Retail chains adopt prepaid cards to retain customers

Prepaid cards have become the latest retail tool to keep consumers hooked to brands. They offer convenience and safety, because customers don’t have to carry cash, and they often come with a variety of offers, including discounts.

Brands like Café Coffee Day, Pizza Hut, Provogue, Kaya, Fastrack, Gili and a host of others have launched prepaid cards. A prepaid card works like a debit card with a PIN number that can be redeemed at the brands’ outlets. The cards in India are based on the closed loop model — that is, they can be redeemed only at the brand’s stores. “When I have money loaded on the card, the tendency to come to the same place is higher,” says K Ramakrishnan, marketing president at Cafe Coffee Day. The brand’s card Cafe Moments, launched this month, offers a 5% bonus on cards with a value of Rs 100 to Rs 499, 7% on Rs 500 to Rs 999 and 10% on Rs 1,000 and above.

A prepaid card obviates the need to pay cash every time, and it also enables faster accumulation of bonus points or other offers. Prepaid cards in India are currently being used more as gift cards. Some brands have used it to launch a promotion or a service. What the prepaid gift card did for Kaya was to generate incremental walk-ins,” says Suvodeep Das, marketing head at Kaya Skin Clinic. In Kaya prepaid cards, currency can be reloaded in multiples of Rs 500 to up to Rs 2 lakh. Kaya sells about 250-300 gift cards a month.

Global Prepaid Exchange recently estimated that the size of the organized prepaid gift card and gift voucher market in India is Rs 2,000 crore and would grow to Rs 8,000 crore by 2015. “The acceptance of gift cards in proportion to vouchers has increased significantly,” says Pratap T P, chief marketing officer at QwikCilver Solutions, a provider of prepaid card solutions.

However, Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy Third Eyesight, says growth in prepaid cards would be restricted by the fact that they can be used only at a particular brand’s outlets. “Also, a customer cannot claim the minimum residual value in the card. He will have to top it up to redeem it,” he says.

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Value segment posts Impressive retail growth.

WHILE the economy is showing clear signs of a recovery, there is reason enough to believe that a brief tryst with economic downturn has forced free-spending Indian consumers to tighten their purse strings. Value apparel retailers posted faster growth rates of 7-8% in the past two months, compared with premium lifestyle retailers, which continue to record flat or marginal growth.

After several months of declining sales, value retailers such as Big Bazaar, Vishal Megamart and Pantaloon have witnessed a smart recovery, while mid-priced and premium lifestyle format stores such as Shoppers’ Stop, Provogue and Life Style are lagging behind with almost flat sales growth, according to industry estimates.

“Broadly, value retail segment has regained an average sales growth of around 7-8% in the past two months, while lifestyle formats are growing at around 0- 4%,” said Rahul Mehta, president of Clothing and Manufacturing Association of India (CMAI). Consumers are clearly not in a mood to shell out a premium, and apparel retailers are now working around the current consumer sentiment, said Mr Mehta. “Lifestyle formats are recording flat growth rates and, in fact, growth was (-)3% in January,” said BS Nagesh, managing director & CEO of Shoppers’ Stop.

Retailers are hoping for an upswing in the lifestyle segment by September 2009 on account of festive buying. Analysts believe that economic turnaround will first benefit the value retail, which would propel the future growth in organised retail sector. In April, Pantaloon, with value and lifestyle sales ratio of 60:40, has marked a sales growth of 23% and 18% in the respective segments. It was 5% and 4% in March, and there was a negative growth in December. Provogue recorded (-)9% sales growth in December. However, in April and May it rebounded to 10-12%, based on same store sales, said Nikhil Chaturvedi, MD, Provogue India.

Roughly, value and lifestyle segments share the organised apparel retail market in a proportion of 3:2 in tier-I and tier-II cities, and recorded an year-on-year growth of 10-12% in the corresponding months of last year. Organised retail has been under pressure since September last year. Apparel retail was worst hit during the period. With consumers starting to cut back on spends, most of the retail outfits suffered negative growth in the second half of the last year. However, with the start of new financial year the organised retail sector has seen a gradual improvement.

GOING SLOW

Value retailers like Big Bazaar, Vishal Megamart and Pantaloon witnessed a smart recovery
Mid-priced & premium lifestyle format stores such as Shoppers’ Stop, Provogue and Life Style are lagging behind with almost flat sales growth Retailers hoping for upswing in lifestyle segment by Sept ’09

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