Showing posts with label Customer Experience. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Customer Experience. Show all posts

Friday, March 29, 2019

Believing in what you sell is one of the most critical aspect in retail.

David Ogilvy, one of the gurus of advertising is credited with this quote; “I never assign a product to a writer unless I know that he is personally interested in it. Every time I have written a bad campaign, it has been because the product did not interest me.”

Decades later this maxim holds true for not only advertising but actually about almost everything we do in life. If we truly believe in something, we give it our best and the outcome is invariably a positive one.

This reality becomes critical in retail as the shopper is driven and motivated by the trust he or she reposes in the store. In reality, it is not even in the store but in the staff and their service.

It is no wonder that the staff are referred to as the “Face of the Retailer”.

In spite of this, the majority of training initiatives are focused on customer service, smiling and wishing the customer, etc. Very rarely have I come across a retailer who takes the trouble to sell their merchandise to their own staff and make them to truly believe in what they are being asked o sell.

That was the crux of the issue that was mentioned to me by a young retail manager and which led to this “Business Line” article; Do you believe in what you sell?

Apart from the interesting anecdote about my interaction with this your retail professional, the article also captures an essential milestone in the journey of modern trade in India, especially that of food/ supermarket formats.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Customer delight is a function of expectations

The Kabali fever is on and I succumbed to it! After watching the movie some interesting perspectives with regard to retail cropped up in my mind. Obviously the power of branding and the ability to drive massive, unheard-of footfalls into theatres is one of the predominant thoughts. The related thought is with regard to converting these walk-ins into repeat customers and loyal shoppers.

That the movie Kabali has had an unprecedented amount of build up and hysteria is an understatement. It was released on 22nd July 2016 across the world in thousands of screens. I don’t think that any other movie has been screened in Chennai city today. All screens are showing Kabali from as early as 4.00 am onwards. Aircrafts were painted with the Kabali picture, hotels had Kabali menu and even some organizations declared a holiday as the majority of the employees were anyways expected to be absent from work. In sum, this extended weekend can safely be called as the Kabali weekend!

Needless to say this hype along with a near total secret shroud around the storyline and other details about the movie helped create an anticipation and expectation which was far more than even sky high. In Rajini terms, it was galaxy high!

I was reminded of several of the store launches we had choreographed where similar hype would be created albeit at a much smaller and localized level.

Now I come to the moment of truth; the movie experience. I am not going to share any spoilers or story details. Let the Kabali weekend play out and maybe I will add on some views regarding this later on. As of now, all ye fans can look forward to the movie without any spoilers from me at least.

The experience I would like to talk about is that of an excited viewer on the first day of a Superstar’s much awaited movie. In a manner of speaking it was the first day, first show as it was the first show in the theatre we went to see Kabali. The usual scenes of super excited crowds were seen outside the theatre. The expected thrill from the movie was writ large on the faces of everyone. As expected there was a person in a suit trying to believe and also make others believe that he was Kabali. Shouting, hooting, jostling, etc., was all adding up and increasing the excitement levels. We were allowed into the theatre and the entry of the audience was punctuated with whistles, shouts etc. The start of the movie was amazing where the audience thrill, enthusiasm and excitement were as interesting to watch if not more.

The first few scenes where Thalaivar Rajinikanth makes his entry, delivers some of his key dialogues, etc., and was greeted wildly by the audience with whistles, people standing up, clapping and more. Subsequently, the theater settled down and everyone watched the movie in silence. Barring a few moments of euphoric whistling, clapping and cheers, the three hours was by and large a quiet experience. Even the ending seemed to be subdued as everyone made their way out of the theatre.
This is not what one usually experiences in a first day first show of a superstar. In fact many people go to these shows to see the fans in action and be a part of the excitement. They then go to actually watch the movie again.

I am not going to comment on whether the movie was good or bad, speculate about the story, etc. My interest is more in the crowd or customer reaction which I think was markedly subdued. I wonder how many of them would be coming back to watch the movie again and that is what triggered a thought in the context of retail.

Is it that the hype ended up creating expectations which are almost impossible to meet? In such a scenario, initial response might be fantastic but repeat business might be difficult to get. In any retail context hype and excitement is what pulls shoppers to come into any store. The question that any retailer must answer is whether the store can live up to the hype and resultant expectations. The store by itself might be excellent just like how the Superstar’s performance in Kabali is outstanding. However even that might not be enough if the expectations created are way more than what is being delivered. 

One must always keep in mind that customer satisfaction and customer delight is more dependent on the expectations being created than the actual delivery and experience.

Picture courtesy - V Creations

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Are you ready to change the way you shop!

