,Vendor Denise Fernandes de Queiroz talks to a costumer as they enter a messaging app on their phones at a Casas Bahia store in Sao Paulo, Brazil, August 3, 2021. Picture taken August 3, 2021. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli
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August 4 (Reuters) - In March last year, Oziel da Silva Santos needed a new TV but with stores closed due to COVID-19 restrictions in Brazil's northern city of Belem, the 50-year old was clueless about how to get one. He followed a link on the website of furniture retailer Via Varejo and called a store manager.
On the other end of the line was Railton Sampaio, a manager at the city's largest Via Varejo. Sampaio helped him buy the TV online, sending the link for payment through the commonly used messaging app WhatsApp.
Santos is one of the millions of Brazilians making a first-time purchase online as a result of the pandemic, a vital new market for the country's biggest retailers. Stores are adapting their strategies - and pursuing merger and acquisition (M&A) to help smooth the transition to internet shopping for inexperienced customers.
In four months, Santos made five more online purchases with Via Varejo salesmen's help, generating commissions for the store's agents.
Sampaio's sales team is an example of a growing digital strategy among Brazil's largest retailers to increase revenue and attract new online customers after lockdowns shuttered most brick and mortar stores early in the pandemic.
When Brazil's largest cities mandated closure of all stores in March of 2020, Via Varejo's sales dropped 70%. Almost immediately, the retailer mobilized its 20,000 sales people to start selling through social platforms Facebook and WhatsApp. "The pandemic accelerated our digital transformation and we did in a few months what was expected for a year," Via Varejo CEO Roberto Fulcherberguer said.
Each store opened a Facebook account, and salespeople first marketed offers to friends and family. The campaign "Call me on Zap," the Brazilian nickname for the popular WhatsApp messaging app, provided online chatrooms with store managers.
'WINNERS AND LOSERS'
Even as physical store locations reopened in recent months due to the national vaccine rollout, Via Varejo and rivals such as Magazine Luiza SA and Lojas Americanas SA continue to push for online sales. At Via Varejo, 56% of revenue comes from online sales, compared to 30% pre-pandemic.
"Salespeople are now eager to sell online. I get a good part of my commissions online," said Karina Ferreira Dias, saleswoman at a large Via Varejo store in Sao Paulo metropolitan area. Unlike other companies, Via Varejo has not reduced staff even when most of its stores were closed.
Magazine Luiza has a similar strategy. "During the pandemic, salespeople were able to sell through an app. They get commissions on everything they sell, be it online, third party products in the marketplace or in person," said Eduardo Galanternick, its vice president.