April 13, 2024

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Ecommerce sales: Ecommerce sales growth in slow lane as mass market crowd thins

4 min read
Ecommerce sales grew at a modest 12-15% in the first three months of this year, declining from the 20% growth in value achieved during the same period last year, according to market research data. Softening demand is reflected in shrinking volumes, even as higher-cost items drive overall value generation, a wide swathe of industry executives and analysts told ET.

However, the trajectory of sales on a month-on-month basis during the same period is improving, a senior ecommerce executive said. Those tracking the uptick are hopeful of better outcomes in the new financial year, “with the arrival of summer leading to more demand in certain categories.”

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No Smartphone Launches Yet in 2024
“This period (January-March) is usually a slow month for ecommerce firms, and though this January was bad, we have seen growth return over the last three weeks, and we will likely see about 20% growth rate return by April,” said Satish Meena, advisor at Datum Intelligence.

The start of the calendar year is also when fashion and peripheral segments clear their older inventory.

Ecommerce Quarterly review_Mar 2024_Graphic_ETTECHETtech

Notably, no major smartphone devices — the mainstay of online retail — have been launched this year, so far.

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“Growth (this year) has been muted, but things should pick up April onwards. The pace of growth will depend on the volume of shipments,” a senior executive at one of the top three ecommerce logistics firms said.The tail end of the previous year was weak for online retailers, after bumper growth during the festive season sales stretching from September-end until Diwali.

Phones & FOMO
Datum’s Meena pointed to flat growth in smartphone sales across both online and offline channels, with shipments falling slightly but average selling prices (ASP) staying high.

“For smartphone sales, there is a lesser ‘fear of missing out’ that online exclusives used to bring earlier. Offline stores are also now able to match online players in financing, and discounts are not that sharp anymore, leading to offline becoming the larger sale channel with 52% share in calendar year 2023,” Meena said.

According to data from market research firm Counterpoint Research, overall smartphone sales flattened in India in 2023, remaining at 152 million units.

Meanwhile, in apparel sales, end-of-season clearance sales brought signs of improvement.

ET has reported earlier that brands across segments are seeing increased traction in premium products but mass-market products are not showing similar growth despite lower prices.

The spike in inflation has also played a key role in dipping the curve for online retail, according to people with knowledge of sales data. A similar pattern has been witnessed across fast moving goods on quick commerce platforms.

Flipkart, Amazon India, Meesho, Tata Neu and Reliance’s JioMart are among the leading ecommerce platforms, with the first two cornering the majority of market share.

Bucking the Trend
Interestingly, online-first beauty brands are posting strong growth in an otherwise sluggish ecommerce market. They have expanded by over 25%, largely aided by winter sales and events.

According to Kaushik Mukherjee, cofounder and chief operating officer at Sugar Cosmetics, the segment saw strong sales during January and February, helped in part by gifting around Valentine’s Day. “There is a little bit of softening in sales post Valentine’s Day, and we also see a shift from products like moisturisers, with the cold weather waning, and sunscreen and facewash coming back strong (sic),” he said.

Nykaa had said in January that its beauty and personal care business grew faster than the industry growth rate.

Brands and sellers in categories such as wearables and hearables, beauty, fitness and home and furnishing said there was a mixed pattern in their online sales during the first quarter, depending on price points and sub-categories.

They estimate sales growth of about 15-18% year-on-year in home furnishing, and 10-15% for audio wearables. The health and fitness category, which includes supplements and gym equipment, will likely close the quarter with 15- 20% expansion.

Audio product makers such as Noise and Boult said they have seen growth over 15%, compared to pre-festive season business-as-usual days. “Our sales have gone up by over 15% but below 20%, depending on pricing and type of product, compared to the period before festive sales began,” Tarun Gupta, cofounder of Boult, told ET.

Gaurav Khatri, cofounder and chief executive of Noise, spoke of a sales slump after the festive period, during which time the firm leveraged other sale channels — offline stores and quick commerce — to sustain growth. “We are also trying to shift from just focusing on unit sales to things like driving premiumisation and loyalty among customers in this period,” he said.

Pallav Bihani, founder of supplements and equipment maker Boldfit, said the segment has seen an increase in sales pushed by a post-festive drive towards health-focused activity. “We usually don’t benefit massively from festive sales as that isn’t when the customer is thinking about fitness. We see another spike in April to June, as a younger, health-conscious base gets their summer breaks,” he said.

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