The coronavirus-induced lockdown dealt a blow to this segment, which had grown exponentially from 2000 following the IT boom. The demand for electronic devices and home appliances did not improve immediately after outlets reopened on May 3. But things are looking a tad brighter now as customers have returned to stores.
“It would be a lie if I say the Covid-19 situation didn’t affect us. More than the virus, it was the fear among people that hurt our business. Now, people are more confident, visiting stores in good numbers to make enquiries and purchases. We strictly follow health-safety guidelines such as distancing, mask use and sanitisation,” said Rajkumar Pai, the managing director of Pai International Electronics Private Limited, which has a chain of 40 stores in Bengaluru.
There is stiff competition from online platforms, but owners of bricks-and-mortar establishments say many people still prefer to physically examine a product or an appliance, test features and get an overall feel before making the purchase.
“There is a large section of such customers. As the state gradually opened up under the Unlock phase, customer numbers also started to pick up slowly,” said Paras Jain, the owner of Adishwar India, which has 41 home-appliance outlets in Bengaluru. “The footfall is still lower than what it was before. Window shopping has reduced drastically, but we think that’s a good thing, given the situation.”
Jain’s business is again logging profits and he expects brisk sales during Dasara and Diwali. Adishwar is offering freebies that reflect customers’ new focus on health. “We are giving away oximeters, temperature guns and other solutions used for Covid-19 prevention to customers who shop with us. We believe these are the right gifts in such testing times,” Jain added.
R Pandian, the marketing head of electronics and home-appliance chain Girias, said offline stores offered people a neighbourhood shopping experience. “There are people who have a bond with certain stores and have been their customers for many years. Unlike on websites, one can physically examine products at the store and build a relationship with the seller,” he said.
The festive season is a crucial period for the businesses as they seek to cover lost ground.