Saturday, December 24, 2011

When Retailers and Brands collaborate!

 

Croma iPad

Its not so usual that you see Electronic Retailers promoting one particular brand at their stores. It means there is a larger strategic relationship between the two beyond just selling a few pieces of a particular model. Most retailers though, refrain from such tactics to avoid the wrath of other players in the respective segments. It is not just the advertising cost that gets shared between the two, but they both look at building an everlasting relationship to build a category, as the one undertaken between Apple and Croma, the electronic megastore from the house of Tatas. One could own an iPad 2 at just over Rs. 2,400 a month (USD 45), on an EMI basis for 12 months, thanks to credit offered by ICICI and HDFC Banks. Croma has built up their electronic retail format over the past years, thanks to its aggressive expansion mainly among metro cities where consumers shop around not just for exciting deals but where the staff are well trained, an inviting store ambience that allows you to browse at ease without too much intrusion by the staff and ofcourse, the TATA Guarantee. The Salt to Steel Major has built its retail portfolio through TRENT – the company that operates formats such as the Westside Department stores, Zara exclusive stores and Star Bazaar Hypermarkets. Incidentally, Apple which has a strategic tie-up with Reliance and allows it to operate the exclusive Apple stores has not undertaken such an aggressive promotion with Reliance Digital, the electronics format of Reliance Retail. Instead, they seem to be promoting rival Samsung with its Galaxy Tab, seen as a major contender for the No. 1 space in the tablet market.

Reliance Digital

Retailers who focus on mobile phones and accessories such as The Mobile Store, UniverCell, Sangeetha, etc. seem to play a similar strategy, just that they promote those brands which they distribute themselves. For example, Sangeetha has been promoting the latest from Nokia, the Lumia 800 pretty aggressively. At a similar EMI of Rs. 2,400 pm one can easily own the latest windows-based smartphone which was meant to revive the fortunes for Nokia, though the initial launch results have proved it to be unlikely. Nokia somewhere lost the steam – that’s the chorus that most observers and industry watchers seem to say. A once trusted phone for the smarter class lost its popularity to the Blackberry and Android based smartphones and ofcourse to the iPhone (although negligibly) due to the price disparity. Nokia continues to be a leader in the entry segment, phones below Rs. 5,000 but sees enormous competition from local brands like Micromax, Karbonn and Lava while Samsung and LG have also been stepping up the gas in these segments. 

Lumia Sangeetha

There a few advantages when Retailers promote a particular brand;

  • Brand Leadership

When a Retailer courts itself with a particular brand and also aggressively promotes its products, it looks like they have leadership specific to the said brand. This brings in positive recall in the minds of potential customers who would like to buy that particular brand in future and the retailer becomes the obvious choice.

  • Continuity of customer cycle

When customers of a brand want to upgrade / replace their existing products, they flock to the preferred retailers due to a previous positive experience. This is category agnostic and hence would prevail for most products, so to say.

  • Better Prices

Being the preferred partner (to a Brand), the Retailer also commands a special price to the new launches. Not only do they get the products first (than the other retailers), they would also be able to command a special price – directly from the brand as well as through special associations with Banks who provide 0% interest on EMIs

There are also a few drawbacks;

  • Popularity among other brands

When Retailers strike a special note with a specific brand and keep promoting them aggressively, potential customers could perceive that the Retailer doesn’t maintain other leading brands. This, in a way distracts customers and diverts them to other Retailers.

  • Relationship with other brands

When other brands know that a Retailer promotes a particular brand, they may turn away to other multi-brand retailers who provide equal importance to other brands. Although this is uncommon, it could be seen as a potential threat, especially for future launches.

Nevertheless, it is nice to see Retailers and Brands collaborate to promote each other. The Retailer attracts walk-ins into the store and the Brand sees higher conversion. In the US, UK and European markets, there has been a strong swing towards e-commerce over the last few years where customers are shopping online for mobiles and electronics. This is bound to happen in India soon. Until then atleast, let such collaborations prosper!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Retail Employees Day! Thank you folks!

No matter how popular or old a retail brand is, they will not be able to reach out to their customers without the continued and trusted efforts of their employees. Retailers across the country have come forward to support an initiative called "Retail Employees Day" to be celebrated on the 12 December every year. An organization by the name TRRAIN is behind this idea. TRRAIN is the brainchild of the most respected Mr. BS Nagesh, the Vice-Chairman of K Raheja Retail which manages various retail formats such as Shoppers Stop (Department Store), Crossword (Book Store), Hypercity (Hypermarkets), Home Stop (Home & Living) and InOrbit Malls. Nagesh has been part of the Retail industry over for over 20 years and is seen as an icon among the retail professionals young and old, a kind of role model that every retail manager wants to become! He has been through the industry's ups and downs and has always been there to support the various ideas and initiatives of the Retail Industry. 

