal, Cynthia Rodrigues & Sanghamitra Bhowmik

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