How local fashion retailers can best utilise the sale season.
In November, 2015, the concept of Black Friday well and truly took off in Pakistan. Daraz closed with a massive 1.5 million visitors in a day with sales to match over the course of the weekend and homeshopping.pk celebrated ‘white’ Friday, resulting in massive growth.
Most retailers jumped on the hype created by the global day for shopping. Sapphire, a relative newcomer in the fashion space, also announced sales. What followed was remarkable. The offline equivalent of black Friday resulted in a video that went viral across Pakistan and then broadcast BBC Urdu to the rest of the world.
A few weeks later Agha Noor announced a year-end sale and the results were perhaps even more interesting. Whereas the first incident was sparked by the overzealousness of a few not-so-young ladies, the latter consisted of hysterically shrieking hoardes of women convalescing through the half opened doors of a store at Dolmen Mall.
Now, I am not here to talk about the demerits of such ridiculous behaviour by the middle class of our growing nation; rather I would like to consider the options available to fashion retailers to release some sales pressure and allow a more orderly sale season and one which would maximise seller and customer utility.
Let us first evaluate stitched items
Whereas fashion brands may argue that generally men and women who shop for high end shalwar kurtas etc., are keen on seeing the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of the fabric and its ‘fall’ on their silhouette, such considerations were far removed from the above sale scenario, as clearly those customers were not keen on actually trying on anything – all they cared about was getting their hands on whatever they even slightly liked. As a result of this aggressive behaviour (from what both buyers and sellers said) the next day there were significant returns, resulting in the retailers having to extend the sale for longer. Contrast this with a one-day non-refundable sales in the US, and it seems that Pakistani fashion retailers may potentially be missing a trick
While one could argue that the women involved in the above incidents may have received a rush of some sort from being part of an hysterical crowd, I would wager that most of them didn’t particularly enjoy standing in line for (in some cases) hours before being let loose as one of many scavengers in a room. It would therefore seems plausible that these women would be willing to pay a premium to be able to circumvent this experience and still get the outcome they desire, i.e., clothes on sale.
On the retail side such sales results in hoarding by the most aggressive customers with potential returns etc., over the course of the next few days. Hence the fruits of the sale are concentrated among a few women who, in some cases create a secondary market for sale, whilst pocketing a small profit.
Unstitched items: This is a much simpler analysis. Suddenly, the argument to want to go to the store during a sale dissipates quickly. No tryouts are required and the reality is that most women have an understanding of the different fabrics in play, so actually ‘feeling’ the cloth is not required.
In light of recent events I would like to propose that fashion retailers consider the following strategy:
Most major fashion retailers have websites, with payment options ranging from COD to credit and debit cards. More than half have strong mobile responsive websites as well while others have apps. As a result, these website provide retailers with a lower-cost platform through which they can still interact with buyers but on terms that protects the interest of all.
Retailers may consider launching a sale season on their website two or three days before the store launch. This will ensure that when the store launch occurs, at least a little bit of air has been released from the demand bubble.
Retailers may consider putting a limit of the number of pieces (stitched or unstitched) that may be bought through an account. This may result in the democratisation of sales; people unwilling to be aggressive or who have a physical handicap will be provided an even playing field. (Retailers might also consider dispensing with the mandatory requirement of having an email address in order to set up an account. Instead a phone number to which a text message can be sent for authentication might work better. If retailers are concerned about the ROI of email newsletters, they may want to compare this with the ROI from text messages).
The reality is that people who go to a store for a sale spend two things – time and money (petrol, etc), therefore they might be willing to pay for the cost of delivery (as a trade off for saving time and money). A flat courier fee might be viable domestically.
To ensure that people only buy what they require before the offline sale, retailers may consider having a clear no-return policy for the online sale period (common practice globally). Alternatively, the return period may be limited to the period before the offline sales comes into effect, ensuring that any returned products find their way to the main sale. One would however need to ensure that the courier companies deliver the goods in a timely manner to ensure that customers have a fair shot at returning the products.
In conclusion, based on the above, I believe fashion retailers in Pakistan are missing a trick. One obviously wants coverage of the crazy swarms during these sales but the level these events have attained suggest a need to come up with alternative strategies to ensure that the societal impact is not negative.
Khurram K. Jamali is Country Lead Pakistan, Google.
This article has been written in an individual capacity and does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of Google.