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From offline to online: Changing face of innerwear shopping

There is a shift happening in consumer preferences when it comes to choosing and buying lingerie. Starting off as a necessity, innerwear has now become a fashion statement, propelling the growth of the online lingerie market where one can find privacy and variety

Akansha Mihir Mota | Mumbai | July 26, 2016

Image-courtsey-Shyaway Image courtsey - Shyaway.com

Television actress Aparna Dixit does all her lingerie shopping online as she doesn’t find enough time to go to a mall. Also the websites exclusively selling undergarments gives her the advantage of choosing from a variety. Dixit said, “It has become so convenient for me to shop lingerie online as it saves my time. When I get an off, I try not waste time in shopping and rather relax at home. In fact, I find so many more varieties on the online lingerie websites, which I definitely can’t find in an offline shop.”

Dixit is not the only person preferring online shopping. She is just one of the examples of the changing trend in consumer behaviour in the lingerie business segment in India.

Changing trend in consumer preferences

Traditionally, women in India have been at the mercy of salesmen with little knowledge of lingerie. Since buying of undergarment has been a hush-hush affair in the country, the transactions have to be closed quickly. The shops in small towns won’t allow trials and deny returns if the buyer found the fit wrong after trying the garment at home. Many women will also testify to encountering salesmen who made them uncomfortable.

Modern chains such as Shoppers Stop and Pantaloons provided much relief but these were limited by their reach. On the internet, there is no salesman, only a questionnaire to arrive at the right fit, and an explosion of colours and designs. There is lingerie for every occasion: for going to the office and for an evening out, for weddings and for maternity. The fit changes with the material, patterns, and brands. And yes, you can return what you do not want.

According to a research by Technavio in 2015, the online lingerie market in India is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 42.32 per cent. The online lingerie market in India is only 0.89 per cent of the global online lingerie market and 9.67 per cent of the online lingerie market in the Asia Pacific market research (APAC).  The share of the online lingerie market in India is expected to reach 2.25 per cent of the global market and 11.22 per cent of the APAC market in the near future.

Advantage of online over offline

Richa Kar Richa Kar

Richa Kar, CEO and Founder, Zivame, said, “Online lingerie shopping is better as India is a very conservative market and women invariably feel apprehensive about purchasing lingerie. This is mainly due to the fear of judgement and this is the concern that Zivame is addressing with the online platform that caters to the market, providing women a judgement-free environment to purchase lingerie of their choice.”

Kar added, “The offline market has limited shelf space. Hence, they stock only a few common sizes and styles, which results in a lack of variety. The offline space is served by less knowledgeable salesmen. The online lingerie market has a greater variety in terms of styles and sizes and people are less hesitant to put their requirement forward and buy lingerie online.”

Neha Kant Neha Kant

Neha Kant, CEO, Clovia, said, “Mostly in India, it is only male salespersons who handle the product in the offline stores. So, the women are reluctant to share their exact requirements. On the online front, there is a lot of personal engagement. There are people available all the time and can help you out with your preferences.”

Gopinathan Ramachandran Gopinathan Ramachandran

A fairly new website Shy Away also sees the market as a good opportunity to grow. Gopinathan Ramachandran, CEO and Founder, Shy Away, said, “The market has immense potential and the only thing that the customers expect is variety. In India, you can’t take the lingerie products’ names easily. There is still a taboo attached. On the online front, people don’t hesitate to buy products as it is more of a personal affair. In fact, we are doubling our sales every month.”

Challenges for the industry

Along with the pros, cons come along. There are people who are sceptical about the fitting, touch and feel property of the lingerie they buy and would prefer going to a retail store where they can try and buy the product. Also, not everybody is technically equipped in India.

Kar said, “Unlike apparel where the woman is fairly aware of her size, lingerie is a lot more complicated. There is very little awareness about the size and style of lingerie suitable for one’s body type. Given the fact that four out of five women in India are wearing incorrect sizes, there is always that fear of ‘what if it does not fit me right once I buy?’, as this is a garment that cannot be easily altered like apparels. Also, women in India have been used to purchasing lingerie by touching and feeling the product. Online medium does not provide scope for this.”

Kar added, “However, to overcome the challenge of touch and feel, Zivame has opened stores that allow women to experience the online merchandise on an offline platform. It’s not easy to convince the customer to come online to buy the product. They want to try and then buy it.”

Kar added, “One of the challenges that we have been battling is to build acceptance for the category. There has always been a certain amount of taboo surrounding it, which we have managed to battle through various means. Our next step is to elevate the category and introduce indulgence that it truly deserves. We have already seen a great change in the consumer’s choices. It is much more than just blacks, whites and nudes.”