I have been writing about the disruption in the way people shop for some time now. Technology like Google Glass, HoloLens, 3D Printing, etc., is going to disrupt the retail environment as much as the internet did or maybe more so. It is only a matter of time before such devices become mainstream because of their price becoming affordable as also supporting software being available. Slowly but surely these changes are entering into the retail environment.
One of the key shopper expectations is to be able to purchase products which are different, unique and customized. Such purchases used to be quite expensive but no longer. Shoppers can now purchase 3D printed and customized products online from sites such as Shapeways, i.materialise, thingify, etc. Amazon has taken this to the next level and plans include a patented 3D printing truck which would come to your doorstep and print out the product! When 3D printers become affordable and mainstream, you could do the same at home, without even having to wait for that truck.

Alternatively you could drop into a store and get things made for you in a short while. This could be anything including a book being printed and bound in front of your eyes. This is what “Librairie des Puf”, a book store run by the publisher University Press of France does. They use an Espresso Book Machine which makes a book right in front of your eyes.

This machine used to be quite expensive but the prices have dropped over the years. Many smaller stores tried adopting a similar model but ran into issues when the publishers were not ready to share the content for instant printing of the books. Although eBooks are gaining ground, there are a significant number of readers who still prefer a hard copy one to read. With real estate costs rising and the overall spends on physical books becoming very niche, this trend of buying instantly printed books might be the future for the purchase of books.

As a shopper if you like online, the next level would be the virtual world and retail might cater to that preference too. Shopping in a holographic, 3D virtual store might take a bit longer but a step closer to this is what eBay is trying out in Australia. In association with Myers, a leading department store chain they are bring Virtual Reality stores to the shoppers, wherever they might be in the country.

This video would give you an idea of how the Virtual Reality shopping will be done in what is positioned as the world’s first Virtual Reality Department store.

An earlier post had detailed about how shopping might evolve in the coming years. The pace at which technology is evolving shows that the future is far closer than what was thought. Physical shopping, Online, Omni channel and it seems like it virtual reality shopping will soon encompass all these while redefining the retail space, business models, etc.

Are you ready to change the way you shop! 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Do organisations really want Happy Customers?!

I saw a cartoon in a leading national daily and was struck by the irony in this illustration. Although it is prima facie humorous, it is also a reflection of the reality and holds a very strong message to organizations, especially Retailers.

customer delight, customer service, service, retail, etail, online shopping, service delivery

It raises the following questions which I will address.
  • Do Retailers expect any customer to be happy, satisfied or delighted at all?
  • Are organizations serious about making customers happy, satisfied or delighted?
  • If there is no breed called happy customers, whose fault is it?

Forget Retailers, most organizations do not expect their customers to be even satisfied forget about being delighted. The rationale behind this statement is the fact that I am yet to come across anyone having a system or process to handle happy or satisfied customers. Let me illustrate this with an example from two service sectors. In most stores there are loyal customers who are happy and often give positive feedback and express their satisfaction with the store and staff members. Unfortunately these customers are often ignored while unhappy customers who complain get a lot of attention. In most of my programs I have advocated customer interaction forums where such loyal and happy customers are invited and that recognition alone would be a first level of reward for these shoppers. The second example is with regard to a leading airline. I had praised the way their staff had handled a situation and had messaged them. Imagine my surprise when I got a template reply thanking me for my patronage and feedback. Obviously their service staff has no idea about handling a happy customer.

Of course, it can be argued that organizations expect all their customers to be happy and that unhappy customers need to be handled as they are the exception. This is totally wrong. Even if satisfied customers are the norm they need to be recognized in order to motivate them to continue sharing this satisfaction and happiness.  Apart from reproducing a few appreciative letters or comments, most organizations do not even acknowledge satisfied customers.

This situation is largely because most organizations espouse customer service and delight while their actions on the ground are directly opposite to that. A very common example is the promise of a hassle free replacement while making the actual process for this painful enough to dissuade the shopper. Every shopper of physical or online retail must have experienced the sheer frustration of trying to resolve an issue wherein the customer service person responds like a robot with template responses which in most cases are completely irrelevant. In the case of such a reality it is highly questionable if organizations especially retailers are really serious about customer satisfaction or are they focused only on managing dissatisfied customers.

This is again a problem with regard to the service delivery design and the management’s orientation towards customers and shoppers. Although the stated intent of the organization is great service and satisfied customers, almost every system and process in place focuses on controlling and constraining the front line staff. This means that they are rarely empowered to deliver customer satisfaction. Obviously such staff have no clue about handling happy customers simply because they are not empowered to make the customer or shopper happy!

Lastly is the point about whose fault is it. Although organizations are at fault, the customer and shoppers must share some of the blame with regard to this situation. The majority of shoppers are eager to complain and make a noise when they are not satisfied. Unfortunately they rarely take the trouble to even mention situations and interactions which make them satisfied or happy.

