Small shop owners form a vital part of the consumer electronics ecosystem and we want to make them self-reliant: Swati Rathi, Godrej Appliances
Swati Rathi, Head – Marketing, Godrej Appliances
Swati Rathi, Head – Marketing, Godrej Appliances on brand unlocking plan.

Small shop owners form a vital part of the consumer electronics ecosystem and we want to make them self-reliant: Swati Rathi, Godrej Appliances

Swati Rathi, Head – Marketing, Godrej Appliances on brand unlocking plan.
  • Summer is a peak season for appliances. However, this year was exceptional.
  • Swati Rathi, Head – Marketing, Godrej Appliances tells us how summer plays an important role for their business, challenges the brand faced during the nationwide lockdown period, its plan for unlocking 1.0, and a lot more.
There are a few things that define summer for Indian markets. It is the period when you see ‘Chubhti Jalti’ jingle come back on television, Rooh Afza in retail stores and cartons of mangoes in your home. Summer also sees an increase in marketing spends by cold beverages, ice cream brands, masalas, sun screens, travel and electronics, as it is a peak period for their businesses. However, considering the complete shutdown of all store outlets, this summer was quite unusual for these categories.

For Godrej Appliances, the first quarter of every year contributes to as much as a third of their annual revenue. While this quarter was challenging for the giant, it is hoping to revive its business in the upcoming months of unlocking.

With the nationwide lockdown, Godrej Appliances soon realised complete digitalisation was the way to survive. It started empowering its trade partners to address all consumer queries online. So far, it has managed to reach out to 5,000 trade partners to explain to them the changing dynamics of industry, the consumer and how they need to prepare themselves. As a result, during the lockdown, Godrej Appliances resolved more than 15,000 service requests digitally.

We caught up with Swati Rathi, Head – Marketing, Godrej Appliances to further understand their unlocking plan, how they have helped their employees cope up with the current situation of uncertainty, changing future of the retail industry and importance of adapting to the new digital world.


Q. How has the last month been for you? How have you observed the consumer behaviour changing?

From a business perspective, summer was largely a wipe out for appliance industry which derives a significant chunk of sales from cooling categories like ACs and Refrigerators. The 1st quarter contributes to as much as a third of the annual revenue for Godrej Appliances. With markets opening across albeit with various conditions June is expected to fare better returns.

With the phase-wise lifting of the lockdown – there are countering forces at play. On one hand, consumers need to buy appliances for their comfort and effort reduction, while on the other hand, social distancing norms and overall pandemic fear is keeping people away from stores. There is also the added uncertainty around the lockdown withdrawal given that the scenario is dynamic. With subdued sentiments and an aversion to higher discretionary spends, a change in investment priorities among consumers is also expected. Buying behaviour both in terms of purchase behaviour and value propositions being sought is going through changes.

Q. What does your media plan look like? Which medium gets your lion's share?

The appliance sector is highly seasonal and with summers being severely impacted, spends are also adversely impacted. Traditional media will definitely undergo a cut this year, digital spends less so. However, this is also dynamic and essentially it will boil down to which medium is expected to give better returns for the budgets available. In case demand sentiments recover, we could see some spike in media platforms like TV or Newspaper, but other traditional media like cinema or outdoor hoardings or radio spends will be more or less replaced by digital. Event costs which tended to be significant in our industry will also be replaced by virtual events and will not be incurred at the same scale.

Q. Tell us a bit about your partnership with trade merchants?

As consumer behavior is changing across the country amidst the pandemic we are going through, it is important that the entire ecosystem undergoes a transformation to be able to meet consumer’s increased needs for safety and health, across the purchase process. Small shop owners form a vital part of this ecosystem. By making them self-reliant when it comes to online business, Godrej intends to make it a win-win situation for consumers, trade partners and companies. The trade partners are company's key interface with the customers and helping them to gain business online also is crucial for consumer safety, trade safety and improved business overall.

