Guwahati: The crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic hit North Eastern women entrepreneurs , disrupting their supply and marketing chains, forcing them to move towards digital marketplaces.
The entrepreneurs are now mainly focusing on digital marketing, diversifying distribution channels, adjusting the product/service offering, re-adapting operation, and revising the pricing strategies to turn the COVID-19 induced challenges within their business environment into opportunities, a report by Deutsche Gesellschaft fr Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in partnership with the Union Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), said.
The primary economic impact of the pandemic on women entrepreneurs was muted demand of customers, delivery constraints, a crowded online marketplace, and changed customer preferences.
The report titled ‘Women Entrepreneurs’-Resilience in times of COVID-19 is a part of GIZs ongoing project of ‘Her and Now-Empowering Women Entrepreneurs’.
“Women in the North East have been more significantly affected due to geographical and infrastructural conditions and the ease of doing business there is lower as compared to the other states with the pandemic induced disruptions hitting them harder”, project head Ullas Marar said.
Limited infrastructure, lack of regulations, and competition in transportation services made it difficult for the entrepreneurs to connect with the rest of the country, she pointed out.
Many entrepreneurs had to put production on hold as raw materials were not available and women associated with the food processing industry faced significant hurdles during the lockdown.
Inventory management posed another challenge and its impact was mostly felt in the sectors of food processing, textiles, and handloom, and handicrafts, the report said.
During the lockdown, low demand and limited market access made it difficult to sell the produce and stock up new items, resulting in piled-up inventory, overcrowded warehouses, and reduced liquidity.
“Lockdowns were imposed at short notice, leaving no time to secure the inventory and we were not able to access the warehouses for regular inspections, which resulted in huge quantities of perished food products”, Manipur-based food processing entrepreneur Laishram Prabha Devi said.
In the initial days of the pandemic, marketing posed a major challenge to entrepreneurs and the most dynamic changes have been observed in this sector with women making efforts to create a digital space to market their products.
“Redesigning the distribution strategy was essential for most women entrepreneurs to guide their businesses through the pandemic and a majority of them pivoted to online distribution channels”, according to the report.
Social media turned out to be very useful for selling products or services with Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp becoming the most prominent platforms due to the ease of transaction and high usability of customers.
Beyond social media, several women entrepreneurs created their online store, enabling them to serve customers on a more structured approach, providing a clear overview of the product range, options for online payment, and transparency on terms and conditions.
Collaborations with e-commerce platforms served as another approach for continuing and extending distribution networks and provided the opportunity to extend business reach, to serve customers pan-India, and reduced the level of technical knowledge required compared to hosting a private website, the report pointed out.
“To survive in the post-pandemic world, there is only one way-adapting and evolving”, said Alaka Patowary, a handloom and textile entrepreneur from Assam.
Many entrepreneurs also made adjustments to the product or services offered as there is a need to “rethink, redevelop and redesign products so that they can find a place in the essential commodities segment”, Tripura- based handicrafts entrepreneur Anjana Bhattacharjee said.
“It is undoubtedly the need of the hour to prepare for a future that is sustainable and structurally more viablewe have spent more than a year in response mode. Now is the time for recovery, to ensure that our business is ready to thrive”, Assam- based entrepreneur Daisy Brahma said.