A nondescript three-storey building at Whitefield — the hotbed of tech companies in Bengaluru — where a team of around 100 people including 35 engineers talk more about cloud technology and analytics than catwalks and advertising, is not a place one would identify with a fashion powerhouse like Madura Fashion & Lifestyle.
Yet this is where the country's largest apparel retailer has its next big growth driver: Trendin.com, its online division. Within a year of its launch, sales of Trendin have equalled those of 30 branded stores, or close to 1% of Madura's turnover.
In fact, Kumar Mangalam Birla's fashion flagship claims that Trendin — run by a completely independent management team and having dedicated warehouses and partnership with many tech startups —is the largest online portal of any brickand-mortar retailer in the country.
"The engineering team of Trendin has built the platform, which is unlike any other brick-and-mortar company setting up ecommerce," said Shivanandan Pare, head of e-commerce at Madura, which has over half a dozen marquee brands including Louis Philippe, Van Heusen and Allen Solly. He said that unlike its peers Madura's Trendin has built its technology in house.
"This gives us extreme flexibility and agility." Before joining Madura, Pare, 41, was instrumental in turning around Reliance's BigAdda by changing the social networking site into a commerce venture five years ago. The stakes are much higher now as there are strong rivals including Flipkart and Amazon in the online space and his merchandise spread is limited to own brands.
"The mandate is clear — Trendin should be Madura consumers' first choice online. We have the widest range of merchandise available compared to online marketplaces and even our own stores," said Pare, an engineer and management graduate.
After sudden market share gains by online players, strategies of several traditional retailers including Reliance, Tatas and Future Group now revolve around omnichannel retail, which requires IT systems and processes to support customers shopping both in stores and online.
For Birlas, it is no different. Devangshu Dutta, chief executive officer at retail consultancy Third Eyesight, said Trendin's big challenge is to attract enough customers to its site.
"Online market, in the last there years, was driven by discounting. Such a platform has an inherent strength of product mix and service, which is now getting important," he said.
"Trendin is driving customer acquisition online which can also work vice-versa but the real challenge is whether they can build enough traffic." Trendin is only a fraction of Flipkart or Amazon in terms of sales, but it is also helping Madura's offline sales by sharing consumer insights.
For instance, search queries on Trendin get shared with Madura's merchandising team to help forecast demand better. So what's moving online faster is stocked at stores too.