Retail staffing in India has come a long way since the 1980s. The old-fashioned “showroom salesman or salesgirl” is now referred as “Customer Care Associates”, thanks to the proliferation of modern and organized retail formats. Even stand-alone traditional retailers have embraced this well and provide respectable employability to their front-end staff, who can make or break the business. The final “conversion” of a potential customer into a real one is in the hands of the CCA and hence, a lot of importance to their well-being is being provided. In the good old days, they were paid a lumpsum as salary but things have changed today. They are covered under Minimum Wages Act, are to be provided PF, Gratuity and ESI and needless to say, additional income options such as performance bonus and variable increments. CCAs undergo a fortnight, if not more of classroom training before they enter their dream world of employment at the swanky retail stores. Within two years of commencing their first job, many smart ones move up the hierarchy as floor managers, department managers, etc. There are even classic examples of front-line staff making it to senior positions and more are in the making. The dedication of some of the staff is exemplary, to say the least. I personally know a few who have gone out of the way, beyond their call of duty at many times. 


I have been personally involved in training the front-end staff right from the beginning of my career. A fellow colleague, who used to sell DVDs and Video Games at Musicworld Kolkata ten years ago has now grown to the rank of a Regional Manager at one of the most reputed music companies in the world! I was also a certified trainer at RPG Institute of Retail Management, an inhouse training agency of RPG Retail which was created to focus continued training and development to the front-end staff. I have trained over 2,000 staff members ahead of the opening of Central Malls at Bangalore, Hyderbad and Pune during 2003-04. They stand all day, greet customers with a smile, make your shopping and dining experience a great one and at the end of day, deserve more than their salaries.
On this day, I salute these heroes – without whom the Organized Retailers cannot grow the way they aspire to! My heartiest thanks to each one of them for making us proud; Cheers guys! 

Friday, December 9, 2011

From Spencer's Plaza to Indiaplaza!

Indiaplaza appoints Mr. S Shriram as SBU Head – Life Style

Indiaplaza.com, the company that pioneered online shopping in India since 1999, today announced the appointment of Mr. S Shriram as the SBU Head – Lifestyle.  A Retailer by Profession and Choice” as he loves to call himself, Shriram is indeed very passionate about Retail. As SBU Head for Indiaplaza, he is responsible for building the Lifestyle business including Men’s, Women’s and Kid’s Apparel and accessories, Jewelry, Watches, Sunglasses, Home Furnishing and Furniture. 

According to Mr. K Vaitheeswaran, Founder & CEO, Indiaplaza.com, “We are very happy to have Shriram on board. I am confident his rich experience as a retailer will help position Indiaplaza as the leading online shopping destination for lifestyle also, just like for books and electronics.”

Online shopping in India is booming across books and electronics. With the Indian internet population crossing 100 million recently, the next wave of growth is expected in the area of lifestyle. With a loyal base of customers and fast growing traffic, Indiaplaza is aiming to quickly establish leadership position in online retailing of lifestyle as well.

Prior to joining Indiaplaza, Shriram was the National Head of Business Development at CafĂ© Coffee Day and was responsible for their expansion among Key account partner-locations. Earlier to this, he was leading the Travel Retail and Consumer Businesses at Bangalore International Airport Limited as part of the Core Committee that was involved in selecting the operators across various commercial businesses such as Domestic and International Retail, Duty Free, F&B, Forex, Landside Traffic Management, Ground Transportation, etc.  He also had the privilege of working with United Colors of Benetton, one of the leading fashion brand and some of India’s prominent retail organisations : The Future Group and the RPG Group.

Shriram holds an Executive Education from IIM Bangalore, PG Diploma in Business Administration in Marketing from New Hampshire University, USA (in association with Institute for Technology & Management, Chennai), PG Diploma in International Business from Pondicherry University and is a Commerce graduate from Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda College, Chennai. He is a renowned speaker at various seminars/ conferences and a visiting faculty at some of the prominent B-Schools.  

About Indiaplaza :

Indiaplaza.com pioneered e-commerce in India way back in 1999 when there were less than 3 million people using the internet in India. Today, Indiaplaza is an industry leader offering an outstanding selection of millions of items on its website at low prices. Millions of customers within and outside India have used Indiaplaza to shop for themselves or send a gift to someone.

