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Key Improvisations that Marketers made for E-Commerce in 2020

E-commerce in 2020 definitely went through a lot of ups and downs. Few categories within e-commerce space had a great time, but some of the categories fell short of demand. The financial year or the Q2 of the calendar year was a deserted period due to lockdown in the country. Though there were demands for electronic goods, mobile phones, laptops, groceries etc. as country was in complete lockdown, the supply chains were badly hit and so the distribution channels. However, as the country relaxed lockdown in the subsequent months, e-commerce had starting recovering. By Diwali, the mainstream e-commerce giants like Flipkart, Amazon, Myntra saw substantial lift in GMVs in 2020 compared to 2019. E-commerce in 2020 wasn’t just about a story from urban markets, but also the demand that pour in from Tier-2, Tier-3 markets.

Were brands ready for the shift in E-commerce in 2020?

We all know, no one expected the pandemic. While the e-commerce world was gearing up for omnichannel experience, AR oriented buying experiences, App-driven purchases etc., within few months even fulfilling the basic delivery of a product resulted into the biggest challenge. The lockdown period gave sufficient time to marketers, to re-evaluate their e-commerce strategies. The portfolio mix was changed (owing to specific demands during and post lockdown), distribution channels were revamped, customer experience touchpoints were relooked and most importantly hygienic procurement and distribution became a priority and the talk of the town for e-commerce in 2020.

The CMO Week

afaqs, under the umbrella of its ‘All Week’ initiative has organized a CMO Week from 14th December 2020 to 17th December 2020. On 14th December, CMOs from some of the key e-commerce brands in the country go together to deliberate on ‘The E-Commerce Story’. The panelists included Anand Narang (Bata), Gitanjali Saxena (Tata Cliq), Navin Shenoy (Viacom 18), Samriddh Dasgupta (Bombay Shaving Company) and Sumit Sonal (Xiaomi). The session was moderated by Sreekant Khandekar, Co-founder and Director, afaqs. It was a power packed 45 mins session and some great insights shared by the panelists. Here are the key takeaways from the session:

Key Insights by the panelists

Anand Narang: Bata

  1. For Bata equal importance was given to both e-commerce portals and Bata website
  2. Market is wide enough for everyone to participate
  3. Bata diligently classified their target audience on the continuum of Digital Natives to Digital Novice
  4. The communication and services were tweaked as per the customer’s comfort on digital technologies
  5. Bata thronged upon multi-channel initiatives to address demand from various segments of digital customers. Some of the key channels were DTC (Direct to Customer), presence on marketplace (Amazon or Flipkart), Bata chat shop on WhatsApp.
  6. These multi-channel distribution strategy helped Bata to cater various audiences with differential digital knowledge

Gitanjali Saxena – Tata Cliq

  1. Lot of traction in acquisition, close to 2500 to 3000 pincodes
  2. Demand came from even smaller cities
  3. People were willing to indulge in personal luxury goods items
  4. Gifting category was growing faster – watches, luxury handbags, curated gifts, customized gifts
  5. Online Purchase ceiling has broken since the pandemic. Customers are very comfortable to make an online purchase even for luxury goods

Navin Shenoy – Viacom 18

  1. Acceleration for E-commerce in 2020 came in faster due to forced constraints (thanks to the pandemic)
  2. E-commerce will coexist with other distribution channels, and its hardly seen as a competing channel
  3. Some of the key trends that emerged were
    • Hygiene – It was essential for all brands to communicate, ensure and also differentiate themselves on the hygiene factor
    • Sense of Belonging – Adoption of dogs went up many fold, as many youth were facing isolation from work place, friends, partners etc.
    • Self-Improvement – Each one of us had more time to yourself, more time to reflect. This helped people to identify whole host of areas of self-improvement
    • Self-Preservation or Health and Fitness – This goes without saying. People started focusing on health, exercising at home, consumption of immunity driven food products increased and consciousness towards a healthy lifestyle increased
  4. Entertainment saw many fold increased. On an average about 5 hours per day was spent on mobile phones
  5. Content was well-distributed across Linear TV and OTT platforms.

