Air cooler market, a seasonal category that witnesses peak sales during the summer months, has been impacted due to the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic and containment measures, yet again. While manufacturers and traders were hoping for increased demand and recovery over the last year, the rising cases and lockdowns have dampened the efforts for the second consecutive season in a row.
"The second wave of COVID-19 calling for lockdowns and movement restrictions has had an adverse impact on the industry. The air cooler industry has witnessed loss of demand, almost a rerun of last season. The lockdown forces customers to postpone purchases and with limited summer season window, immediate sales recovery looks tough," says Ravindra Singh Negi, President -- Electrical Consumer Durables, Havells India. The industry records close to 85 per cent of the sales between the summer months of March to June.
Echoing the sentiment, Rajesh Mishra, President - Sales & Marketing, Symphony Ltd, says, "Till the onset of summer in 2021 the demand was picking and we expected very good sales this summer. However, things went haywire from the mid of April as the country suddenly came under a vicious grip of COVID that led to lockdowns and market closures in most parts of the country. While the need exists and demand is there but with markets closed, consumers have no way of getting the product that they badly need."
State-level lockdowns bring some respite
Last year, when the central government had announced a nationwide lockdown, it had brought everything to a standstill. This time the situation is slightly better. State or district level lockdowns basis the ground condition has prevented a complete lockdown situation, allowing the sale and delivery of air coolers in certain parts of the country.
"Considering the impact of the pandemic in March 2020, majority of the season was under lockdown, but in May 2020 we witnessed the ever-highest sales of air coolers due to piled up demand. In the current year, though lockdowns are being placed, it is not as strict as last year, and we are still witnessing demand from consumers. We are trying to ensure that our selling points are replenished to meet this demand," says Sachin Phartiyal, Vice President, Appliance Business -- Crompton Greaves Consumer Electricals Ltd.
Companies are constantly monitoring the ground situations and are ensuring supplies to the network while abiding by the measures issued by the government. For many brands, the warehouse operations are active during the weekdays, either with limited manpower or with restricted time limits or both. Companies are staying in touch with customers and air coolers are being delivered to them after aligning available slots, maximising the utilisation of available resources. Also, wherever e-commerce deliveries for non-essentials are allowed, online partners are trying to service.
However, the current market situation is challenging because when there is a brake in sales during a peak season, companies need to recalibrate their strategies.
Better prepared this year
Learnings from the last year nationwide lockdown had companies well prepared. Most of the brands ensured that the inventories and supply chain logistics were in place.
"We are following all the government guidelines and adhering to zoning restrictions across the country where the states/cities are under lockdown. Keeping consumers' and employees' safety at the core of everything. As part of this, we have adopted an omni-channel strategy with an emphasis on offline as well as online channels, all the while ensuring the perfect equilibrium between digital and physical strategies," says Saurabh Baishakhia, President -- Appliances, Usha International.
Usha International has created a booking platform for air-coolers and are home delivering goods with contact-less deliveries and using sanitised boxes for packaging. The customers can also visit their website and seek assistance in choosing the right kind of air-coolers in accordance with the size of their room or homes. Further, the company's call centres are now functional and are offering customer support wherever required.
Bajaj Electricals Ltd. anticipated a large-scale demand for air coolers this year and held sufficient stock at local warehouses and aligned with channel partners to meet that demand well before the start of the peak season. "In addition, we tapped in local resources and made ourselves suitably placed to meet the demand this season. As for delivery time and making products available to consumers, many businesses are constrained at this point in most markets owing to government regulations creating a temporary lag. However, within the safety guidelines and protocols laid by the Government, wherever feasible, we are making home delivery of coolers possible for our consumers through our Omni Channel initiative," says Krishna Raman, Business Head - Consumer Products at Bajaj Electricals Ltd.
Learnings from the disruptions of last year, Bajaj Electricals Ltd. had aligned its supply chain to ensure product availability in the current season in all major centres to meet the projected consumer demand. Overall, the company is better prepared this time with focused action steps to handle the current restrictions and any potential scenarios that may emerge later.
Although impacted adversely, the air cooler industry is hoping timely containment of the virus spread and fast vaccination drive might help with the revival of the category and industry.
"The summers have been hotter this year and with more than 50 per cent of the population expected to work from home, the demand for cooling solutions is increasing. However, people are not preferring to opt for high expenses due to the uncertain economy and want cost-effective solutions," explains Sachin Phartiyal of Crompton Greaves Consumer Electricals Ltd.
In addition, due to the perceived fear of infection transmission of the circulated air due to air conditioners, many consumers nowadays are wary of using them. Instead, many consumers are preferring air coolers over air conditioners as they offer clean air and good ventilation.
Moreover, given the soaring temperatures across the country, manufacturers are hoping air coolers to be recognised as an 'essential item'. "Air cooler is a seasonal product. As many are working from home with electronics good requirement, I would request the government to permit air cooler and other electronics to be sold on e-commerce platforms," adds Avneet Singh Marwah, CEO, Super Plastronics Pvt. Ltd. SPPL is the India Brand Licensee for Thomson in India, which entered the air cooler segment a couple of months ago.