The old saying that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is very apt in this context. Unhappy and dissatisfied customers make a noise and so organizations take the trouble to think of ways to handle them and manage such people. Happy and satisfied customers keep quiet and so the organization in most cases is not even aware that they exist. It is no wonder that most staff members do not know how to handle happy customers and their appreciation.

This cartoon is actually a reflection of reality and for this to change the customers and shoppers need to speak up when they are happy and satisfied. Organizations on their part should start recognizing happy customers instead of only managing the unhappy ones. 

Cartoon courtesy - The Hindu

Monday, April 4, 2016

Replacement Guaranteed!

The recent spate of messaging by the online Retail majors hinges on reassuring the shopper that it is very easy to return or replace what has been purchased.

This is a core shopper expectation which is catered to very efficiently by the stand-alone, neighborhood store.  Interestingly modern retail formats including eTailers  are still struggling to establish trust on this front.  This is a very critical shopper behavior aspect and some of my earlier posts on this topic can be viewed by Clicking HERE

v rajesh, retail expert, shopper behaviour, marketing, customer service

I had a flashback to the late 90s, when the RPG Foodworld chain of supermarkets was trying to redefine the grocery and food shopping behavior. This involved addressing several key mind blocks and shopper resistance aspects; hassle free replacement being one of the most important amongst them.

“Replacement Guarantee” was an initiative to address this important issue and it involved a holistic approach which included messaging, internal processes as well as staff education and training. This had a very positive impact which was reflected in the sales increase as also the basket penetration of several core categories of products.

Coming to the present times the two recent advertisements by Amazon and Flipkart are focusing on the ease of return and replacement. These two advertisements drive home the message effectively.

It is interesting to note some subtle and sublimal messaging in both these advertisements and they do raise two important questions in my mind as a retailer.
  1. Both the advertisements show an elderly person expressing concern about return and replacement. They are both reassured by someone who is much younger. Is easy return/ replacement a concern only for Gen X / older shoppers? The counter point could be that this a concern for the Gen Y and Gen Z but the advertisement is trying to drive home a message that their Gen Y and Gen Z customers do not face this problem. In that context are reference groups such a large influence for these shoppers?
  2. Retail brand building is built on trust which can happen only during the transactional experience.  Even today, the return/ replacement in most modern formats and eTailers are definitely not up to the mark. In that context will messaging alone work? What process changes have these eTailers instituted to ensure that the real experience lives up to the expectations created through the advertisements?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Future of Retail; Bringing the store to you

Google Glasses coupled with 3D printing opened up a whole new dimension of shopping. I had written about this and a blue sky idea was that people might move away from purchasing products to buying 3D print designs and make their own products at home. This is very much a possibility in the future when the materials and composites required for various kinds of 3D printed products as also 3D printers become main stream and a part of most homes.

In the meantime there is another interesting technology which might merge the physical and online retail worlds to give you the best of both.

Shoppers opt for eTailing because of price, convenience and range. The competitive advantage of convenience is coupled by the fact that online retail is not constrained by physical store size. This enables them to offer a far wider and deeper range, called as a long tail of merchandise.

Shoppers also take the trouble of going to physical stores in order to browse and have a shopping experience which consists of “Touch, Feel and See”.

Imagine a scenario where you want to shop for a new dress and you sit back in your recliner and the store actually comes to you and enables you to shop. Is that not a fantastic combination of physical and online retail? 

Is that possible?

There are emerging technologies which enable visualization which has led to innovations like virtual dressing rooms. However, a new technology when coupled with visualization might actually bring the shop to you in the near future.

Microsoft has been working on a technology called HoloLens. 

Very simply put, this creates a 3 dimensional holographic view for the viewer and they can interact with the same. This video would give you a better idea about HoloLens.

How is this relevant and applicable to retail?

Retailers can leverage this platform to create 3 dimensional stores which can be accessed by the shopper in the comfort of their home. Creating such 3D stores is already possible and being used for a different purpose. Today there are several IT solutions that create a 3 dimensional rendering of the store and make is quite realistic. See the first video to get an idea about how 3D store would look like and the second video to see how Carrefour has used Google Street View to create a virtual shopping experience using kiosks and hand held devices. 

The logical next step would be to project this as a 3D immersive hologram in the coming years.

Combine these technologies and it would be possible to bring home the store. Add on technologies which are being worked on like delivering sensory influences such as smell and a feel of touch. Voila, your store will be as real as it can be and more importantly, exclusive to you.

In such a scenario, if you want to buy a new dress you might sit back and slip on your HoloLens device or some other similar device and the store comes alive before you. You can browse, use visualization to try on dresses, check out accessories, compare prices and much more.