Samriddh Dasgupta – Bombay Shaving Company

  1. Focused on Omnichannel strategy
  2. Started focusing on women grooming products category
  3. Unique grooming demands were multifold due to increased hygiene consciousness
  4. It was necessary to invest and build upon richer stories, as compared to earlier consumer had more time to research, consumers had more time to deliberate
  5. Immediacy of consumption is no longer largest driver. Well, the hygiene aspects like product procurement from safe place, packaged in a safe environment and delivered in the best possible safe manner were keenly observed
  6. Media is more expensive – Media planning has gone through paradigm shift. Video consumption is at higher scale, investments have also gone higher

Sumit Sonal – Xiaomi

  1. Adoption of UPI was very integral, allowed to scale up for a lot of small and medium scale businesses
  2. Personal grooming was very important and the demand grew much faster
  3. People are more invested now in bigger smart TVs, more smartphones were sold
  4. In Diwali 2020 Xiaomi sold more than 8 to 9 million devices
  5. Xiaomi’s e-commerce platform played a crucial role
  6. Hyperlocalization was focused upon to cater demands from smaller towns and cities

What are Pros and Cons of selling on brand website vs Marketplace?

After the initial round of discussion on the E-Commerce in 2020 topic, Sreekant posed another important question to the marketers on the panel on what are the differential benefits of selling on brand’s own website (a DTC model) vs leveraging marketplace like Amazon or Flipkart. The responses by each marketer are summarized below –

Xiaomi – It has been a mixed strategy for Xiaomi. They entered the country by joining hands with marketplaces, but eventually launched their own company website – mi.com. Also, they extended the distribution channel by launching company owned stores too. They now focus on ensuring product delivery from own store and driving an omnichannel experience for the end customers. Recently they have also launched Local.mi.com to drive hyperlocalization, which has been a successful extension.

Bata – They have an omnichannel technology connecting all stores and inventory. If the customer doesn’t find a product at a store, it will be delivered to his / her home from any of the stores across the country. Even within the store, Bata has adopted technology to provide best in class experience. Every staff has an app on phone to check the exact SKU and reduce the product search time. Considering the fact that Bata has sufficient brand awareness and consideration in the country, delivering right experience at each touchpoint is the next key challenge that they are geared to attain. The brand website, Bata.in has an extensive portfolio and they are confident of same day deliver to a large number of Pincodes in the country. Product experience that can be delivered on own website is far better than on marketplace.

Tata Cliq – According to Gitanjali, brand’s own website provides better control. Also, in case of Tata Cliq, there are various brand guidelines that they need to be follow. Also, its convenient to control the pricing well on brand’s own website for the luxury products viz-a-viz if they are made available through marketplace. Gitanjali continued to add that, Tata Cliq brand has been built on legacy, which can’t be compromised by going to marketplace.

Bombay Shaving Company – As per Samriddh, both Online and offline channels contributed similar sales for Bombay Shaving Company. He further added that Investment on brand was necessary, to create top of the funnel awareness. And brand’s own website helps to create that top of the funnel awareness. Also, some personalized products available on website, but not on marketplace. They also engaged in lot of product bundling offers on brand’s own website, and selling premium products on own website, which are usually tough to handle on marketplace. He also emphasized that brand’s own website helps brand to earn a lot of trust. Further he rightly identified that most of the marketplaces don’t share data about the end customers. So, the brand is always in a darkness about the customer’s thought process and buying behavior. On customer experience part he was of the opinion that NPS was calculated strongly on own website. He finally concluded that brands need to invest strategically on retail.

Final Rapid-fire round – “What would you wish in the coming year 2021 ?”

Before ending the enriching session, Sreekant for one final time asked a rapid-fire question to each panelist on what would the wish for e-commerce in 2021. Here are the wishes from each panelist –

Anand – Probably doubling, and multiplying customer experience

Samriddh – Extension of women grooming line and consolidation

Sumit – Adding more pincodes, being more relevant, adding more experiences, a marketplace cant help, make the product reach customer in AR, experience the product without coming to the store

Gitanjali – Want to benchmark for luxury e-commerce, benchmark globally

Navin – Brands being brave, more brands coming with more brave stories.


I am presently employed as Associate Director (Paid Media) at Performics.Resultrix, a Publicis Groupe company. Prior to this role I was employed with HCL Technologies as Senior Manger (Digital Marketing). My earlier digital marketing assignments were with ZenithOptimediaIndia (Publicis Groupe) and AdGlobal360. You can follow me on Twitter @anandan22 for all conversations on digital marketing.

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