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How Pepperfry recalibrated its marketing strategy at speed to meet changing demand

Pepperfry's bounce-back journey

Companies across categories, had to rejig their business model and the product portfolio in the last few months, in the wake of the pandemic and the resultant changing consumer habits. Online furniture as a category, for example, saw a huge surge when compared to the brick-and-mortar category.

Pepperfry, India's leading furniture and home products marketplace also went through a turbulent phase in the last few months where a few sub-categories like study tables and ergonomic office chairs grew beyond expectation – and some others saw a shrinking demand.

As such, the brand recalibrated its marketing playbook and, more recently, to buck up for the festive season demand. In an exclusive chat with The Drum, Kashyap Vadapalli, chief marketing officer and business head, Pepperfry shares the brand’s story in the last few months, the phased marketing strategy, and a peep into the future plans.

The ongoing pandemic and nation-wide lockdown have led to a significant shift in consumer trends and purchase patterns. With homes now playing multifaceted roles in the new normal, individuals are investing behind creating a space that meets the functional and aesthetic aspects, leading to a rise in demand for home and furniture products.

For a brand like Pepperfry this is good news. After the initial dip in sales, with the ease of lockdown regulations in May, sales began to revive. Sharing his experience, Vadapalli, says, “Our sales volumes started reflecting steady bounce-back with 40% of pre-lockdown sales in May, 70% in June, 85% in July and then a full recovery at 100% of pre-lockdown volumes, in August.” Here is a deep dive into the Indian furniture and home décor brand’s journey of recovery and growth.

Spike in the first-time-buyers

As more and more consumers shifted to online shopping, the category - and the company - witnessed an increase in the online business. An interesting trend was around the first-time-buyers (FTB) business growing at a faster rate than repeat buyers in Tier-2 cities. In order to aid this shift and cater to our discerning consumers, Pepperfry launched a ‘Buy on Phone’ program, where the company’s sales consultants spoke to buyers and guided them through the furniture buying process, given that many people might not want to venture out into the markets and malls but they might still need consulting to buy furniture.

WFH: a boon for some businesses and categories

As the lockdown progressed, most companies and educational institutions formalized a work/study from home policy till the end of 2020. This new lifestyle of work-from-home and study-from-home has encouraged consumers to view furniture as a required, long-term investment that will support and smoothen this transition, which led to an unprecedented rise in demand for home office furniture. Shares Vadapalli, “Pepperfry’s home-office category, specifically study tables and ergonomic office chairs grew by 250% and 400% respectively in August 2020, in comparison to pre-lockdown levels.” Currently, this category contributes about 25% to the overall sales volume, a segment which earlier accounted for about 10% of total sales, prior to the lockdown, he adds.

The demand for hero products such as beds, mattresses, dining tables, wardrobes as well as furnishings such as wall décor, lights & lamps has seen a rise. Compact and space-saving products like bean bags, recliners have also grown reasonably well compared to pre-Covid numbers.

Keeping the marketing playbook relevant

While the product mix was tweaked keeping in mind the new reality in mind, the overall marketing strategy was also tweaked. For instance, during the early lockdown days, the brand consciously decided to solely channel all communications through its owned mediums like email marketing, push notifications and social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

The messaging was tweaked to make it more relevant, engaging, and interesting. For instance, since movements were restricted, the communication sought to address the challenges through tips like how to maintain furniture, DIY décor ideas, safe ways to rearrange your furniture and so on.

From ‘educate and inform’ to talking of specific brand propositions

The brand kept its marketing strategy in line with emerging market realities and consumer demands. Thus, in the March to May period, the company focused on an ‘educate and inform’ approach. Starting June the focus was on communicating safety and hygiene across all possible Pepperfry touchpoints and after August it started talking about - sales and value on the one side and specific brand propositions like – professional assembly and delivery and warranty on the other side. Alongside it also tweaked its performance marketing strategy – by scaling it down during the March/May period and slowly scaling it back starting June.

Explains Vadapalli, “Our approach has always been to target in-market consumers and our campaigns are also structured to scale basis efficiency metrics. So, on the demand side, when we saw an increase in demand for WFH and SFH items, our marketing campaigns adjusted to scale for catering to this demand and we ensured that we maximized on the opportunity.”

Marketing the festival happiness

Festivals in India result in a disproportionate increase in demand for goods and services and. To cater to this demand and to keep the offerings exciting and relevant for our customers during the festive season (October to December), we launch nearly 3,000-4,000 products every year during the festive season across all our categories – furniture, décor, furnishing and lamps & lighting. Says Vadapalli. For the festive season, the brand has made the infrastructure-related changes on the category/merchant side and on the supply side, as well.

In a marked departure, the brand decided to get back on traditional media like TV after 18-20 months and launched its Diwali campaign ‘Family times = Pepperfry times’. It has also experimented with OTT platforms like Hotstar and advertised on IPL. In combination with our always-on digital presence these two initiatives will provide us with the salience we require to make an impact during the season, according to Vadapalli.

Watch the ad here

‘Family times = Pepperfry times’

3 marketing truths learnt during the pandemic

  1. The world can change in an instant and marketing teams need to be nimble in order to react to these changes.
  2. Even when the consumer is not actively buying, she is still receiving a lot of messages in the market and is making her mind up about the brands that she wants to engage with. This means that the brand should be active in the consumer's engagement set, if not the consideration set.
  3. Every crisis brings an opportunity and it’s only those who have a pulse on the consumers’ sentiment and understand the ecosystem and act quickly who benefit from this.

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