Way back in 2001, I started my career as a Management Trainee with RPG Retail and my first stop was at Spencers' Plaza in Chennai for my induction. It's been a long and exciting journey until now and I look forward to accomplishing many more in times to come. 

As I always say, "Miles to go before I sleep..."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Retail FDI - Letter from the Commerce Minister of India

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Last week, the Cabinet of the Indian Government allowed 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail and upto 51% FDI in Multi-Brand Retail - it was indeed a surprise move, given that the Winter session of the Parliament is on and the Ruling UPA is mired under various issues due to which the Upper House and the Lower House have seen continued agitation and adjournments. In the wake of this latest crisis, Union Minister (of India) for Commerce, Mr. Anand Sharma has written a letter to the leaders of all the leading political parties in India, explaining the reasoning behind the government's decision to allow FDI.

Here is the full text of the letter;

As you are aware, the Union Cabinet has taken a decision for liberalization of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy in Multi-Brand Retail, which holds the potential of transforming rural economy and unlocking the supply chain efficiencies in the agri-business.

The policy has evolved after a process of intense stakeholder consultation which commenced on 6 July 2010, when a discussion paper was floated by our Ministry. Comments from a wide cross section of stakeholders including farmers associations, industry bodies, consumer forums, academics, traders associations, international investors were analysed in depth before the matter was deliberated by the Committee of Secretaries on July 22, 2011.

The matter was finally discussed by the Cabinet on 25th November and a view was taken to allow liberalization in multi brand retail. In doing so, we have consciously adopted a model with a distinct Indian imprint, recognizing the complexity of Indian society and the competing demands of different stakeholders. Over the years, while we may have transformed into a service led economy, yet even today India primarily resides in the villages and an overwhelming majority of people are dependant of agriculture. It is a tribute to our farmers that India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world with an annual production of over 200 million tonnes. Yet, in absence of adequate cold chain infrastructure, logistics and transportation, our post-harvest losses remain unacceptably high. A large part of farmers produce perishes and never reaches the market. A complex chain of middlemen have a cascading impact on supply inefficiencies and prices as well. As a result, on the one hand farmers are unable to secure remunerative price for their produce, while consumer ends up paying more than 5 times the price secured by the farmers.

Opening up FDI in multi-brand retail will bring in much needed investments, technologies and efficiencies to unlock the true potential of the agricultural value chain.

The policy mandates minimum investment of $100 million with at least half going towards back end infrastructure including cold chains, refrigerated transportation, and logistics. We have also stipulated mandatory 30% sourcing from small industry, which will encourage local value addition and manufacturing. It will also unfold immense employment opportunities for rural youth and make them stakeholders in the entire agri-business chain from farm to fork.

I felt it my duty to dispel some apprehensions expressed by certain political parties. In formulating this policy we were conscious of the livelihood concerns of millions of small retailers.

Informed studies of global experience has revealed that even in developing economies like China, Brazil, Argentina, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, where FDI is permitted upto 100%, local retailers have found innovative ways to co-exist along with organized retail and are integral to the organized retail chain. In Indonesia, even after several years of emergence of supermarkets, 90% of the fresh food and 70% of all food continues to be controlled by traditional retailers.

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In any case organized retail through Indian corporate entities is permissible in India and the experience of the last one decade has borne the small retailers have flourished in harmony with the large retail outlets. Even then, we have therefore taken a view that in India we may permit FDI upto 51% equity and roll out the policy only in 53 cities with a population of more than a million. In the rest of the country the existing policy will continue, which will ensure that the small retailers are able to access high quality produce at better price from the wholesale cash and carry point.

We were also mindful of the imperative of ensuring food security for the poorest of the poor and have therefore retained the first right of procurement of food grains to rest with government for the public distribution system.

Concerns have been expressed that the multinational companies will resort to predatory pricing techniques to drive away small retail. You are aware that the Competition Commission has been established by law to ensure that such practices receive great scrutiny and I have specially discussed the matter with the Chairman of Competition Commission to build in regulatory capacities to ensure necessary checks and balances. In any case, you will appreciate that predatory pricing works in markets with high entry barriers, which is not the case in India.

The Indian consumer will undoubtedly gain significantly from this step as they will be afforded much greater choice, better quality and lower prices. In the medium term, even RBI governor feels that this step will have a salutary impact on inflation.

I have had occasion to discuss the matter with a wide cross section of all stakeholders, including farmer association, traders, consumer organizations, industry leaders, economists and there is an overwhelming case for introducing this policy. I am sure that being a political leader of long standing and experience, the benefits of this policy for the Indian citizens will find resonance with you. Policy initiatives taken in larger national interest demand political leadership to rise above partisan politics to create a healthy bipartisan consensus. This has been the strength of Indian democratic traditions.