As compared to printing products at home, bringing the store home seems much closer to reality. This is all the more pertinent in the current context where both physical and online retailers realize the need to be present on both platforms. A giant like Amazon has opened physical stores and several physicals stores are in the online space.

Bringing a store home is now possible and a retailer who gets their act together to make this happen might establish a strong competitive advantage, especially in India.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The way men and women shop

There are countless jibes that are directed at women about shopping and their fondness for the same. However, it is a reality which is not well known that there are validated reasons for the differences in shopping behavior between men and women.

This cartoon of Calvin & Hobbes is an interesting depiction of how men get confounded by choice which would not be the case if a woman were shopping.

There are two fundamental differences between men and women which defines their orientation towards shopping and why they differ from each other.

Women are supposedly much better at multi tasking and anyone who has taken a ride with their mother would know that it would be a fun ride where the woman would not mind having loud music being played while she chats and also drives. This would be a direct contrast to a ride with a male who would prefer minimal distractions when driving and absolute quiet might be a de-facto requirement when navigating heavy traffic.

Women are supposed to have a wider peripheral vision. This essentially means that women can take in more visual stimuli as compared to men. Men have a stronger straight-on vision supposedly a hangover from the hunter-gatherer days. This means that men prefer a single target to zoom into and complete the task.

This obviously has significant implications for any retailer. The store and all the various elements inside in terms of design, display, etc has to be different, depending on whether the focus of that store is on women shoppers or men.

As the cartoon shows, men shoppers should ideally be presented with a simple design, easy to choose display and a quick shopping experience. The direct opposite is required if a retailer is targeting women shoppers.

That is not all, even the service and interaction levels would have to be tailored and structured differently for men and women as women are more socially inclined and actually welcome interactions. On the other hand, men are far more functional and their expectations are for functional service.

Cartoon courtesy - The Hindu Metroplus

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Who is shopping for what and when?

It is becoming common place to see mega sales and promotions being advertised and promoted by online retailers in India. However, what puzzles me is their timing. Most of these promotions are scheduled to start on Mondays and are during weekdays barring a few exceptions. This is in direct contrast to the physical stores. The brick and mortar stores usually gear up for promotions during the weekends namely Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They stock up, plan for adequate manpower and hope for the bumper weekend sale.

The weekend phenomenon is clearly a function of time where shoppers are free. Also, with shopping becoming more of a recreational cum functional outing, this tends to happen on weekends. Obviously online shopping is not time intensive and that is one of its main advantages. However, the timing of holding such promotional sales during weekdays, especially with a start on Monday’s is something worth exploring with regard to who buys from such sales, what is purchased and why on weekdays.

Conventional wisdom says that Monday would be amongst the busiest days for most working people and sparing time to even browse and click might not be possible for most. As clear data with regard to the age of online shoppers is not available easily, the next best reference is the age of internet users. A February 2015 report by PWC estimates that 37% of the users are in the age group of 15 – 24 and 38% are in the 25 – 34 years age group. It is quite possible that the majority of them are students or are in the early stage of their careers. They are also the Gen X whose orientation towards work as also work-life balance is very different from the older generations. Hence a weekday pressure, especially Monday pressure is not such a big factor.

This is validated by the categories that dominate online shopping in India. Another report by by RedSeer consulting dated March 2015 shows that 45% to 50% of online purchases are electronics and this could very well be dominated by mobile phones. Next is fashion with a share of 18% to 20%. Clearly these categories have a correlation with the dominant age groups of internet users and validate the weekday promotions of online retailers versus the weekend focus of physical stores.

In spite of increasing smart phone usage and shopping apps, 2/3rd of the orders are coming from a computer and only 1/3rd is originating from a smart phone. Many organizations especially those employing large numbers of the Gen X do not allow free access to online shopping and social network sites. If the majority of the potential online shoppers do not have access to these sites at work on their computer, they should be purchasing through their mobile. In which case the share of orders from mobiles does not reflect this and should be higher.

So the question remains, who is buying when and what online in India.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Formats and Shopper Expectations

It was perfectly acceptable to see names like Bharat Departmental stores or even Bharat Mall even for stores which were only 400 – 500 square foot on average and be crammed with products with the shop owner serving the customers from across the counter. However, this was ironical because Bharat Departmental stores would neither be large, nor presented in well defined departments and most definitely not lifestyle led as the name would lead one to believe. 

It is no wonder that this small temporary stall decided that a pun on the world’s largest retailer was a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

This was mainly because of the shopper frequenting a store mainly because of their personal relationship and trust. As such the name of the store actually made no difference to the shopper and it ended up being a reflection of the shop owner’s aspiration.

Fast forward to 2015 and the shoppers are changing. This change in shopper’s orientation was driven home when I saw an advertisement for a regional retailer who has largely been known for apparel till now, announcing the launch of a 'Hyper" store. 

