Back-to-office plans: Lifestyle, apparel and footwear companies optimistic about reopening

Lifestyle, apparel and footwear companies are optimistic that India Inc.’s return-to-office plans, reopening of schools and easing of travel restrictions will boost sales in categories that had experienced a collapse with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago.

With the third wave of Covid-19 waning in the country, demand for clothing – especially smart casual wear, formal and ethnic wear for women – footwear, toiletries, stationery products and beverages for vending machines are expected to increase as more people return to the office and attendance at schools and educational institutions increases.

Executives ET spoke to said most of these categories saw a 40-60% drop in sales during the pandemic and the first signs of recovery are now visible.

“With the reopening of offices in March, we are already seeing our sales in February reach pre-pandemic levels,” said Devarajan Iyer, chief executive of department store chain Lifestyle International. “While shoppers have largely shopped into activewear and leisurewear during the pandemic, we now expect categories such as women’s ethnic wear and smart casual wear to get a boost.”

Bata, India’s largest shoe company, saw a recovery in school and formal shoe sales in the October-December quarter and expects it to gain momentum.

“We’ve seen a recovery so I’m hopeful that with the impact of Covid moderating, going forward after the third wave we should see an even bigger recovery coming back,” the director said recently. General of Bata India, Gunjan Shah, to analysts. He said the sequential rally in the last quarter was an indicator that as soon as there was some stability, sales would rebound.

ET had recently reported that several major companies are expected to open full-scale offices by next month, while most states have already opened schools and colleges at all levels. Covid restrictions are also being removed as the daily number of new coronavirus infections declines.

Mohan Goenka, director of FMGC Emami, said there has already been an increase in demand for men’s grooming products, such as fairness cream, over the past month. The category had experienced a decline of nearly 40% over the past two years. He said even products for sedans are showing growth and the company plans to increase ad spend.

Falguni Nayar, managing director of FSN E-commerce Ventures, which owns online beauty store Nykaa, recently told analysts that while there had been growth in the beauty and personal care category, it ” would be slightly moderate as Covid has impacted some of our consumption. And all of that is gradually coming back and it’s likely to come back in a stronger way in the future.”

Google’s latest Covid-19 Community Mobility Report said that on February 19, people’s mobility in the country was up to 46% higher – depending on activities – compared to the pre-Covid period.

Companies like ITC, Shoppers Stop and Pantaloons have launched promotions around the themes of back to school and office 9-5 for clothing and bags to stimulate demand. Even companies operating in the beverage vending machine segment have reported an increase in demand.

Amuleek Singh Bijral, co-founder of drinks retailer Chai Point, which has nearly 4,000 vending machines installed, said office space is set to see a very strong resurgence.

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