Richa Kar: Retailer At Heart

Posted: July 11, 2012

Many of us buy clothes online, but lingerie shopping? Meet Richa Kar, CEO of Zivame, an online lingerie shopping website. 

Interview by Aparna V. Singh

Richa Kar says that she decided to launch Zivame, a pioneer in the online lingerie shopping in India. Richa who says she is a ‘retailer at heart’ felt that the women’s undergarments market in India was not customer-friendly, with sales staff pushing sales rather than helping women get the best product for their needs. Thus began Zivame, in August 2011. 

A post-graduate from the Narsee Monji Institute of Management Studies, Richa used her experience at well-known names in retail such as Spencer’s and SAP Retail Consulting to start Zivame. 

Aparna V. Singh (AS): E-commerce is still relatively new in India, and lingerie shopping online even newer! What led you to enter e-commerce with an unusual category like women’s undergarments?

Richa Kar (RK): I have worked in the retail sector and am a retailer at heart. I got exposed to the lingerie category in one of my assignments. I was surprised to find that in the West lingerie shopping happens primarily online. In India, I realised that women rarely acknowledge lingerie as a part of their wardrobe and lingerie shopping is really uncomfortable.

Researching a little more, I found that retailers do not stock all sizes of women’s undergarments, there is very little awareness and the availability is poor in the smaller towns and cities. Hence I began looking for a solution that transcended the limitations of physical distribution. Internet happens to be the channel and hence e-commerce!

I did not think about starting Zivame because a particular category is hot or not. It was more from my belief of filling the gap in lingerie shopping and understanding that Internet lends itself very well to this category.

AS: What have been the biggest challenges in the early phase? What has been the most fun?

RK: Every part of a start-up phase is challenging and setting up an entire company, being bootstrapped was challenging. Getting all the brands on board without any money or network was challenging but I guess conviction in one’s belief is the greatest driver. Doing all the paper work to set up a company, getting the e-commerce backbone ready, taking customer calls, packing and dispatching at the same time was maddening. The fun part of it was seeing all the boxes ready to be shipped every day at 3 o’ clock.

AS: You have previously worked in the brick and mortar retail space; how would you compare that with the e-commerce industry?

RK: The basic principles of retail do not change but then the channel is different, the marketing, service, delivery is completely different. The consumer insights are better gathered in a digital media. The brand interaction is also longer in this medium. For example, the customer does not differentiate between the logistics provider and the brand with regards to service. If the courier company does not deliver the packet in time, the brand gets a bad name.

The consumer is also a lot more demanding and one has to think very frequently of new ways to engage with them, entice them to shop. It is a very dynamic space.

AS: Don’t customers have apprehensions about lingerie shopping online, given that fit could be an issue? How do you address this?

RK: We educate our customers on the right fit. Our Fitting Room has a lot of content to educate a woman on how to judge if the fit is right. Our lingerie experts are available on phone and on chat for consultation. We encourage exchange if the fit does not feel right and in most of the places we pick up the piece so that the woman is not inconvenienced.

If you go by the “80% woman wearing the wrong bra” statistics in a scenario even when women are doing the lingerie shopping in person, then I would rather focus on building awareness and education around fit, than worry about offline versus online with respect to fit.

AS: Give us some insight on what urban Indian women are looking at from lingerie.

RK: Most Indian women have never shopped online and lingerie shopping online is a completely new thing for them. But once they make their first purchase they realize what a pleasurable experience it is. Imagine getting your size, no pushy sales staff, no embarrassment and a variety of choices all at your doorstep.

We build our assortment taking into consideration the needs of Indian women. We found that a lot of full figure women were not getting their sizes in physical stores. Hence we introduced sizes from A to G cups. Woman want to wear shapewear to work and want to feel comfortable for 12 hours in them. Hence we introduced Brazilian shapewear that is comfortable and breathable.

AS: What drives you, as an entrepreneur and as an individual?

RK: Being able to fulfill a certain need is most gratifying. That thousands of women in India have now found a respectable way of making their intimate choices is a gratifying feeling and I feel driven to reach out to every woman in India and make them experience Zivame.

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