How are retail brands preparing for this uncertain future? Answers Levi Stauss & Co's Sanjeev Mohanty.
- With a 167-year legacy, Levi Strauss has outlived a Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression and the Great Recession. And it is confident it will come out of the current crisis even stronger.
- We talk to Sanjeev Mohanty, MD – South Asia, Middle East & North Africa, Levi Strauss & Co who tells us what the brand has been doing to minimize business impact and how it is adapting and preparing for a new retail experience for the post-Covid world.
For retail brands, things will be very different. With a lot of safety guidelines in place, players will need to wait and watch how consumers behave in the post-Covid world. There is still a lot of uncertainty about when people will finally feel confident about visiting physical stores.
So in such a scenario, how are retail brands preparing for this uncertain future? We recently caught up with Sanjeev Mohanty, MD – South Asia, Middle East & North Africa, Levi Strauss & Co who has been heading the 167-year-old brand in India. We tried to understand how the brand has been handling the crisis and how they are preparing for a changed world. He also talks to us about Levi’s’ recent Circles campaign and how it was aimed at spreading a sense of togetherness at a time when we have lost that personal touch with people.
Q) Levi’s Circles campaign has been gaining a lot of traction on social media, thanks to a lot of known social media influencers being a part of the campaign. How important are influencers in your entire marketing mix? How did your marketing mix evolve during the lockdown months?
COVID-19 has changed the world around us and, due to lockdowns or social distancing, in a way we have lost our sense of togetherness. It reminded us of our Circles campaign which we released back in 2017, a campaign that celebrated our human connection. The campaign was a reminder that our differences unite us and if we hold on to all that we share in common, we can find our way back to each other. We’ve adjusted the message slightly for this new moment. We felt it would ignite hope and show the strength of human connections and to bring people to believe that One Day Soon We Will All Dance Together Again.
Our fans are spending more time online amidst the lockdown and that is where we wanted the conversations to happen. We are hopeful that the campaign will be well received.
Q) The world as we knew it has perhaps changed forever. The post-COVID world will be very different, and so will be the consumer’s expectations from different brands that have been a part of their lives. As a brand, how are you prepping up to meet these uncertain expectations of the future? Will you focus more on your online presence now considering demand on e-commerce sites might get a larger push?
As we continue to work hard to stay connected digitally — we have started the next phase, reconnecting and the reopening of our stores. We are rolling out new processes and social distancing and cleaning policies across all our stores. We are seeing a great response on e-commerce and our recent launch Levi’s® X SuperMario™ has been a hit, our fans have loved it. Every crisis is an opportunity and we are taking this time to accelerate our e-commerce capability.
Q) What kind of changes do you anticipate in the retail world once the lockdown is called off completely?
There will be significant changes to the landscape and every day is an opportunity to learn, to adjust, to adapt and then to learn again the next day. As we reopen, it won’t be “business as usual.” Shopping and buying behaviors will be different, and the full impact on retail is still a big unknown. That’s why we’re accelerating our efforts to becoming a leading, world-class omni-channel retailer. It will be on us to continue to evolve to meet consumers where they are, while continuing to deliver products that are stylish, built to last and sustainably made.
Q) What is your contingency plan for the possible revival of the business in the post-COVID world?
Levi Strauss has a 167-year history – we have outlived a Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression and the Great Recession. We believe that during a crisis, strong brands will emerge stronger. We have seen situations of extreme distress and have made it out because we have been financially disciplined, and we are geared up to do it again. While E-commerce will play a larger role now, we are constantly learning and adapting, doubling down on things that are working for us.
Q) How do you anticipate consumer behavior will change, and how are you working towards embracing that change and working around it?
The brands that are going to win are going to be the ones that have deep connections with consumers. We are making sure our stores are clean and focusing on ensuring that our consumers feel safe while shopping. Our staff has been prepared to wear masks and gloves and we ask that you wear face coverings when you come to shop with us so that everyone can enjoy a safe environment. Our stores are cleaned more frequently, and high trafficked areas are cleaned more deeply. Fitting rooms are one area that we pay particular attention to cleaning thoroughly and often. We are taking all the precautions and implementing tools for contactless payment. We will limit the number of people in our stores based on local guidelines and are using a quarantine process for items that shoppers try on before being returned to the sales floor. We are also depending a lot on technology, implementing tools for contactless billing, etc. to ensure that our fans feel safe shopping in our stores.
Q) As one leading the organization, what were your top priorities during these last few months of the lockdown? What were the key lessons you learned from the experience?
Our main priority is to keep our employees and our consumers safe. The pandemic has hit us all hard, but we believe that every crisis is an opportunity and with a strong brand, right processes and an outstanding management team ready to take of the challenge and has shown tremendous courage and resilience, we are confident we will emerge stronger.
Q) How will you use marketing as a tool to bring consumers back to the brand? Will you use traditional media channels or become more digital-heavy?
We have always endeavored to be where our fans are and over the last few months, owing to the numerous restrictions, we maintained a close digital connection with our audience. The focus is on being agile, respond to situations quickly, and most important being relevant to our fans.
For instance, on May 20, we celebrated the birthday of the blue jean i.e. 501 Day online and realized that the 501 Live music program, entertainment, and interviews from some of our favorite artists brought a lot of joy. We also saw some of our fans and brand friends posting pictures from our past 501® Day events reminding us that the love for the brand is still strong.