As India slowly recovers from the pandemic, Carat Media’s Grashima Sahni looks at how brands are preparing for the upcoming festive season and what they can do to win it.

This year’s festive season has already begun on an upward note after last year’s muted celebrations. India is recovering from pandemic-related fears and the mood is positive. Layered over this optimism is the sporting excitement of the IPL second leg and T20 world cup.

“The festive season pulse 2021”, a report by YouGov and The Trade Desk, indicates that 91% of Indians plan to shop during the festive season, and three out of five consumers are very excited about the upcoming festive sales.

The top categories for both men and women are apparel and accessories, groceries, consumer electronics, and health and personal care.

While home appliances feature as one of the top categories for men (the need to upgrade homes amid the pandemic still seems to be top of mind for many), makeup and fragrances are the key differential interest for women (the opportunity to dress up is a reason).

Source: The festive season pulse 2021 report by YouGov & The Trade Desk

The monthly PCSI report (Refinitiv-Ipsos Primary Consumer Sentiment Index) also reported a robust improvement of 2.9% in August from the previous month, after a dip at the start of the year, nearer to the second wave.

Positive upturn in consumer index in the last quarter of 2021 – source: Refinitiv-Ipsos Primary Consumer Sentiment Index

Optimism aiding exploration

With this optimism and more passive buying cycles, people are now willing to try out and explore new brands after a long pause. Brands that strike a chord will be favoured, opening the market for a host of direct-to-consumer brands and challenging the status quo of traditional ones.

Source: The festive season pulse 2021 report by YouGov & The Trade Desk

It is also interesting to note that this exploration is coupled with lower attention spans. The clock is ticking and brands need to catch the attention of consumers or lose them. The Bain & Company report on “How India shops” shows that a brand has approximately 10 minutes to woo the shopper. With the middle getting messier, this is a challenge for any brand.

Source: How India Shops online report by Bain & Company

Cricket season peaks during festive season

We also see the biggest titles in cricket making headway during the festive season, adding to the excitement.

IPL leg 2 is already being pegged to reach 230 million consumers on Hotstar, even when the model to watch the format is now sVOD. With World Cup T20 2021, the reach is again being pegged at 200 million digital-only. Inventory on both the tournaments is reported to be full, reflecting exciting media times ahead as brands use all opportunities to speak to their audiences.

Moreover, if India faces its arch-rival Pakistan in the semi-finals, not just TRPs and impressions but the country is expected to come together in a binding moment that is much needed after the pandemic.

Virtual shopping and tier cities

It is no secret that the pandemic boosted e-commerce significantly. With festive sales by all major e-commerce players lined up for the season, the buying moments are being captured by e-commerce this season.

An article in Business Standard reports that Amazon and Flipkart are scaling up delivery facilities across India to capture the expected growth.

Akhil Saxena, Amazon vice president, customer fulfilment for APAC, MENA and LATAM, was quoted in the interview as saying, “ahead of the festive season, we will increase the storage capacity of the fulfilment network by 40%”.

Source: How India Shops online report by Bain & Company

This increase is over and above the already expanded capacity of 40% last year by Amazon, indicating an exponential increase in online buying that is not limited to metros and top tier cities.

The online offers are also curated to appeal to the tier cities beyond. According to Red Seer, the small-town contribution to this year’s festive season is expected to be US$150 billion.

Source: How India Shops online report by Bain & Company

Amazon has included neighbourhood stores in the migration online, with its “Local Shops on Amazon” initiative. With this, the increased online festivities should have a trickle-down effect on these e-tailers as well. This is also in line with the “enable local” movement observed in many sub-segments of online consumers.

Three key points for brands to win this season

  1. Plan for cities beyond metros and tier 1 – this means customising offers for a different set of needs.
  2. Plan to cut clutter via the use of ‘native’ ways – the media clutter is expected to be huge. Brands need to ensure elements in marketing plans that will enable the brand to ‘communicate’. Consider tapping creator economy, smart use of voice, influencer ecosystems etc., and speaking the languages of each micro-segment.
  3. Embracing the changing online journey – customers are out to explore. It is messier in the middle and attention spans are falling – make an impact and make it fast.