The luxury sector in India has always been dominated by bridal wear and jewellery which according to KPMG was valued as a $50 Billion industry in 2017. However the Covid-19 pandemic changed the dynamic greatly as the standard ' Big Fat Indian Wedding' became an unaccomplished dream with the constant lockdown rules and pandemic restrictions on guest lists for parties and events. This in turn made couturiers in India face immense financial struggles as intimate events discarded the need for exaggerated outfits. Designers like Gaurav Gupta and a few others had to sell their creations at discounted prices to motivate buyers to shop from their brands.
In India one can often find young brides take a trip with their family members to Jaipur's Johri Bazaar to find beautiful 'Kundan' or bridal jewellery or buy hand-embroidered wedding outfits from Kolkata and Delhi. In fact, it was for this reason many bridal wear labels have their flagship stores in these respective cities. This is a popular cultural phenomenon as brides like to prepare for their trousseaus. Given the pandemic, travel has become rather difficult and thus couturiers who usually get a good foot-fall from all of India are not receiving the same. In such a situation finding innovative ways digitally to reach out to this pan-India audience is necessary.
In episode 3 of our podcast (released in August 2021), we discuss the current consumer mindset of the gen-z and urban millennials towards weddings, outfits and presentation. Social media has become extremely influential towards determining consumer choices and also urging gen-z consumers to create moments that can be deemed social media worthy from designing the decor of the weddings to creating ' bridechilla' looks.
During the podcast other parallel discussions include the need for Indian bridal wear brands to have flagship products as accessories which is a segment that is not developed in the Indian market. While ' Sabyasachi' has a few accessories that are much loved by the Indian luxury audience, the need for other brands to catch on to the wave and create a foothold is yet to be seen.
Finally we analyse the drivers behind what luxury retail outlets provide that is missing from their digital spaces and propose solutions that can be implemented to continue attracting customers digitally as well and transcend the experience of a luxury retail boutique to a virtual space. While we conclude that Indian luxury brands need to focus on omni channel methods for high impact, we suggest short term and long term strategies that can be beneficial for higher engagement.
For this purpose, inspiration is taken from an appointment driven model already adopted by 'Ssense', a multi-brand store in Canada that has created the technology to provide consumers with the opportunity to create a digital cart for their desired products which can automatically be added to the trial room once the customer visits the boutique and is customised completely as explained by Krishna Nikhil, Chief Merchandising Officer at 'Ssense' during the Business of Fashion Podcast with Imran Amed. This appointment driven model can be adopted by Indian bridal wear brands as well in a similar fashion. To customise the experience further in the long term body imaging can also be adopted so customers can enjoy the experience of virtual trial rooms from the comfort of their homes using Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality technologies.
Another very important aspect of physical retail stores in the bridal wear sector in India is the multi-sensorial experience that they offer. For instance during the podcast, we unveil the physical experience of shopping from a 'Sabysachi' boutique in person. Converting this multi-sensorial experience to a digital format can be extremely challenging and for the same reason, we bring forward the idea of a mini kit that can be shipped out to interested clients via a subscription driven model for a small cost. This can assist buyers who do not reside in the same city as the flagship store or boutique of the bridal wear brand. In this kit a small fragrance of the store can be shipped along with a look-book with high definition images of the embroideries for the season and a small swatch chart with the current fabrics and materials used for the season can be accompanied in the brand's packaging. This kit can play on the smell, visual and touch senses. Furthermore virtual appointments can also have additional sensorial benefits as the music present in the store can be played on the website and micro-sites can be created for a more three dimensional view of the store on the websites of these brands. These additional features can facilitate a really unique way to digital luxury shopping in India.
Additionally for yet another subscription model customers can receive a home-trial service where the brand can send a sales agent along with a stylist to your doorstep with a selection of your top 3-5 looks from the season. This can be beneficial during the pandemic times as customers do not need to physically travel to another city to visit the boutiques but shop personnel visit you at a minimal charge.
These solutions can be a good placeholder until augmented reality and virtual reality technologies are developed well by the brands and can create immersive digital and omni channel experiences for luxury buyers in India.
Business of Fashion: How to stage immersive experiences in physical stores