CLICK here to read my ET Retail article about these changes in shopper expectation and behavior which has led to format definitions to become important and accurate.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Who is the face of your eTailer?

The staff in any physical store plays the role of being the face of any Retailer.  Shoppers can interact with them and address all their queries, concerns, etc., to a “person”. It is an area of focus that the quality of such staff is often not up to the mark and there is tremendous scope for improvement in that front.

In contrast a shopper sees only the person who delivers their products and invariably they are not empowered or trained to be the face of the eTailer. Any issue needs to be raised through an email or a call which has to go through the inevitable IVR (Interactive Voice Response system). The bigger issue is that the same customer call centre person does not attend to the call every time and in many cases the shopper ends up repeating all the details. 

Imagine a situation if one walked into a store and wanted some assistance. They call out to a store staff and an imaginary conversation would go like this.
  • Shopper – Excuse me, where can I find this product?
  • Store Staff – Thank you for shopping with us and we value your patronage. Please select the following from the options. Say 1 - for product information, 2 - for other service, 3 – for any complaints, 4 – for any suggestions and say 9 - if you wish to speak to a customer service person.
  • Shopper – I just want to locate this product
  • Store Staff – Sorry, we have not received any input. Please press 5 to repeat the main menu.
  • Shopper – Okay (With an angry sigh) 5
  • Store Staff – Thank you for shopping with us and we value your patronage. Please select the following from the options. Say 1 - for product information, 2 - for other service, 3 – for any complaints, 4 – for any suggestions and say 9 - if you wish to speak to a customer service person.
  • Shopper – Shouts out “1” and is obviously getting irritated.
  • Store Staff – Thank you. Please Say 1 for Food products or 2 for Non Food products. 
I am sure that most shoppers would walk out at this stage. 

While I hope that this might never happen in a physical store, this is exactly what happens most of the time when a shopper calls up the customer service number. 

Therefore, it is important to re-look at the role of the delivery person because he/ she will always be the ONLY face of the eTailer that the customer gets to see and interact with.

How this be done has been detailed in my article in ET Retail. Click here to read the article.

This video about an initiative to motivate such delivery persons. This is a good start but definitely not enough. There has to be a paradigm shift in the way front end logistics is perceived and executed. The article talks about what needs to be done and how that can become a game changer.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Does your trial room drive shoppers away?

One of the main attractions of purchasing apparels is trying out the various clothes and feeling good about it. This is an important component of apparel shopping and in India; this is often a group activity as shoppers tend to come in groups of either family members or friends. Trial rooms or fitting rooms are spaces inside the store which offer this experience and can actually make or break the sale.

These spaces should also be designed with care because of the impact on conversion and therefore sales. Ideally the mirrors should be of good quality which does not distort the reflection, lighting should be soft but bright enough, enough space inside and most definitely lots of hooks to hang the clothes.

However, this element of store design seems to be increasingly compromised by Retailers in various ways. Click here to read the article in ET Retail about whether the Retailer’s trial room is driving away shopper.

Although there are technological innovations which try to offer a virtual experience of trying on clothes, it cannot compare with the actual touch, feel and see experience of physically trying on the same. 

The video shows one such initiative which might attract shoppers for a while because of the novelty factor. However, I am not sure that this will end up replacing the physical trial/ fitting rooms. 

This is all the more reason why Retailers should pay special attention to making these spaces deliver a WOW experience to the shoppers.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Joining the bandwagon

A few days ago I was quite surprised to see this advertisements for a fairly well known silk saree shop which has several outlets in the city. End Of Season Sale (EOSS) is by now a familiar sight in the Indian Retailscape with lifestyle stores screaming offers of up to 50% or even 70% Off.

This seems to be actually a new trend and is worth watching out for – Start Of Season Sale (SOSS) or is it a sign of desperation and this actually means Save Our Store Sales (SOSS)!

Retail Promotion, Lifestyle Retail, Sale, Offer, Apparel, Sarees

Some key elements which are worth debating about;
  • The festival season kicks off with Navratri/ Dushera and extends all the way till Diwali. This is the time for large spikes in sales, especially in the apparel segment and silk sarees would definitely qualify. Why should the Retailer have such aggressive Buy One Get One Free offers along with some very steep discounts also.
  • If the intent is to clear stocks, then their pitch of updated collection is misleading and is actually bound to create a negative impact in the shopper’s mind set if that is not true. This category is very high on the impact of word of mouth and such misleading information will soon spread the negative message.
  • If the range is indeed updated and has new designs for the festive season, why this aggressive offer? This segment sells based more on design, colour, quality and service. In that context, why is the Retailer making it into a mass merchandise?
Too often nowadays I find Retailers who opt for the easy way out of “Buying Sales”. This means that they have offers and promotions which have no long term or even medium strategy and usually the only objective is to increase sales with no perspective about the cost of getting such sales. Which is why I have used the terms “Save Our Store Sales” (SOSS). Such offers invariably lead to conditioning the customers to start waiting out the Retailer till they offer such promotions and very soon the Retailer is forced to make this into a regular occurrence.

