Rapaport Magazine

The big picture

How has India’s largest retail jeweler adapted to the challenges of Covid-19? Ajoy Chawla, CEO of Titan Company’s jewelry division and head of its Tanishq brand, talks about recovery, planning and vaccination.

By Preeta Agarwal

How is Tanishq adapting its retail strategies to the new Covid-19 conditions?

We see large potential in middle India towns with populations from 100,000 to one million, and with a presence in 216 towns, our roots run deep into tier-3 and tier-4 towns [those with populations below 100,000]. This diversified presence turned out positively for us in the pandemic, helping us bounce back quickly. Our plan to expand by 30 to 40 stores every year makes us reach new towns. In the post-pandemic world, customers prefer not to go too far away from their home to shop.

Titled as Gold Standard Safety, we have adopted very high safety norms, bordering on excessive, with ultraviolet (UV) sanitizers, crowd control, a shop-at-home service, and use of digital tools like virtual try-ons, live chats and video calls to help make selections. These measures make customers more confident to shop at Tanishq.

What were your biggest challenges in the past year?

The two strong [Covid-19] waves led to a demand disruption. [Our] digital presence contributes only 5% to 10% [of business] and cannot replace physical shopping. Both years, important jewelry shopping festival Akshaya Tritiya was a washout.

A substantial supply disruption was also seen as most artisans migrated back to their villages and it took time to rebuild capacity. Vaccinating our 25,000-person ecosystem, from artisans to frontline staff, has been our focus for this year. With 97% already vaccinated, human life is foremost for us.

Together, I think the uncertainty is what creates a very complex situation. There is constant fine-tuning, revising and iterating our plans so we are ready to accelerate or pull back with agility.

How has Covid-19 impacted sales and the shopping mood?

We saw some deferred demand on weddings from the second half of last year to the first quarter of 2021. Post both waves, we also saw demand from missed milestones like birthdays and anniversaries. Jewelry is seen as a meaningful asset, and with a growing gold rate, investment in jewelry felt like a sensible purchase, helping us to recover faster.

How has the pandemic affected diamond jewelry demand?

The last quarter of 2020 saw a full recovery of [our] numbers. There was also a good resurgence in the first quarter of 2021, especially in the affordable diamond space. We have noticed a considerable spike in first-time Tanishq diamond buyers. An increase in self-indulgence jewelry under INR 200,000 ($2,666) [is due to the idea that] “nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, so live for today!”

What are some of the innovative services and collections in progress?

We are working on introducing extremely light-weight jewelry for this festive season, and we are also going more local by creating capsule collections celebrating local festivals in a meaningful manner. Constant innovation in our virtual and digital services led to Digital Gold, where one can buy gold for even INR 500 ($6.50). Lastly, we are also looking at a new alloy that will enable us to offer budget-friendly jewelry.

Describe Tanishq’s marketing approach in a nutshell.

We have always celebrated the protagonist — a progressive woman of today who makes her own choices, in the context of society, family and culture. Jewelry in India is bought for rituals, festivals and weddings, and she is the glue that holds the traditions and change together.

We also aim to understand the mood of our customer, leading to our current campaign Little Big Moments, which branched out of the idea that the customer has been through a lot. Life is uncertain, but she still wants to feel good and celebrate life.

What have you learned from the backlash against your recent campaign featuring a Hindu woman and her Muslim mother-in-law?

Our Ekatvam advertisement got mixed up in a Love Jihad controversy and coincided with a national incident, leading to a negative impression. Our idea was to show how families and communities come together to celebrate the gift of life. Though a large number of audience members defended our brand, it was the safety of our frontline staff that made us pull back the ad. We have defined a standard operating procedure to ensure more checks on the sentimental mood of the general audience, both at conception and launch, leaving less scope for misinterpretation in future.

What is your team working on for the coming year?

There are a lot of exciting capsule collections set to be celebrated through both digital and in-store campaigns this festive season. A mega festive-season collection is also a work in progress.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - September 2021. To subscribe click here.

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