During the lock down we started with an enormous online trade engagement program – which is still ongoing. We have covered 5000 trade partners already explaining to them the changing dynamics of industry and the consumer and how they need to prepare themselves, underscoring the need and ways for digital transformation. We have also set up a robust engagement mechanism using Ms Kaizala Platform – on which a number of groups are created for Retailers, EBO, PBO, GACH – providing all the trade partners with a common platform for information sharing.

Apart from assisting the trade partners to come aboard on Google My Business, we are enabling our offline retailers to build a digital presence by creating a Facebook Business Page for each of them. We target each of our 25000 offline retailers’network to have a Facebook Business Page by end of June, with 2500 already on board and counting. For customers, this will help them access product information and allow them to purchase a Godrej appliance from their familiar local retailers. All the Godrej Exclusive brand outlets and bulk of the preferred retailer partners and GodrejGreen AC Hubs have already been made live on Facebook with their shop pages. This allows them to link up with consumers through WhatsApp also to discuss, negotiate and conclude the sale.

We understand that consumers even if they do visit the stores want to spend the least amount of time at the store and hence it’s important that everyone at store is completely trained on the products. Consequently, the lockdown period is being used effectively to train the large network of promoters and store staff by training them online. We have conducted more than 2000 batches of online product and sales training and ongoing and the initiative has received tremendous feedback.

As a responsible brand, we are taking all the necessary precautions against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Keeping in mind the safety and wellbeing of its customers and that of trade partners, we have issued guidelines across its retail and distribution channel to follow Govt. directives like practising social distancing, maintaining hygiene standards and sanitization of appliances and work surfaces at retails shops.

The overall endeavor is to get the entire ecosystem transformed digitally, keeping in mind the changed consumer concerns and serving them in the best way.

Q. Have you introduced any new tools to empower your employees to accept the new normal? How big is your team right now and how is your brand helping its employees deal with lockdown blues and anxiety?

The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled companies to rapidly embrace remote working and presented us with a unique opportunity to embed new ways of working in preparation for the ‘new normal.’ Since the bulk of our organization was already on Office 365 with access to Ms Team, the digital transition on day to day work happened very fast for us without many hiccups. Agile ways of working with digital tools for facilitating every aspect of work have been a key focus area to ensure productivity.

But beyond all this, having a very strong engagement process with all stakeholders digitally will play a key role. Keeping stakeholders bonded and engaged with the larger team is a strong action area. A series of large scale and small-scale online meets are in progress at our end and will have to be continued throughout the year. More such initiatives are in the pipeline to help keep the lockdown blues at bay , have everyone up to date, well informed and empowered to capture every opportunity.

In line with the much-enhanced sensitization of safety, health and hygiene, we are comprehensively looking at all aspects based on the MHA guidelines for resuming operations post the lockdown.

We have a huge team spread across the country following the guidelines and applicable work formats as per local authority directives. Our HR teams are building various scenarios and are identifying which all work can be carried out from home. Based on the scenarios and Govt. permissions on percentage of employees, we plan for a slow ramp up as things stabilize.

We are also counselling our employees on practicing social distancing at all times and ensuring that they follow proper guidelines and help them understand the new normal at home, outside and at work and their role & responsibilities in keeping themselves and their loved ones safe. Our technicians have been trained comprehensively on all precautions as they start visiting consumer homes for after-sales service. During the lockdown, more than 15000 service requests were resolved digitally and this practice will continue in times to come as well through our remote service assistance.

Q. What are some of the key learnings from this experience?

COVID has impacted us like nothing else has in a century now. And it is fair to say that the whole world was caught completely unprepared. As tough as it has been, it has also served as an intense crash course.

One of the most surprising and positive outcomes has been the speed of digital adoption across the spectrum. The COVID lockdown forced everyone to speeden the learning curve on digital in a completely unanticipated manner. A related learning hinges around the immense power of digital collaboration in reducing wasteful expenditure and driving higher customer convenience - a lot of processes across organizations are changing for the better and far higher levels of agility is a definite outcome.