I look forward to your personal support and understanding in the roll out of this policy for the larger public good.

………………………………………………………………………………

It is anybody’s guess if this letter would make any difference though in the current situation. India has been witnessing a rare camaraderie cutting across  political parties which have taken a united stance against the Government urging it to roll back the decision to allow FDI in Retail, which looks unlikely though. In the given scenario, atleast 25 cities out of the 53 which qualify for the criteria that has been set (above 1 million population) are covered under those states that have not welcomed FDI. India INC however has voiced its opinions, most of which is pro-FDI to say the least. For the next few days, if not a few weeks the entire world (read: Business houses) would be watching how things turn out here.

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Watch this space for more!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

FDI in Retail–the saga continues!

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It was a much-awaited, welcome move by the Cabinet of the Indian Parliament to allow 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail and up to 51% FDI in multi-brand retail on 24th Nov. 2011. A surprise announcement, given that the winter session of the Parliament is under progress, which hasn’t been functioning fully due to various issues in the fore. The announcement comes after two decades of reforms that started in 1991 and over 10 years of strong growth by the Organized players of the Retail Industry in India. The Left parties along with the main opposition party in the Parliament, viz., the BJP have been publicly protesting against the decision. One senior member of the party has announced that she will burn the Wal-Mart store if it opens anywhere and she is ready to court arrest for the same! Such has been the tensions on this topic for many years now. Even the general public (read: Consumers) have been left confused due to various approaches proposed by those who are for- and against allowing FDI in retail. The issue has been politicized more than it is, by a section of those who claim that allowing foreign retailers will harm the livelihood of small kiranas (mom and pop retailers) while another view is that it would create millions of jobs and would bring down food inflation.

(Suggested Reading: Kirans and Retailers)

Background of the Indian Retail Industry

India’s largest retailer, The Future Group is close to $3 Billion in Revenues through its various formats such as Big Bazaar (hypermarket), Food Bazaar (supermarket), Pantaloon and Central Malls (lifestyle retailing), EZone (electronics) and Home Town (home improvement) and many other brands that it has created as well as through a license to operate. The $82 Billion TATA Group has been in the consumer lifestyle business through the TITAN watch brand for over 2 decades now while its premium jewellery chain Tanishq is the biggest among its peers. India’s largest company by market capitalisation, The Reliance Industries also operates various formats through its subsidiary Reliance Retail. Shoppers Stop (India’s largest Department store chain) and Hypercity (Hypermarkets) along with Home Stop and the Crossword book store chain is expected to reach a Billion Dollars in Revenue in the next 2-3 years with aggressive expansion and brisk business. UAE based Landmark Group which operates the Lifestyle stores along with SPAR supermarkets and MAX hypermarkets along with a few licensed brands will also be Billion dollar company soon (in its India operations). The world’s largest Retailer Wal-Mart has a JV with Bharti enterprises for operating supermarkets and hypermakets while has its own 100% subsidiary for operating the Cash-&-Carry format; Carrefour from France and Metro AG from Germany have similar models as well. Many other international retailers have been peeping into the Indian economy for want a small share of its vast business potential. And then there are a number of regional players across various geographies focussing in specific verticals who have aggressive expansion plans coupled with ambitious growth plans. Most of their funding has been through internal accruals while some of the large national players are public limited companies.

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FDI – For and Against

While its fair to say that a few kiranas will face the heat due to the presence of large Retailers in their vicinity, I wonder why is the threat perception only against the international players. I would disagree that we need dollar funding for our growth – we have enough money in the economy (white, black, red, whatever) and some of the Indian business houses have more collective intellectual ability than compared with those abroad – the Indian conglomerate buying out a premier automobile company in the UK and turning it around in less than 2 years is a great example. Indian Hypermarkets, all of over 100 in number have been given a tuff fight in turn by the local kiranas, whose biggest advantage is convenience and home delivery coupled with short-term credit. The large retailers have been grappling with the single biggest problem of attrition (of staff) followed by shrinkage (or pilferage – wastages/stolen goods) which is amongst the highest in the world. India has over 12 million retail touch points and growing. While it is fashionable for some rich-kids to venture into retailing, it is indeed the livelihood of many million families that they are highly self-dependent on their own trade. in my view their threat is from anyone who ventures into the same business in their locality, big or small, domestic or international. If any, what we have to learn from International retailers is their strict adherence to processes and procedures which we tend to take easy at times. I remember, during my days at Foodworld a decade back, we used to have check-lists to be filled in my store managers and their deputies every hour to ensure the store is looking perfect at all times. Needless to say, the check-list was drafted by Dairy Farm International – DFI (incidentally, an anagram of FDI) and was shared with its then Indian JV partner, the RPG Spencers Group. Actually, there are many other things including best practices that we could learn a thing or two from International partners.