On the other hand, this might be a very canny Retailer who is starting off a new trend of Start of Season Sales and will try to capture a larger share of the customers festival spends in this category. However, even in such a situation the long term impact is not very positive and it is bound to become a compulsive habit not only for that Retailer but for that segment as a whole.

Apart from the EOSS trend there are two examples to validate the fact that these trends can very soon lead to a repetitive habit forming pattern. The first is the year end sale in the CDIT stores which was started by a Chennai based Retailer to beat the low sales during that period and is now a annual occurrence across this segment. The other is the “Aadi Sale” which has a similar background and now has become a default annual affair. Although these occasions are now used to clear old models and excess stocks, am not sure whether this pattern of having some sort of sales for almost half the year is a healthy trend.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Indian Retail & Social Media

When the whole world is going gaga about social media and now people are starting to talk about the possible decline of the same, Indian Retail seems to be watching this trend from the sidelines with some token presence here and there.

Indian Retail, Social Media Marketing, Retail Analytics, Big Data

Big Data, the next big thing in Analytics has caught everyone’s attention but the root of this lies in being able to connect the dots across various data points of a consumer, especially their behavior and preferences expressed on social media. I wonder how Indian Retail will leverage big data without any meaningful engagement of the shoppers on the various social media platforms.

A recent initiative by a toy store chain led me examine this issue and ET Retail has published a two part article about this. 

Click here to read Part 1 which examines this in detail.

Click here to read Part 2 which is prescriptive and outlines some of the basic steps that are required to engage the shoppers on social media platforms.

In summary, the core thought is that social media needs to become an integral part of the Retailer’s strategy and cannot be limited to SEO efforts only.

Image courtesy - 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Online 3D printing store... What next!!

Several months ago, when exploring future trends about Retail and shopper behavior, a convergence of technologies like 3D printing and Google glass presented a huge opportunity which might redefine the way shopping was done. In a post I had talked about how this might redefine shopping and Retail as we know it today.

It is heartening to see that this prediction seems to be coming true. launches an online 3D printing store. Next step I look forward to is the integration of technology like Google glass to this trend. Click here to check out this new 3D store.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ingenuity of the small shop keeper

Sometime ago I had written about the app developed by Neiman Marcus and how they had rolled it out under the umbrella of NM Service which offers a personalized shopping experience. They then discarded that by giving their store staff iPhones to be able to connect with the customers. It must have cost them quite a bit to go through that learning curve.

My admiration for the small, stand alone shop keepers in India went up another notch when I read this article about how one of them has started to leverage WhatsApp for better customer connect and service. Although several Retailers and shop owners have populated facebook and some are even active on Twitter, the use of WhatsApp to be able to connect in real time and provide immediate service is a great idea.

I am sure that many more such store owners will soon adopt this idea. This flexibility and nimble footed response to customers is just one of the things that chain Retailers need to learn. The other interesting lesson is the ability to adopt low cost or even zero cost resources to improve their businesses.

Such a cost sensitive thinking towards effective solutions will go a long way in ensuring success, especially in retail which is a low margin business.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Retail Idea - Managing your shopper’s waiting state

A recent idea implemented by PepsiCo at a London bus stop got me thinking about the similarity with regard to a person’s waiting state between the situation at a bus stop and in a store; namely the waiting at checkout counters.

Shoppers and Retailers alike do not like the billing counters. Shoppers hate to wait for the check out and Retailers dread all the potential issues that arise out of a long checkout line. Most shoppers have reconciled themselves to this pain even if they crib and complain about it. Sure, there are some who leave their baskets and trolleys behind when faced with a long line and that is a loss of sales to the store. Retailers are constantly investing in technology to overcome this pain point with self check out, mobile check out, etc. Yet, this remains one of the biggest areas of shopper distress especially in physical, mass merchandise stores.

This is a classic example of a shopper’s waiting state. However, there are many other instances where a shopper is made to wait and in several cases the Retailer might not even be aware of the resultant resentment building up inside the shopper and/or those accompanying the shopper.

Identifying, understanding and addressing any such waiting state of the shopper is a crucial building block in delivering overall customer satisfaction. 

Let me discuss about the biggest pain of them all, the checkout line in this article and will move on to other instances of the shopper’s waiting state, in subsequent posts.