Going beyond the corporate world – of course, there are other learnings for all of us - from developing a grudging respect for nature’s immense power and hoping that this pandemic will lead to more conscious, sustainable ways of business in the future; to a much-needed reminder that countries should invest in health care first and foremost to the home front where I think in general there is a much higher appreciation for the many tasks that home-makers do round the clock to keep our homes running in order and one can now hope that we strike a better balance by playing equal home-makers in future too – the lessons have been many.

As marketers, our job is about keeping a tab on the consumer pulse - understanding their concerns which today are focused on core needs like safety, hygiene, health and convenience and ensuring that our offerings address these needs. Consumers are also reassessing what’s really important to them and learning the benefits of a simpler life. Brands will have to reassess their offerings and they will need the support of their agency partners much more than before to be able to deliver these revised offerings to consumers in an agile and relevant manner. Success in these post COVID times will come only at the back of collaboration, traditional wasteful ways will have to be thrown aside and win-win strategies that involve the larger ecosystem will have to be devised. People will need to acquire new skills and don new hats - the learnings are indeed immense and one only needs to be willing.

Q. In these uncertain and stressful days, how are you communicating with your audience? Has the current situation made you innovate and think out of the box, in terms of how you communicate with your consumers?

In these unprecedented times, we are adapting to this new business climate by retuning our marketing plans and budgets, finding new ways to increase efficiency and effectiveness and also changing the way we connect with our customers. It is critical to redefine how we as a brand - interact with our audience, avoiding grave pitfalls of insensitivity or myopia. The consumer clearly needs brands to play a larger or at least a different role than what it may have played in the past. It is important to be authentic, credible, and empathetic towards the consumers’ concerns. We need to reflect on the real issues that consumers are facing and addresses ‘CONSUMER NEEDS’ with the right value and solutions.

In this new era, it is becoming more and more evident that we need to innovate and re-orientate our products, services and communications to fit the Covid-19 landscape. We are reassessing both - our offerings and the way they are delivered, to address the new consumer concerns which have come up and designing fresh consumer communication and promotion which flows from these new ways of adding value to consumers.

One of the promotions we designed for example was around a special extended warranty for COVID Warriors going beyond the free extended warranty being offered to other consumers. This promotion is getting a high acceptance in the marketplace. We are also looking at more user generated content which is a bigger evidence of how we have served the countrymen with exemplary performance.

Much earlier in the lockdown, with the insight of how the household chores is now being shared by couples, we launched the first completely in-house film HumSabHomeMakers with real authentic footage. As we empower our large trade partner network on the digital journey, we are also encouraging them to share content directly with their customer bases instead of trying to reach them through traditional channels.

Some themes have emerged as more compelling like health & hygiene and safety as well as self-reliance and environment consciousness. They have a role to play across the chain from product development to product purchase and product usage through its lifecycle. Brand building will have to take into cognizance these terrains – some new and some old, in a relevant and authentic manner.

Q. How do you see the retail sector shaping up after the lockdown? What would its future look like?

Indian retailers are faced with a multitude of challenges as the pandemic continues to impact the sector - witnessing significant disruption over the past few months. The challenges range from managing consumer demand, ensuring liquidity, supply chain disruptions, management of store operations to ensure social distancing and proper hygiene, governance issues, and ensuring the health and safety of employees as well. Foremost for the retailers would be to cater to consumers via their preferred channels. Being able to make use of various digital channels to reach out to customers will be key. Equally important will be to offer digital payment options to consumers.

As we go along, digital purchase or digital influence may dip from current levels once the pandemic worry settles down but it is expected to stay significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels. And eventually grow further from there.

From a current perspective, as the government is easing restrictions, retailers will need to focus on bouncing back from the current situation. Speed and agility are the key levers of success in this situation. They will have to focus on transforming themselves to succeed in the new way of doing business and to build business resiliency to operate smoothly under such crises in the future. This also means they must become flexible and adaptable to alter operating models and product assortment to meet the requirement at any given point of time.