Between 2017 and 2018, the Indian ecommerce industry went through one of its most turbulent times. The 2016 funding winter had left the investors sceptical about new players, while funds were drying up for many startups, and losses were forcing companies such as Snapdeal to restructure their operations, while many others had to shut shop. Even ecommerce unicorn Flipkart was facing a management shuffle, with its cofounders stepping down and Kalyan Krishnamurthy of Tiger Global taking over as Group CEO. The situation at the lingerie retailer Zivame was no different.
Grappling with an over 80% increase in losses, and just 38% growth in net sales in FY16, Zivame team was struggling to continue its survival. As expected, the company went through a serious strategy and management revamp. Zivame re-instituted its marketplace model, pivoting from the then private label model. Then Zivame founder and CEO Richa Kar stepped down in what was called an investor-led rejig in January 2017.
Shaleen Sinha, who was hired as the COO in November 2015, took over the daily operations. With the future of Zivame in jeopardy, the company’s shareholders and investor consortium comprising Kalaari Capital, Zodius Capital, IDG Ventures, Unilazer Ventures among others began the hunt for the new CEO.
Finally, the search ended with Amisha Jain, who became Zivame CEO in May 2018.
An INSEAD and Mckinsey & Co alumni, Jain brought over 16 years of experience in technology, consumer and retail to Zivame. Being part of brands such as Arvind Sports Lifestyle business and Nike India earlier, Jain was said to have rich experience in leading growth and transformation initiatives for multinational companies and fashion brands — something that Zivame needed desperately.
More than a year later, Zivame has gone from 10 retail stores in 2017 to 35+ in 2019 and is earning a name in the omni-channel lingerie retail market in India. Zivame’s products are available in 800+ partner stores in 3K exclusive designs and 200+ sizes catering to all body types. The company claims to have access to over 28K postal codes for online deliveries today, which still brings in the most revenue overall.
Zivame closed the last financial year (FY18) with 56.4% increase in its revenues while cutting its losses by 44%. The company has hit an annualised run rate of INR220Cr at March 2019 exit with 90% of its business coming from brand Zivame and also claiming to own 45% of the online lingerie market share amid players such as Clovia, PrettySecrets, Bwitch, Amante, Lovableindia, Buttercups, and more.
In a recent interaction with Inc42, Jain threw some light on her journey so far, the upcoming technological innovations and factors which drive the work culture at the company.
Zivame’s Focus On Customers And Community
For us, this is not an everyday garment. This is the first most important garment that she wears everyday. – Amisha Jain
In 2011, when Zivame started, the core idea was delivering a better and privacy-focused lingerie shopping experience to modern Indian women. This was the time when the conversation around the category was hushed and even talking about intimate wear was a taboo in India.
Jain told Inc42 Zivame not only revolutionised the lingerie category in terms of how women shopped but also in terms of products available for the market. Surprisingly, 85% of Indian women still do not know the right bra size or their body type, Jain said.
“So when a 40-year-old woman writes to Zivame how her 75-year-old mother got her right size now, Zivame has certainly changed the game there.”
Recently, Zivame unveiled its new brand identity along with a new tagline, “Love Yourself Inside Out.” Jain believes that Indian women are always on the lookout for a brand that brings continuous innovation and that the Zivame community is the most important aspect of the business.
“Today, a modern Indian woman is pushing the boundaries of her personal style and is exploring Indian, western and fusion wear. Each of these different styles has to be paired with the right innerwear. Hence, with Zivame we believe her innerwear is no longer an imposition but an enabler of her personal style,” she added.
Jain also takes pride in the existing work culture at Zivame, believing that it gives an insight about bringing a difference with passion, while painting and shaping the category along the way.
“It’s not the traditional demand versus supply conversations we are having at Zivame office. A team of highly passionate individuals who believe they are working more for a cause, being present in the lives of the people and the way we touch the lives of the people makes this rewarding in itself. That is the DNA of the organisation.” she added.
Technology And Data Plays A Key Role At Zivame
“We are a new-age company, a digital company and we look at technology as a big and extremely important tool which allows us to bring a significant impact on the life of a woman.” – Amisha Jain
Jain said that one factor in Zivame’s success has been its ability to identify market gaps and incorporate feedback through machine learning tools. It also connects with customers at offline retail stores to understand their choices. This further helps the team decide which aspects of the business need greater innovation.
Zivame used this feedback to solve challenges across UI/UX, repeat buys, personalisation and merchandising and inventory control to ensure a smart supply chain.
This continuous focus on technology has also led Zivame to introduce many industry-first innovations in the lingerie space. One such innovation that Jain excitedly spoke about is saree shapewear. “For more than 100 years, Indian women have been wearing petticoats as part of the saree drape, but missing the desired sleek look. That is what saree shapewear does. The idea was to pick up something as simple as that and ensure that we deliver something on-trend for modern Indian women,” she added.
Zivame’s Next Targets
The buzzword in retail these days is omnichannel, whether it comes to sales or distribution chain. At present, almost 42% of sales for Zivame come from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, where online sales are being complemented by physical retail outlets.
Jain said that Zivame went deeper into the market, it encountered customers who have an affinity to a certain sales channel and hence it’s important to have that omnichannel presence. Jain considers it a matter of offering a seamless experience to the user at any touchpoint.
“Tomorrow if you want to shop through WhatsApp or Snapchat, you want to shop online, or a store, we want to make sure that brand Zivame is available to her wherever she wants to shop,” she added.
As it looks at expanding its reach and scale, Zivame is looking at tech-based innovations to bring more customers. It’s also launching Fitcode 2.0 which Jain said will further revolutionise the online lingerie industry. Already under the beta testing phase, this will basically allow women to understand the body type, the ideal fit without having to go through any measurements. It will also let Zivame customised product requirements and stock inventory accordingly.
But challenges around the ecommerce ecosystem apply equally to the Indian lingerie market, which is currently valued at INR 37K Cr. While Zivame says 80% of its revenue is through online sales, it forms just a fraction of the overall market.
While the challenges in replicating manufacturing and supply chain processes of successful ecommerce platforms pose a high entry barrier for the new players, the fast-changing fashion trends, the need for continuous innovation, and high customer acquisition costs are some of the key challenges for Indian lingerie ecommerce platforms, especially as it is a niche category.
Also, according to analysts, the lingerie category is best served with a private label model rather than a marketplace, which reduces profit margins considerably for the player. So, although Zivame has been able to showcase growth in the past year and controlled losses, there are still a lot of wrinkles it needs to iron out in order to achieve sustainable growth in the long run.