*Tanvir Hossain, Deputy General Manager, Marketing & Sustainability at Aarong tells Tawhidur Rashid how theleading brand is adopting technology besides remaining rooted in the traditional approaches it began its journey with

You started at Aarong in the Social Compliance and Producer Development Department. Why did you decide to switch to marketing?
As I was already involved with the producers, my main motivation was on increasing the demand. In some product lines, we were seeing a stagnation of growth. Marketing is related to demand, that was the main incentive. I guess our management team thought that I had a knack for marketing even though I am not a marketing guy. I have grown into this role over the past few years. We are really trying to make our marketing a bit more dynamic by being present on various marketing channels and platforms)Aarong is known for its solid branding and presence. We have tried to incorporate a lot of digital content like ICE so our presence in social media and other digital platforms has increased recently. We are starting out our e-commerce marketing and presence there as well.

How is the response when it comes to membership offer from Aarong?
The response has been really good. Our base has grown to 300,000. This accounts for approximately 60% of our sales right now. The incentives offered through food and hospitality partners have been very well received by our members and has increased customer loyalty. In addition, every season we arrange a private collection launch event for some of our most loyal customers. In these events, we allow them first look at our products, they can also purchase and/or book the products at the event. We also give them incentivized offers from time to time and directly communicate with them for products that matter to them. For example, if a customer is buying a lot of jewelry or apparels, we will show them related items. Availability of data has allowed us to market more smartly.

How long has it taken for the membership base to reach 300,000?
Two years ago, it was about 100,000. Therefore, within a year we have managed to grow the membership base by 200,000. We have added a new tier of membership. Before a customer could only become a member if the purchase amounted to 10,000 Tk and above and that was to be maintained over the period of two years. Right now, you can become a member with any purchase through an option called “Aarong Insider”. With this, you can graduate to a point ranking tier which is our “Lifestyle Tier” by making certain amounts of purchases every six months. That has really helped us to grow our customer base.

Aarong doesn’t need an introduction, your outlets are always full of customers. After all these successful years, how does Aarong recognize itself?
We are a fashion and lifestyle brand. In terms of fashion, 70% of our sales are apparels. We have launched two new sub-brands over the past two years. Two years ago, it was HERSTORY by Aarong and last year, it was Taaga Man. Taaga for women has a long history on its own but what we have done for the first time is we have opened the first independent outlet. So Taaga has its own store in Dhanmondi right now and we are also increasing the availability of the products in all the outlets. So, you will see the aggressive expanding of Taaga and Taaga Man in an attempt to engage more youth. The youth loves Aarong as a great shopping destination but we would like them to consider Taaga and Taaga Man for western fashion. HERSTORY is for more niche clients who prefer more exclusive products. So, I think we are trying to cater to each market where we would like them to have their own brands as well. In this connection, I would like to share a piece of good news. We are launching Aarong herbal. We are reintroducing herbal products under a new brand name and I think it will be very popular considering the growing middle class is more receptive of herbal products.

How has the response been so far to Taaga Man?
The response has been really good. We have a lot of event activities planned. We have exciting collections that will drop starting from this summer and spring as well. Last time we showcased our future summer collection during our 40th-anniversary event. There was an entire fashion show for the Taaga line. So people have the chance to buy those products this year.

Almost all contemporary brands forecast that 2019 will be the Year of Street Fashion. Agree or not?
Absolutely! Taaga Man will have a lot of streetwear. It will go toe to toe with any other streetwear brands in the market. So yes, we do want to capture that streetwear trend that’s going on.

You have been here for seven years and during this period, what has been the most challenging and rewarding aspects?
It’s a mixture of both. When you have a challenge and you overcome it, its very rewarding. Last year we had our 40th-anniversary event where we had over 38000 people attending. What we were able to do is really connect urban dwellers to crafts. We had 11 stalls where people could see the crafts being made in real time. I think people really appreciated that. To really understand our story, you have to see it from the root. It was a challenge that we took on, showcasing the fact that we are a modern brand with traditional roots. We had a showcase for Jamdani and traditional Nokshi Kantha through the Aarong fashion show segment, and we also featured our Taaga and HERSTORY lines with very unique and contemporary themes. That event being successful was very rewarding.

Where do you see Aarong in the next five years, considering the change in the marketing landscape?
I think e-commerce is the buzz word right now, with a combination of online and offline. I believe whichever brand can ensure the best customer experience in that aspect will be the most successful brand. So we are going to launch an app hopefully by this year. It’s already in the testing phase right now. We are also going to launch a Facebook bot this year, so customer queries can be answered on the spot. The bot will also be able to suggest outfits according to your preferences. Any other areas where inclusion of technology will make the shopping experience more convenient will also be looked at. Therefore, it’s going to be a mix of online and offline and we will design the customer experience keeping that in mind. We are building a new state of the art facility in Dhanmondi. So, by 2021 we will have a new flagship outlet of approximately 50,000 square feet. We will merge the online and offline facilities. If any size is not available in the store, customers can order them in the store and have it shipped to their home.

Will there be any technological innovation in your retail outlets?
Yes, we will experiment with the latest retail technology and evaluate what suits our customers. There are things like digital mirrors that are in the market right now. There are digital consultants that can tell you how you look in an outfit. There are features that can be added into an app, AI engines that can actually personally recommend products. So those are things that you might see in our outlets in the near future.

On that note, is Aarong considering incorporating data and AI?
Yes definitely, we have rich customer data. We are looking at the data not just to see purchasing patterns but also what kind of customers come into our shops. Also what kind don’t, and how we can reach them. We are trying to understand our segments better and data helps us in a big way. We also want to see what our customers are responding to. That will also help our designers to come up with more popular and futuristic designs. We are using a lot of our social media data to understand what type of visual experience people want to have. These types of data are guiding our marketing team by understanding what each segment wants individually.

How do you think the overall marketing scenario in retail will be in 2019?
I think it will be mixed. The bulk of sales will be through the brick and mortar store for the foreseeable future. But online will inform the customer at their own convivence. That’s why we are focusing on the app.

A lot of customers are very skeptical about the quality of online products. How do you think you can solve this problem?
I think the service has to improve for that. For our customers, we have a very flexible return and exchange policy. Customers can return products to any outlet they find convenient. We do want to have that commitment and that trust from our customers. That is why we are very selective of the products that we put online.

What would be your advice to youngsters who want to get into marketing?
Definitely understanding today’s modern tools that are available. Understanding technology is very important for today’s marketer. Also, understanding how to leverage your off-line space as well so that you can convert them into online, so you can start tracking users. Its really about designing the experience for the customer as opposed to what’s easier for the brand. Having the customer at the centre and designing the experience, that is what young marketers should focus on. They should see the global market, see the latest innovations and understand how it can be adapted to our market.