As mentioned earlier retailers have introduced self scanning, self checkout, mobile billing, etc., to try and reduce the waiting time at the billing counter. However, this is not a problem that can be completely resolved because of a simple logistics issue. The cost of manpower and technology required to handle the peak crowd of shoppers would be idle for a majority of time because shoppers tend to follow the 80:20 principle. 80 percent of them would end up shopping in the evenings and at weekends which creates an obvious load on the infrastructure and leads to bottle necks.

Self check outs are gaining ground although the shoppers are equally divided between hailing it as the best thing as compared to deriding it as a bigger problem than manned checkout stations. Therefore, let us leave this topic and address the core issue with regard to the shopper’s waiting state at the checkout.

At a very basic level, when any person is waiting they can be distracted from the monotony of waiting or their waiting can be reduced or removed. Solutions like the self check out, etc., address the elimination or reduction of this waiting state. However, as I mentioned, there is a logistic constraint in being able to eliminate this completely.

So, the other solution is to distract the shopper from their waiting. Many retailers have tried installing televisions near the billing counters to try and distract the shoppers from waiting but I do not think that this has worked very well. One key constraint is with regard to content which might not be interesting enough and the other is the presence of advertising as Retailers tend to see this as a revenue generating source more than a solution to manage the shopper’s waiting state.

When I saw this video about what PepsiCo had done at a London bus stop, it struck me as a potentially WOW solution to distract shoppers and hence manage their waiting state.

This is an interesting use of augmented reality and the display helps to completely engage the viewer as you can see in the video. Now imagine such screens placed near the checkout counters of your supermarkets and other crowded stores. The chances that you will be distracted sufficiently enough to be oblivious of the waiting state are quite high.

However, this is subject to the content and if that is not engaging, for how many repeat visits would this solution last?

That is where the Retailer should engage in a triangular Win-Win-Win arrangement which would help manage their shoppers as also deliver value to everyone concerned. One such potential agreement could be with the brand as also a major movie house.

The brand installs these screens in the stores which include some interesting and engaging augmented reality displays. The movie house can release augmented reality clips and trailers of their forthcoming movies. Imagine standing in a line to get your purchases billed and you see Shahrukh Khan or Leonardo DiCaprio walking down the line and mouthing a few dialogues or doing some stunts. While a few shoppers might still not be distracted the majority would and that means that their waiting state has been handled positively.

An idea worth bringing into reality!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Indian Retail: Are you walking the talk of customer service

Customer Satisfaction is the most overused and abused term. There is a whole universe of business opportunity that revolves around these two words. Over the years this has morphed into variations like customer delight, customer wow, etc.

All this is great to hear and quite profitable too if one were to be offering a training program or consulting inputs built around these two words.

Alas, as customers this talk never does reach down to us on an operating level. Let me share this interesting anecdote about a chain store.

A friend of mine recently happened to purchase a lot of products from a leading lifestyle chain and went home hoping to surprise her family members. As in the case of any surprise gifts, some were welcomed while a few were not. So, she planned to return to the store to either exchange these or return the same. My friend set off confidently for this task as she remembered seeing a large sign about replacement being guaranteed and had read through the conditions mentioned regarding the same.

Upon reaching the store, she went to the customer service desk near the billing counters and requested their help to exchange the few products she had purchased. To her surprise she was asked to go to another counter on another floor where replacements and exchanges were handled. After locating this special counter she repeated her request and the staff said that she would be given a note for the value of products purchased and she can show this note at the billing counter towards payment of the products she has selected now. In industry terms, this is a credit note.

Now came the twist in the tale. After she had selected the new products and got the same billed, she found that the bill value was less than the credit note value. However, the staff refused to refund her the money as that was not allowed as per policy. When questioned about the replacement and exchange promise mentioned in the large sign, it was pointed out that no cash refund was also mentioned in that sign, although as fine print!

In effect this customer had to end up paying more for a product just because she had to get it exchanged.

When I mention walking the talk, it refers to enabling the customers to experience the exact same thing which has been promised and not about the various disclaimers in small print. There are two components to this.

One is about setting the right expectations. Quite often the customer expectations are raised to such impossible levels through a mix of hyperbole and fancy words. Whether intentionally or not, customers end up interpreting these statements in their own way and expectations are set. On the contrary Retailers set in strict systems and policies to maintain control and discipline as also avoid any mischief at the store level.

Unfortunately, most of these systems and processes are in direct contradiction of the stated customer policies and other claims which have created expectations in the minds of a customer.

Customer service issues and complaints are a natural outcome and quite often these are ignored because there is nothing that can be done. “It is against our policy” is the standard excuse.

When said by the store staff, I can give them the benefit of doubt and maybe even pity them for having been put in a difficult place by the Retailer. However, one often tends to hear this phrase even from managerial people across levels. This is completely unacceptable and will not help any Retailer in the long run.