(Suggested Reading – How Odyssey gained International acclaim)

Inflation

It is a myth that allowing FDI would reduce food inflation. Certainly not in the short-term. What we lack, and very badly at that is the back-end infrastructure including logistics and supply chain. This is one area where international retailers with their vast experience in other markets such as the US, Europe, China and Brazil could bring in their expertise. Factually, it begins with the interaction with the farmer who grows the produce. What is popularly known as Farm-to-Fork. This area needs huge investments and conviction by the humble farmer that his efforts would indeed make a difference to the country, to the end user – the consumer. Let’s agree that this takes time. Maybe five years. Or more. But to convince people that allowing Wal-Mart and its ilk to open new stores would bring down inflation is a story that no one who is in the know will buy!

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Execution – the key to FDI success

The cabinet has clearly indicated a few conditions which make FDI rules difficult for execution. Firstly, it says that the matter is a state subject which means each state can decide whether it wants to allow FDI or not. Secondly, it allows foreign retailers to enter cities only with a million or more population (and we have only 53 cities such as this as of Nov. 2011). In a way it is good, that only evolved, mature markets are open for FDI investment, but in hindsight it is the Tier II & below cities that need more investments. so, these two points make it extremely cumbersome to operate. If an Indian Retailers wants to share its “board” with a foreign retailer, it is only for one of the two reasons – either it wants to reduce its debt by offloading stake (which the banks are not willing to, anymore) or to learn international best practices.

(Also Read: Low-Cost – its all about the perception)

The draft is yet to be tabled in the parliament as this column is being written and some high-voltage drama is expected over the next few days. Whichever way, these are exciting times ahead. For Retailers, its a new ray of hope to perform better for the sake of its shareholders & for itself; For Retail professionals like me, it opens up our employability & professional success; and for Consumers, it means more options & competitive environment between existing retailers and better prices for them.

All summed up in one word – Hope.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Retailers can learn from Kingfisher Airlines

The past few weeks would have been one of the most tumultuous for India’s five star Airline, Kingfisher! The Airline and its promoter Dr. Vijay Mallya were in the news (and continue to be) for all the wrong reasons. The India Media which I personally respect a lot were making some scathing remarks and reports all of a sudden about the airline’s business health although it knew about it for many years now being a public limited company. With a debt exceeding Rs. 7,000 Crores (USD 1.80 Billion), Cash-and-carry of Fuel at airports and a few flights grounded for reconfiguration of seats, the Airline was abused by one and all including those who otherwise held it in high esteem. It was common to see many passengers at airport lounges discussing their wisdom and advising how the Airline should be run and how the promoter and the Management can do better. These were some of those who earlier yearned to be seen in the Kingfisher Lounges at airports! In fact, some subscribed for the Kingfisher-Amex credit card so they would get free and immediate access to these Lounges (obviously not for Kingfisher parties which were for the most elite). And some would go any length to get a Kingfisher calendar (in the same lines of a Pirelli calendar). Serious. No Kidding. Anybody who is somebody had a word of advice for the airline. They should do this; they shouldn’t have done that and so on. Naturally (sic).

I am not an Aviation Expert or one who shares Management Consulting for free. I have my own thoughts about the airline, and those are my views. Running a USD 2 Billion empire and being the second largest liquor company in the world (UB is expected to reach the number one position sometime in 2012), I believe Mr. Mallya and Co. knows their business best despite the unconventional ways of how entrepreneurs run their business (rare to see them plunge in Horse & Car Racing or hosting the most enviable parties at Monaco & Monte Carlo). The airline is going through some turbulence and I am sure they would come out of it sooner than later. Whether someone picks up a stake in the airline or if the Banks bail them out is one thing, but the exemplary five-star service which Kingfisher introduced is something that is worth living for. As eminent scholar Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar said in his recent article, “Kingfisher is worth saving!”

There are some interesting learning that our Retail Industry could take from the state of affairs of Kingfisher, which I have listed as below;

Scale-Up but at what cost

The airline was founded six years ago and has hence scaled up reasonably well, in fact started flying international since 2009 after acquiring Air Deccan (which was seen as the main reason for buying out). However, some of the routes it was operating were just not profitable. A Few were as per govt. Regulations such as flying to the North East of India, but there were some routes that could have been avoided. I guess this applies to Retailers as well. In a quest to expand their presence some Retailers like those in the F&B business such as cafes, speciality restaurants, etc. enter new cities and towns although they would just not be profitable ever! For Ex., the number of staff who are required to manage an outlet, a region & a territory would just not make sense unless the number of stores are reasonably big.

