The Indian retail Laundry industry is around $2.5 billion and still largely unorganized. Before we address the digital component of this industry, let us understand the prevalent three models of laundry services:
• Single unit/micro laundries (dhobi setups): Typically have a single store catering to 1-2 pin codes, partly outsources work to others, with a workforce of less than 20 people.
• Professional laundries: Caters from physical stores in multiple locations, with a workforce of 20+ people overall.
• Aggregator platforms: Mostly startups, aiming to run asset-light operations, providing only pick and drop facility with customer support, outsource laundry process to vendors, and may have more or less than 20 delivery executives.
Mumbai is the perfect example of Indian laundry sector’s unorganized operational processes. The city has the largest open-air dhobi ghat (Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat) in the world. Epitomizing the scale of the opportunity available, the more than 130-year-old Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat sees over 100,000 pieces of clothing from all over Mumbai getting washed, bleached, ironed and dyed each day.
While it all makes for mind boggling numbers, and has made the place a hotspot for tourists that is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, it is not exactly the most efficient, customer and fabric friendly laundry option available. In fact, market research has revealed that most customers continue to rely on the unstructured and informal sector laundry services only because there is no better alternative available.
Another pertinent trend in the current Laundry Industry is that a lot of the traditional laundries are going through an inflection point, where the next generation is not interested in taking the brick-and-mortar laundry business ahead and are engaged in other professions either in another city or outside India. The Laundry Industry has traditionally not seen any consolidation, like other industries like hospitality. The Digital laundry space in India is on a growth curve, as we may see an influx of online laundry players & aggregators, on the supply side.
So what makes a Laundry Digital?
For a customer: A booking/scheduling platform, communication with the customer support team, order tracking & online payment, amongst other things.
For a Rider(Delivery personnel): A platform where an executive gets details about the pickups & drops, creates orders & receives payments.
For the Laundry Operations Team: Tracking items at every stage, Order & bill generation, quality checks, internal & external communication, and history of all orders.
The aim of Digitizing laundries should be to use technology to improve productivity, customer experience and service delivery standards in traditionally unorganized Industries.
There are a number of reasons why we believe Digital or Digi Laundries will become a reality in India.
Modern customers are extremely conscious of their fashion choices and use of exquisite fabrics in their dresses. They are keen to hand over the care of such garments to only those laundries who are trustworthy. Many people love or have a sense of attachment towards their clothes, shoes, bags and even upholstery, but lack the time for its maintenance. People are starting to choose Convenience & Quality > other factors. Customers not only need utmost safety, hygiene, and cleanliness of clothes, but also want to adhere to timelines, and the ability to track transactions. There is a gradual shift in consumer behaviour towards usage of branded and Digital Laundry services.
In the modern urban nuclear households, where husband & wife both are working towards their careers in metro cities, the demand for laundry services is gradually increasing too. Young families are accustomed to eCommerce and Quick Commerce purchases. They want to be in control of their purchases, with respect to price transparency, tracking, customization, digital payments, and quick delivery. Digital First Laundries are therefore ripe for disruption at this stage.
Besides the top Metros, the ecommerce wave has also hit the Tier 2 and Tier 3 urban households, where there has been a change in the spending habits. The essence of India has always been about many India’s co-existing with each other.
In recent years, India has witnessed several app-based laundry services or those in the form of digital aggregators. While some of these players have managed to bring in a certain level of professional accountability and streamlining, they still do not have adequate control over the quality and consistency of operations. The reason is outsourcing of the cleaning requirements to third-party service providers, which limits the Digital Laundry’s role to being merely a facilitator.
A successful Digital Laundry should ideally also control the entire value chain from app-based booking to delivery of the product at the doorstep of the customer. At the same time, taking complete ownership of the entire cleaning services across garments, shoes, bags, upholstery etc.
Having said that, Digital Laundries who take accountability for the final quality of the cleaning services that they offer, along with a seamless end-to-end consumer technology experience, will be the ones that will stand apart and make Digital Laundries a reality in India.