Taking this time to accelerate our e-comm capability: Sanjeev Mohanty, Levi Strauss & Co.

Mohanty, MD, Levi Strauss & Co., speaks about business anticipation in COVID-19 times after putting up a good show in 2019

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Jun 22, 2020 4:07 PM
sanjeev mohanty

The COVID 19 pandemic has caused a massive dent to businesses across sectors. One of these sectors to have faced the brunt is the global apparel sector. However, as restrictions around the lockdowns slowly ease, many of them are preparing to get back to business and are slowly and cautiously restarting some stores. Apparel manufacturer, Levi Strauss stores might have been shut during the lockdown but the brand has been engaging with its audience and has continued advertising while also bringing back its hit 2017 campaign ‘Circles.’ The denim-maker also recently launched-Levi's® X SuperMario has seemed to be resonating well with consumers. 

Sanjeev Mohanty, MD, South Asia, Middle East And North Africa, Levi Strauss and Company in conversation with exchange4media shares how the brand is preparing to reopen stores as retail goes through a sea change, business anticipation in the COVID 19 times after putting up a good show in 2019 and how the brand is walking tall through it all. 

Edited excerpts below:

Firstly, how has the brand’s marketing changed and evolved in response to the COVID 19 pandemic? 

We have always endeavoured to be where our fans are, that is at the centre of culture. Over the last few months, owing to the numerous restrictions, we maintained a close digital connection with our audience.  The focus is on being agile, respond to situations quickly and most important being relevant to our fans.

For instance, on 20th May we celebrated the birthday of the blue jean (501 Day) online and realized that the 501 Live music program, entertainment, and interviews from some of our favourite artists brought a lot of joy. We also saw some of our fans and brand friends posting pictures from our past 501® Day events reminding us that the love for the brand is still strong.

Any segment that is still experiencing a high growth rate? 

Everyone is cautious, and rightfully so. Given the situation, retail is experiencing turbulence but we are sure we can bounce back. We are seeing a great response on e-commerce and our recent launch Levi’s® X SuperMario™ has been a hit, our fans have loved it. We are also seeing growth in e-commerce. Every crisis is an opportunity and we are taking this time to accelerate our e-commerce capability.

What are the challenges to market growth? 

Uncertainty is the biggest challenge that all categories and sectors are facing currently; ours is no different. But with a strong brand, the right processes and an outstanding management team have shown tremendous courage and resilience. We are confident that we will come out stronger.

Covid-19 outbreak will change the way retail is executed in India. How is Levi’s preparing to reopen its stores? 

As we continue to work hard to stay connected digitally, we have started the next phase -- reconnecting and reopening our stores. We are rolling out new processes, and social distancing and cleaning policies across the globe in all our stores. Our staff has been prepared to wear masks and gloves and we ask that you wear face coverings when you come to shop with us so that everyone can enjoy a safe environment. Our stores are cleaned more frequently, and high trafficked areas are cleaned more deeply. Fitting rooms are one area that we pay particular attention to cleaning thoroughly and often. We are installing sneeze guards at check out and implementing tools for contactless payment. We will limit the number of people in our stores based on local guidelines and are using a quarantine process for items that shoppers try on before being returned to the sales floor. We are also depending a lot on technology, implementing tools for contactless billing etc. to ensure that our fans feel safe shopping in our stores.

What was the thought behind revisiting the hit 2017 ‘Circles’ campaign during this time?

COVID-19 has changed the world around us and, due to lockdowns or social distancing, in a way we have lost our sense of togetherness. It reminded us of our Circles campaign, which we released back in 2017 because it celebrated our human connection. The campaign was a reminder that our differences unite us and if we hold on to all that we share in common, we can find our way back to each other. We’ve adjusted the message slightly for this new moment. We felt it would ignite hope and show the strength of human connections. We know it will bring people to believe that 'One Day Soon We Will All Dance Together Again.'

What will be the company’s strategy to overcome the challenges this year? 

Levi Strauss has a 167-year history - we have outlived a civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression and the Great Recession. We believe that during a crisis, strong brands will emerge stronger. We will take the opportunity to double down on our values. For instance, we are not wavering on our sustainability efforts. With climate concerns at the nexus of so many critical challenges — including public health — we know that now is not the time to waver in our commitment to building a more sustainable future. We have seen situations of extreme distress and have made it out of them because we have been financially disciplined, and we are geared up to do it again. While e-commerce will play a larger role now, we are constantly learning and adapting, doubling down on things that are working for us.

 The brand reported its highest sales growth since 2009 in the 2019 financial year with Rs 1,104 crore sales representing 25% year-on-year growth. What is the anticipation this year with Covid-19 hit on businesses? How has it affected the sector?

We started strong this year before the pandemic. The global lockdown meant a complete shutdown of our stores in India for over 2 months. Most of our stores around the world are gradually reopening but if we could learn from other colleagues in China, South Korea and Europe, recovery will be slow. We don’t know long this will last or what consumer response will be when it’s over. Frankly, trying to forecast is nearly impossible. But we remain cautiously optimistic. Our Ecommerce business continues to grow each week and lead our recovery. Across the board, we have seen e-commerce activity, including wholesale.com, increase. We saw great success with Levi’s® X SuperMario™ but it’s also exciting to see how our creative content is brought to life across our digital platforms and how it’s driving conversion. We will have more to report at the next earnings announcement.


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