Being Everything for Everybody

At the India Retail Forum in 2010, Mr. Kishore Biyani of The Future Group made a statement which many of us in the industry vouched for – “A Retailer cannot be everything for everybody!”. Such powerful words. And makes so much sense. This applies a lot especially for Luxury Retailers. One thing that Kingfisher did was to position itself for the fashionable few with all its flamboyance and exclusivity. Later, when it bought out Air Deccan, it created a platform in the low-cost segment with “Kingfisher Red” which was recently scrapped off. In the meanwhile, Kingfisher was offering differential service patterns across its flights – some were served hot food on the house while some had to pay exorbitant prices for cold sandwiches!

Price Matters – Discounts don’t work all the time

In tune with many other airlines offering everyday low fares, Kingfisher was also pricing its fares accordingly. This, I believe was one of the earliest and biggest mistakes the airline did although it had an option not to do so. Many Retailers, to gain easy and quick market share especially Hypermarkets and Supermarkets work aggressively on their pricing and create hundreds of loss-leaders. That way, they attract footfalls in the initial stages although they would never be able to lift prices in future. This is a dangerous strategy that Retailers should keep monitoring constantly. Although it is fine to change the market positioning once in a while, one has to be careful in the long-term.

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Competition – Creating a Niche for oneself

Over time, Competition will increase, irrespective of which business one is operating in. For Kingfisher, it was initially the low cost Indian counterparts and over time, International airlines were also competing for market share. This applies to Retailers such as those in the Fashion segment. It is but natural that international brands would enter India eventually, given the potential the 10 million plus affluent households we have which is their main target segment. This should be part of the Strategy and not a knee-jerk reaction.

Managing the Media

Most importantly, Media should be well-managed – always. To say the least, lesser the better. Kingfisher has been the darling of the Media, with all the red short skirts, the sexy parties and those PYTs who are partying. Every move of the airline has been well covered and captured right from the first page, the Page 3 as well as in the last pages of the newspapers (the sports pages, usually). TV Channels have never missed covering its important times, and there is even a channel dedicated to the Good Times! Most Retailers fail to engage the Media well – either they are over exposed or under-exposed. Well, its worth discussing the business priorities and problems from time to time to- and with the media, rather than bringing it all at once. The recent discussions and view points on allowing FDI in Retail is a great example. Many Retailers, who were initially reluctant on the subject have now done a volte-face because they are cash-strapped by agreeing to bring in foreign retailers in to the fray! This stance will affect them sooner than later, with the media as well as their consumers.

Life’s lessons come from various quarters all the while and this time it is in the form of Kingfisher airlines. It is up to us to make good use of wisdom, irrespective where it comes from.

Friday, November 18, 2011

UnHate the campaign, atleast for the Consumer’s sake!

 

What does UNHATE mean? UN-hate. Stop hating, if you were hating. Unhate is a message that invites us to consider that hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think. Actually, the two opposing sentiments are often in a delicate and unstable balance. Our campaign promotes a shift in the balance: don’t hate, Unhate.

There is so much brouhaha about the most recent campaign of United Colors of Benetton, the marquee fashion brand from Europe’s fashion capital, Italy. Benetton’s in-house design agency Fabrica has created the recent campaign among many others over the years, particularly the one which showed a blood smeared baby still attached to its umbilical cord which was also a much talked about one. Benetton also had campaigns which showed a nun kissing a priest, three hearts declaring “white, yellow and black” and so on. Over the years, Fabrica has attracted global talent to work in its think tank and has been a darling of the creative minds. The recent Unhate website has this to say;

What does UNHATE mean? UN-hate. Stop hating, if you were hating. Unhate is a message that invites us to consider that hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think. Actually, the two opposing sentiments are often in a delicate and unstable balance. Our campaign promotes a shift in the balance: don’t hate, Unhate.

The UNHATE Foundation, desired and founded by the Benetton Group, seeks to contribute to the creation of a new culture of tolerance, to combat hatred, building on Benetton’s underpinning values. It is another important step in the group’s social responsibility strategy: not a cosmetic exercise, but a contribution that will have a real impact on the international community, especially through the vehicle of communication, which can reach social players in different areas.

The Foundation will organise initiatives involving different stakeholders, from the new generations to the institutions, international organisations and NGOs, through to civil society.

