Fourteen years after it launched in India , the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week continues to garner attention of fashion experts, the business fraternity and the fashion conscious. Its association with the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) has given ITCâ€™s Wills Lifestyle a premium image. Wills Lifestyle is considered as a brand that is at the forefront of fashion. It has become the first fashion retail brand in India to introduce real time online marketing using the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology. In the age of online shopping sprees, Wills continues to focus on its brick and mortar stores, optimizing the in-store shopping experience with its premium range and superior engagement for the customer. Gunjan Verma of Pitch, spoke to Atul Chand, CEO, Wills Lifestyle about the brandâ€™s image, the new trends in shopping and its association with the fashion industry. Some excerpts:
Wills has tied up with the Fashion Week for many years now. How has the journey been?
There is a great amount of synergy between the two properties. The association is a beautiful fit for new benchmarks and fashion statements. Wills and FDCI are both committed to promoting the business of fashion in the country. Wills has a widespread footprint in the country boasting of 100 stores across 40 cities. It has a diverse portfolio and a premium image and our association with this event has supplemented the entire brand effort. With every passing year, this kind of association becomes stronger and better and success adds to more success. It plays a significant role in crafting a more vibrant and fashionable image of the brand.
Wills has positioned itself in the premium category and the prices have shot up. Is the consumer happy?
I think consumers are no more focused only on price but they are looking for value too, making value more important than price. Our aim is to provide value that is more than the price the customer pays for it. Over time, Indian consumersâ€™ appreciation of design and creativity has grown stronger. Today, the approach is not so much led by price as it is by design and value. A premiumization of products has begun to take place across categories. The premium-end of the market which was earlier only 5 per cent has grown to about 10-15 per cent of the whole market share.
Wills has forayed into online sale even while it has expanded its physical presence in cities. Which strategy works better for you?
Brick and mortar stores have several advantages. They can provide a more engaging and interactive experience. The online stores have speed, and information on their side. But the consumer today wants an omnichannel brand experience; for him it is not a choice between online stores and physical stores. He wants the benefit of both. Consumers cannot be segregated anymore. They engage with both channels to attain the experience they want. As a brand, it becomes our responsibility to cater to both needs of the consumers today. As a physical store, we would never have gone online but if our customer is present there and has found it beneficial, it becomes important for us as a brand to be present there. Hence, a brand should always be consumer centric.
The chunk of our online customers is very small, maybe only 5 per cent of the whole. With about 100 outlets in the country, we offer a great in-store experience – facilitation, engagement of the store staff, trials, advice on fashion trends. We take good care of our customers. Visual merchandise plays an important part in providing aspiration to the customer tempting him to buy the product; we try to build a story through this experience. We have a very strong loyalty program called ITC Club where we partner with a number of hotels to provide several benefits and memorable experiences. These are the advantages of a physical store. Fashion is going online because the consumer is present there and finds it more convenient to shop online. In the future, the online luxury market is only going to evolve further. The choice is with the marketers as to whether they wish to adapt to this trend or not.
Can you define the personality of Wills Lifestyle as a brand?
The brand is about elegant and sophisticated fashion; itâ€™s about effortless fashion, about not trying too hard. It is also contemporary with less glamour and allows you to add your personal touch to the style. It aims at cleaner design, fine fabrics, detailing, craftsmanship, cleaner cuts that are no-nonsense and fuss-free.
How has the Indian consumerâ€™s wardrobe changed over time?
It is evident that fashion is certainly not driven by price anymore. Design and style have become more important. Indian consumers have become more fashion conscious and aware. The wardrobes of the consumers have grown by 25-30 per cent. People have more things to wear now, they have more choices too. Wardrobes have also got segmented. Today people have clothes for all occasions and new segments have been created. Organized retail has assumed significance and consumers have a variety of brands to choose from. People want change all the time and fashion is all about change. Hence the consumption of fashion is increasing by the day. The tier 2 market consumption has also surged. People have the confidence and willingness to buy premium fashion clothing in these cities. Due to affluence, their aspirations have also increased. The media is also fueling this growth.