Very simply put, think carefully before you talk to your customer and create expectations - either directly or indirectly through signage, advertisements, etc. However, once you have created an expectation walk the talk that has defined this expectation and do not back down from the same.

I recall a store launch where a very good offer on cooking oil was given. It so happened that the price of cooking oil, which is a commodity, increased significantly a day or two before the launch. The easy way out was to withdraw the offer and tell the customer that it was not there. 

However the team decided to walk the talk.

They went ahead with the offer and managed the customer expectation by limiting the quantity to two packets. Although there were some complaints the majority of the customers appreciated the fact that we had continued with the offer and had not cancelled the same.

Taking off on the tagline of a famous brand, “keep walking”, whatever you talk about.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Retail Trend; Shoppers can and will experience the product before purchase

Showrooming was a concern when shoppers used to come to the physical stores, check out the products and then purchase it online because of a better price. Just when this was becoming a cause of concern the exact opposite happened for several categories - reverse showrooming. Here shoppers would do extensive research online and then come to a physical store to experience the product and make the purchase. Needless to say smart Retailers have developed strategies to counter showrooming and to encourage reverse showrooming.

The next step would be to combine the power of technology and the shopper’s need to experience the product, without even having to come into the store. This trend is going to only increase especially in lifestyle and high involvement categories.

The IKEA initiative for their catalogue is an apt example for how Retailers can leverage technology to encourage reverse showrooming; more importantly, deliver shopper value which is not limited to price alone. 

As you can see in this video IKEA has used an augmented reality app to enable shoppers to not only experience their products before hand but also create wonderful memories.

Now to address the question I am invariably asked - is this possible in India and will it be worth it?

Yes, it is very much possible in India and it is definitely worth it because the Retailer will create value for the shopper which is not limited to price. Also, such experiences will have an emotional impact on the customer as also trigger word-of-mouth publicity which is fantastic.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Changing Indian Shopper

Indian Retail is going through a evolution at jet speed and the Indian shopper is changing at an even faster pace. With information at their finger tips (literally and figuratively) they are not stopping for anyone or anything.

Retailers need to keep abreast of these changes and some thoughts about the changing Indian shopper has been captured in this article and those who create a customer centric value proposition keeping in mind these changes might emerge as the winner.

Click Here to read the article. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Indian Retail; Analytics is dead without Operational Excellence

The hot topic nowadays is “Big Data” and therefore analytics. This promises to have great potential for Retailers in terms of understanding and interpreting shopper behavior and expectations. Thereby enabling the Retailer to develop a more focused and sharply defined competitive advantage.
But, then are we missing something very important here?
I think the more important thing especially in the Indian retail scenario is operational excellence and execution focus. However, this does not sound as “cool” and futuristic as “Big Data”. Perhaps this is why I am asked more about “Big Data” and analytics in many of the forums, programs and classes and there is a marked decrease in interest levels when I choose to talk about operational excellence.
Analytics and “Big Data” is essentially about interpreting data. What if the underlying data itself was wrong?
Retail, Indian Retail, Store, CRM, Indian Retail Industry
This poster was displayed outside a leading chain of stores recently. Apart from the obvious mistake of printing out the email verbatim and just sticking it on a stand, the entire approach is incorrect and counterproductive.
The bonus points have a cost attached to it in terms of the redemption value, the cost of administering the system, etc. The Retailer has started incurring this cost hoping that capturing the birthday and anniversary details of shopper will create a sales opportunity. The bonus points are a reward or can even be called a bribe to make the shopper share this information with the Retailer.
You can see the level of operational excellence or rather the lack of it in the picture. In this context, how productive and useful is the cost and effort being expended on such initiatives? More importantly, what would be the accuracy of any analytics done on this? Suppose a report was being generated about the shopper participation in this scheme, it will obviously have very poor numbers and the data would be skewed.
Instead, if the Retailer had spent some more in having a better caliber of person who sends out an email with a separate attachment of the poster with the attachment, the impact level improves. Added to that is if the Retailer motivates the staff to implement such initiatives, then the impact and the data coming out of such programs would be far more meaningful.
In such a context is it worth it to spend large sums of money on software and skilled people to mine data and analyze the same?
Take a simpler example of sales data. The cashier tries to scan a product and when they are unable to locate the product code, they scan it using some other product code with the same price to complete the billing. This directly affects the inventory and sales data. H would such a level of data accucy help in any analysis?
At least in the Indian context there exists enormous opportunities for shopper delight and increasing operational productivity which will have a direct impact on the bottom line. Analytics and fascination with “Big Data” is good and should happen but after the operational issues are fixed and execution excellence is a reality.
Click HERE to join the debate about whether Retail analytics should wait for execution excellence.