The Foundation also aims to be a think tank, attracting personalities and talents from the fields of culture, economy, law and politics, and people who have gone from simple citizens to leaders of movements, distinguishing themselves through their ideas and actions against the causes and effects of hatred.

UnHate Video campaign from benetton.com

The Media frenzy, as always makes it more sensational that it seems and there is enough outrage in the internet world and the real world about this. Industry leaders from the advertising world (in India) have commented on the afaqs! website, which is as follows;

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Piyush Pandey
Executive chairperson and national creative director, Ogilvy India

I think the entire campaign is sensational and unnecessary. It is certainly edgy, but being edgy does not mean that you cross limits. A lot of people will say that it is a fantastic way of doing things, but I feel there are other fantastic ways of doing things.

K V Sridhar
National creative director, Leo Burnett

The participants of Bigg Boss are supposed to behave in a certain way. Similarly, Benetton as a brand is supposed to behave in a particular way, too. If it does not behave in that manner, then it would be unique.

One other campaign of the brand showed a blood-smeared baby still attached to its umbilical cord. As a brand, it has done several such campaigns in the past. But, this time, I feel that it has done it intelligently. The message that nations/religions should not hate each other has been conveyed effectively through the best form of expression of adore - a kiss. Leaders are representatives of the masses. If they would have shown Barrack Obama hugging Hu Jintao, then it would not have been as interesting. But, this one works and is brilliantly executed.

What does UNHATE mean? UN-hate. Stop hating, if you were hating. Unhate is a message that invites us to consider that hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think. Actually, the two opposing sentiments are often in a delicate and unstable balance. Our campaign promotes a shift in the balance: don’t hate, Unhate.

Arun Iyer
National creative director, Lowe Lintas

It is a controversial ad. But, that is what it is supposed to do -- create controversy. Fifty per cent of the people will feel that it is in bad taste, while the other 50 per cent will find it interesting. However, despite the like or dislike, it will induce talk-ability. I think visually, it is supposed to be debatable, but at a thought level, it is not at all a debate.

The fact that this campaign has been successful in creating a debate is by itself a success of the brand and its objective. However, it is also trying to push too far.

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Well, the big question is, Does this campaign really solve the purpose of Love, or rather, Unhate? Oh, am not sure. Does this campaign appeal to the younger generation who is the intended customer base for "Brand Benetton”? Absolutely. Over the years, Benetton has seen stiff competition from Spanish fashion giant Zara (which apparently changes the design/range at its stores every few weeks) and several other brands such as Mango, Esprit and many other local brands in several markets (Benetton has over 6,000 stores across 120 countries and clocked over 2 Billion Euros in Sales in the year 2010). In India, the brand has done well in itself, thanks to its aggressive growth strategy and plans since its turnaround in 2005 under the new leadership led by its Indian division. The campaign has just gone viral and the company plans to spend over half of its less than advertising budget of 10 Million Euros  in digital media and the balance in traditional media. Like many I too wonder if this campaign will go public in the US, China, Korea and the Middle-east – the leaders of whose countries are mentioned in the said campaign. For obvious reasons, I am sure the campaign will not feature in India as well and they dare not even dream of having Indian Politicians (sic).

All said and done, it is indeed a wonderful attention-seeking opportunity for Benetton, although it is anybody’s guess if such (unwanted) publicity would necessarily translate into Sales!

What does UNHATE mean? UN-hate. Stop hating, if you were hating. Unhate is a message that invites us to consider that hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think. Actually, the two opposing sentiments are often in a delicate and unstable balance. Our campaign promotes a shift in the balance: don’t hate, Unhate.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Customer Service - by Trial & Error!


My only claim to understanding or appreciating an Apple product is my iPod Nano, which my buddy had gifted me 6 years ago. A 4 GB nano, I didn't know actually how to even switch it off when I first laid my hands on it. Since 2005, it has been one of my favourite companions, accompanying me in my life's journey. The voice clarity on the iPod was one of the best I've ever heard in my life - even the Nakamichi headphones that were kept for sampling CDs at Musicworld (where I started by professional career a decade ago) weren't as great in terms of audio quality and clarity as the original apple (white-colored) ear phones. Over the years, I have added so many other devices to my kitty for listening music but none like the iPod nano. So, when it stopped working abruptly, I was worried. I logged online and tried some trouble-shooting methods although none of them came in handy. And finally I heeded the advice of one such post - which was to visit the nearest Apple store! Which I did. Only to be disappointed by the approach of the staff out there! The discussion ended in less than two minutes - yes, just two minutes. The staff heard my problem, connected it in his Mac and came back to me and said that it was working perfectly well. And he glanced as though I should just move on with my old monumental piece for a new swanky one... Well, he didn't say it out loud, but I could make it.

