How Bata tweaked its product mix to woo shoppers during the pandemic

Topics Bata India | Coronavirus | Footwear

The need to have a washable range, say industry experts, comes as consumers remain conscious of cleanliness and hygiene during the pandemic.
The ground under the feet of Bata India, the country's largest footwear retailer, has been shifting thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. As formal footwear takes a step back due to stay-at-home consumers, Bata has seen the demand for chappals, sandals, sports and casual wear pick up in the last few months.

"It is more fitness than fashion and casual than formal footwear that is in demand right now," says Sandeep Kataria, chief executive officer, Bata India. The footwear retailer has launched two new collections to tap these trends, including a work-from-home range of shoes, which includes padded slippers, chappals and flip-flops. Second is a fully washable range of shoes, says Kataria.

The need to have a washable range, say industry experts, comes as consumers remain conscious of cleanliness and hygiene during the pandemic. While brands such as Relaxo, Liberty and Paragon have not launched fully washable range of shoes, officials at these companies say that their "open-toe" wear have been designed in keeping with everyday needs including comfort and durability.

The cut in discretionary spends by consumers has prompted most footwear majors including Bata to push their affordable range of products, especially footwear, which is priced at Rs 500 and below.

Industry estimates peg the size of the total footwear market in India at Rs 50,000 crore, with 25 per cent being organised and 75 per cent being unorganised. While 75-80 per cent of all footwear sold in India is below the Rs 500 price point, Kataria says that in recent years, consumers, especially, in urban areas, were opting for fashion and style besides comfort when buying shoes pushing up the ticket size during purchase. But that was before the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The trend has reversed right now as consumers are keen to conserve cash in these uncertain times. Many are working from home and social gatherings have come down. Consumers therefore want to keep their spends down as far as discretionary categories are concerned," he says.

The other big issue during the pandemic has been the inability of retailers to get people into their stores owing lockdown restrictions as well as the fear of shopping out. While most of Bata's 1,500 stores are currently open after the Unlock programme kicked in from June, Kataria admits that footfalls remain low.    

The retailer has responded to this challenge by setting up mobile stores in housing societies and complexes in 40 different cities, putting up either stalls or kiosks based on the space available to it. The footwear retailer has also launched a whatsapp service called 'Bata Chat Shop' that allows consumers to select and order their shoes from a catalogue, which is then home-delivered to them. These initiatives have clicked with senior citizens, kids and home-makers, Kataria says, who've been hit hard on account of lockdown restrictions and health advisories.

"Studies show that Indian consumers will take a while to get back to their old routine of shopping and eating-out," he says. "Brands have to do business at the end of day. Direct-to-consumer initiatives are one way of addressing the issue of restricted living," he says.

Bata is also expanding its e-commerce footprint by increasing its presence in online marketplaces, taking its delivery reach to over 1,300 cities. Share of online sales through its own portal and third-party e-platforms is close to six per cent of total sales, double of what it was earlier. Bata is expected to give greater emphasis on these convenience channels in the foreseeable future as offline sales remain largely muted over the next few quarters.

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