As India began to roll back its Covid-related restrictions in June, furniture retailer Pepperfry was fast out of the blocks. Even as it dealt with the ever-changing regulations just like its rivals Urban Ladder and Swedish furniture giant IKEA, it had a secret weapon—a robust logistics wing. With 350 trucks, three warehouses, and 21 distribution centres catering to 500 cities, it was uniquely positioned to cater to a trend no Indian furniture retailer was really prepared for—a surge in online sales.

It isn’t hard to see why they were caught flatfooted. The pandemic was only the latest stage of the seemingly cursed game of snakes and ladders that Indian furniture retailers have been locked in. When startups such as Urban Ladder and Pepperfry launched early this decade, the ladder they settled on was e-commerce. Both launched as pure-play online marketplaces, hoping to ride the e-commerce wave sweeping the country.

A few years on, that ladder turned into a snake. While Indians have grown used to shopping online for everything from clothes to electronics, they remain reluctant to make big-ticket furniture purchases online. Even as India’s furniture market is worth $30 billion, less than 1% 1% The Ken IKEA is aiming for 99% Read more of furniture purchases happen online.

So furniture platforms rolled the dice again, this time opting for the more conventional ladder—offline expansion. Urban Ladder’s 10 stores nationwide even helped it turn profitable; it posted posted Entrackr Urban ladder posts Rs 50 crore profit in FY19 but has a long way to go Read more a profit of Rs 50 crore for the year ended March 2019.

Covid-19, however, turned even this ladder into a snake, causing their fortunes to slide once more. While Pepperfry’s logistics network has provided the company with a silver lining, the drop in store footfalls has still hurt it. Pepperfry—which has 60 ‘experience centres’ across the country—saw store visits drop by nearly a third nearly a third The Economic Times Gloom for Myntra, Pepperfry, others as sales fall by 20% Read more . When The Ken visited a Pepperfry store in a posh southern locale in Mumbai, there were no customers present. Staff at the store said that they’ve been seeing low footfalls since Mumbai began walking back lockdown restrictions in June.

Offline-influenced sales—where customers place orders online after visiting the store—had dropped to 20% for Pepperfry as of August 2020, according to Kashyap Vadapalli, chief marketing officer and business head for the company. Pre-Covid, sales from this segment accounted for 35% of Pepperfry’s total sales, he says, adding that offline business is slowly picking up pace.

AUTHOR

Shruti Venkatesh

Based in Mumbai, Shruti covers ecommerce and internet for The Ken. In her previous stints with Forbes India and Outlook Business, she has also covered beats like FMCG, retail, stock market and advertising. When not chasing stories, she loves spending her time binge-watching, shopping and taking a leisurely stroll along the sea-facing promenade at Marine Drive.

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