Kar said, “Zivame was born with the vision of revolutionising the lingerie shopping experience of every woman in India. The response since inception has been extremely overwhelming. Women are more than receptive to this platform now.”

Clovia has tried its best to be customer friendly and has a size guide option available on the website and a good 30 days return policy like other lingerie websites. They have only three per cent of the total customer base coming back and saying that the size didn’t fit them.

The demographical analysis

Online lingerie portals have gained market traction in small towns in the past few years. Increased per capita as well as disposable income, growing concerns about health and hygiene, and improved retail options have also fuelled the demand.

Zivame gets most of their customer base from the Tier 1 cities. However, there is a steady growth in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities too. Clovia’s 65% demand comes from the Tier 2 and 3 cities.

Ramachandran said, “We mostly make our deliveries in the metro cities, but surprisingly we are seeing an increase in demand from smaller towns of north also."

Men are big buyers of lingerie online

Most men hesitate to enter a lingerie store but online, they are emerging as significant buyers of women's undergarments thanks to the anonymity it provides. And the numbers of male buyers rise sharply during occasions like Valentine's Day.

Seven per cent men and 93 per cent women buy products from Zivame. Kar pointed out, “Men are inclined towards lingerie shopping but have reservations against going to the store and shopping. Online shopping gives them a judgment free to choose something fun for their partner.”

Clovia has 20 per cent men buying the product online and 80 per cent women are buying the products them. Out of 20 per cent, 10 per cent is the gifts that the men buy for their beloved and the rest is the everyday essentials.

Kant said, “One very encouraging thing that we have found is that a woman who is not very tech-savvy, shares the requirements with her husband and to her rescue, the husband comes online and buys the product for her. Unlike the offline stores, there is no embarrassment factor involved in online stores.”

For Shy Away, the ratio of men buying lingerie online is slightly higher. They have 40-45% of men buying products on their website, particularly due to the advantage of privacy online and no embarrassment factor involved.

Can online match offline lingerie market?

The online lingerie market has a long way to go as it is only a small portion of the overall market. But one can definitely see the enormous growth with the growth of the online lingerie websites. Zivame grows at a rate of 150 per cent (YoY). It sells four lingerie items in a minute.

Kar said, “Online lingerie market is growing rapidly and there is no comparison between online and offline as online helps penetrate into markets which cannot support offline stores.”

Competition within online segment

On asking about dealing with the competition within the online lingerie industry, Kant said, “There is no one brand that has a huge amount of share in the market. The market is fairly new and is safe for everyone. We control the whole process from manufacturing to delivering the product. We produce the product in-house, unlike a few other websites who sell other brands too.”

Giant e-commerce websites such as Flipkart, Amazon and Myntra also sell lingerie online. Asked what advantage does a website only for lingerie offers over these giants, Ramachandran said, “There is a commission factor involved on these bigger websites and the prices of the products increase eventually with added commissions. Towards the end, the customers have to bear the brunt. Whereas on a website only meant for lingerie, the commission factor won’t exist. You will get a wider variety of lingerie on a single website like ours.”

Adding to the conversation, Ramachandran said, “We are also available on the other websites, but at the end of the day we are creating our separate brand image for our products and eventually when the customer searches the web for our product, they end up coming to our website only. Therefore, the growth is mutual.”

Difficulty in advertising the products

Falling into the category of a hush-hush brand, it is very difficult to advertise the product. Not all allow advertising on their mediums.

Ramachandran finds posting of ads easily on different platforms as the most difficult challenge. He said, “Whenever I try to put a banner somewhere, it goes into the nude and obscene section and the ad gets rejected. Therefore, in that front, we can’t just go publically and do a big ad. Even in the packaging, we can’t do promotions as packaging is done in a discreet manner for the customers comfort.”

Clovia’s Kant said, “I don’t see it as a challenge because to advertise products there are many more beautiful ways to do it. There are only a few publishers that won’t allow you to advertise, but the major ones do. Also, there are ways to advertise lingerie without hurting people’s sentiments. Although, today if I go out to find brand ambassadors; there will be only a few who would be willing to advertise the product. We have passed by that challenge in the beginning only.”

Increased GDP, urbanisation, growing population, improved logistic performance, and high internet penetration have paved the way for the growth of the online lingerie market in India. Rapid internet penetration has taken the sales of lingerie through the online medium to a new dimension. Therefore, one can definitely say that the category is growing at a rapid pace, but has a long way to go with the challenges of making a shift in the consumers’ mindset. One does notice the consumer preferences changing, but by educating the consumers about the benefits of shopping lingerie online, the challenges can be overcome.

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