Saturday, September 26, 2009

Consumer Insights; Am I doing the right thing?

“Nice to see, but consider it sold if broken” or “No replacement or return of any items once purchased” used to be standard caveats in many stores a decade ago. I was shocked and surprised to see the ‘no replacement’ warning on the bill recently and started wondering if we have progressed at all with regards to consumer rights and consumerism.

I could not understand the concept of no items can be replaced or returned. This smacks of totalitarian attitude and assumes that the customer is actually more of a “con” sumer.

In that context the kirana store’s attitude used to be and is still a refreshing change. Many a time I have seen products including bags of rice being sent back and the same being replaced.

How does the kirana store owner manage to do it whereas many larger stores are afraid (Yes, afraid!!) to extend this basic customer service?

Simply because the he is a far more astute businessman completely tuned into the basic psyche of a consumer. Almost everyone has experienced the phenomenon called post purchase dissonance. Which basically translates into concern/ worry/ dissatisfaction with regard to the choices made and the product(s) purchased.

The Kirana guy eliminates this by giving the customers a psychological comfort which over a period of time grows into the foundation of his business - the trust of the customer - and therefore a habit to purchase from that store.

Most Corporate Retailers have taken this lesson, but whether it is to heart or is it lip service is something that I leave you to think about. The reason for my ambivalence is, although most of them have a replacement or returns policy, the on-the-ground experience for a customer who wishes to avail this is still not a very pleasant experience.

The usual culprits - internal policies, procedures and paper work ensures that the staff are apprehensive in extending this without any questions asked and in the process make the entire consumer experience most painful.

Lastly, if I don’t have the confidence that the retailer would support me in my moment of post purchase dissonance or even a genuine quality problem, would my loyalty be with that retailer?
Very doubtful.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Delivering a memorable customer experience

This article is the next in the series on how to implement the customer experience element of basic Retail model, in the Indian context. This was published on Sept 17, 2009.

The faith and trust a customer places in a retailer is a function of his shopping experience. Unless a Retailer works towards creating a memorable experience, the chances of success is very slim. There are many ways to achieve this objective. The Kirana stores use a one on one personalised approach which cannot be duplicated by Corporate Retail. So, how should Corporate Retail manage this crucial element?

To read the whole article, please click on this link -

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some views about Corporate Retail

I have been and will continue to be a passionate advocate of corporate retail which enables a chain of stores. Simply because this would enable too many good things if done well; Like supply chain, development of food processing industry, employment opportunities (Most Important), better tax realisation for the government, so on and so forth.

But then I can’t be blind to the handicaps and shortcomings of this segment too.

Although I have written about the cost disparity between corporate and conventional retail, the fact remains that most conventional shop keepers have learnt fast and got their act together; whether it is in terms of self service or packed groceries! Or even adopting technology in terms of billing systems, etc as reported in Times of India recently.

While corporate retail seems to be floundering! Why?

By now countless seminars, training sessions and perhaps even blogs like mine have created a humongous information base. Media, as always, has capitalised on this craze and one gets to see a large array of magazines about retailing.

Plus there are a handful of experienced retail professionals in India who have not only pioneered Corporate Retail, but have extensive experience spanning across formats and life cycle stages.
So, why is corporate retail struggling against all the conventional ones - be it the ubiquitous kaka ka dukaan or naadar kadai or some of the larger ones.

I believe it is because of the fact that a basic principle of retail has been forgotten. This is called as “Leadership by dirtying one’s hands”. This is my terminology and this translates into leading from the front.

I recall a very poignant memory. During one of my earlier employment stints, I was with Pepsi Foods. I happened to go route riding and was faced with an irate store owner who demanded immediate resolution of an outstanding issue. After polite counter points (Please read as Bull Shit, in CAPS) failed, I had no other choice but to call the office and take inputs/ seek help from the sales head. The secretary (Obviously well trained) promptly said that the head of sales was in a meeting. While I was relaying this message to the shop owner, he grabbed the phone and said in basic Tamil – Amma, naangalla veyillae vitthathaan, aangae AC le meeting nadakum. This means – Only if we sell in this sweltering heat, can you guys afford to conduct meetings in AC rooms. Needless to say, the concerned person came on line and the issue was resolved.

There is an old Tamil folk lore of a King who had a bell which could be rung by any aggrieved citizen and once, even a cow rang it and got justice.

In a country so rich with consumer rights, why is no corporate retail chain displaying any consumer orientation?

Apart from other things like cost structure, is this crucial consumer orientation the core/ key factor which tilts the scale in favour of conventional stores?

Reaching out and creating a connect with customers is a simple thing and there are enough and more simple, cost effective ways of creating this connect. However, at a macro level the organisation needs to be aligned and honest to delivering this customer delight. That by itself would diminish the usual corporate games and enable people to work towards consumer delight.

Is Corporate Retail listening? Or rather, are they interested?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Can someone explain the math to me?

News paper advertising charges are nowadays on a per square centimetre basis. The advertisement shown is actually of a fairly small size. However, repeating the message, using modified language seems like colossal waste. Or is it that this retailer thinks that the customers are so dense that they need the message dinned into them in two different ways?

A simple way to make this communication effective would have been to increase the font sizes and make it more eye catching.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Installation on the same day; Did it build the brand?

Expectations created and not met are not only dangerous, but deadly for any retail brand!

Consider the example of an advertisement I shared some time ago wherein a powerful pain point for consumers had been leveraged to hopefully build credibility and thereby creating a competitive differential for that retail brand.

Now let me share the other side of the story.

When I was recounting this during the MBA class I teach retailing for, several hands went up wanting to refute and share a counter point of view. For most, the claim in the advertisement was downright hilarious as their real time experience in getting the air conditioner installed took anywhere from a week to almost a month.

Is it any wonder that the retailer has realised the folly of a hollow promise and has dropped that claim/ promise from the subsequent communication. Still, they could not desist from a somewhat similar claim of providing installation on Sunday, if purchased on that day! Let’s see, if this one lives up to the expectations being created.

As Mr. Ogilvy said; the customer is not a moron. The sooner retailers realise it and constantly keep it in mind, the better for the retail brand.