iPod Nano
I walked off in disgust but came back to the store again, this time to propose an alternative - switch off and switch on in "Disk utility mode" which he attempted. And said that the scroller wasn't working and the only alternative would be to replace it which would cost about a hundred dollars! And again, he was referring indirectly that I give up! He also suggested to erase all the data, format the device and then I try at home, which wasn't the best route possible. But I agreed since I had all the music backed-up so I would be fine as long as the device was working well again. When I tried connecting the iPod later on my laptop, it wasn't working either. So, his "customer service" methods were just by trial and error. Try this. Oh, if that doesn't work, then try that. And so on. A day later, I installed some Microsoft updates on my system and... pronto... the iPod was working!! Strange as it may sound, the issue was not with the device at all - just that some new updates were required for it to work. And all this from a so called "Apple Support Team member". Ufff. Thank God, Steve is no more to see all this, I mumbled.

(Suggested Reading: Retail Staffing)

So, why this kind of an approach to "Customer Service"? I ain't an Apple basher nor am I a die-hard fan. I love electronic devices as they make our life easy. And they make it simpler to use them for the purposes they were intended and invented for. Unlike many other electronic products / brands, Apple doesn't have a designated service center. The Retail store also doubles up as a service center where users can bring their devices for any kind of trouble-shooting, including migration from MS to Mac.While the technically-abled are behind the scenes fiddling with the devices, the young boys ( and girls) who attend to customers are not as strong in their technical skills as are expected to be. I see this issue is common across various other retail formats too. 

Apple Imagine Store, UB City, Bangalore

While I agree that the staff attitude and behavior in this case may not be intended to be the way it was, it does send wrong signals to present and potential customers. And this was the second time with me. In an earlier instance, when we had walked into the same store, the staff failed to provide us a proper demo of the iPhone 4, which led us to change our mind to another store and eventually, Samsung (Galaxy S4) benefited, I would say! The staff were already profiling their customers (mentally) even before knowing the intended reason for their visit. Too bad. This is common across many other premium and luxury brands. For example, If a customer asks for the price of a product at an upmarket watch retail store, then the staff begin to think that he/she is merely there to appreciate the product and not necessarily buy them. At a premium apparel store in Bangalore which houses many brands such as Versace, Armani, Boss and so on, the sales manager doesn't walk up and greet customers whom she thinks may have come window-shopping. The higher the value of the product, the lower is the importance given to visitors and potential customers. 

(Suggested Reading: Luxury Retailing in India)

Retail Staff, who start their careers in the front-end at the beginning of their careers slowly make headway to higher roles and positions and during the course of this journey, forget the basics, at times. Retail Training Managers and the Business Management also fail to train their staff to keep them competent all the time. Unfortunately, Customer Service has become, as I mentioned earlier, by Trial and Error many times! And all this in the country which chants "Athithi Devo Bhava", a sanskrit slogan which means to say guests should be treated like god. Pity the Guests. Amen! 

(Suggested Reading: Customer Service)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Selling, Upselling and Unselling

Despite my request thrice, the staff of India’s first class airline forgot to sell me sandwiches and muffin, my first and most important meal of the day – Breakfast, while I was flying from Bangalore to Delhi (on work) last week. My first request was placed around 25 minutes after take-off, and I waved at her two times thereafter, but to my dismay and surprise, she seemed to have forgotten till the flight landed… And it was a 2.5 hour flight! Was it pure negligence or arrogance or forgetfulness – I don’t know, but for sure, a lost opportunity. What I may, if allowed can call “unselling”. In our (Retail) business, a lost consumption opportunity can never be recovered. After all, a breakfast meal (to the same person) cannot be served for lunch or dinner! On a quick calculation, I was stunned to note the business opportunity of selling on board – if, for example, an airline flies 100 flights a day, with an average of 100 pax per flight, and a 25% conversion @ Rs. 120 per person, it amounts to Rs. 3 lakhs per day or Rs. 100 crore per annum in topline! Well – that’s the potential opportunity and it all depends on how best the airline staff are able to sell. However, what the airline then needs are not air hosts and hostesses but air- salesmen and saleswomen! but why not? The airlines haven’t yet spotted this as an important opportunity (I Guess so, lest she would have sold my muffin!) and I am sure this is one market that F&B players cannot and shouldn’t miss. With minimum dwell time at airports (time spent between security checks and boarding), and with a healthy >25% conversion of pax at F&B outlets across Indian airport terminals, I wonder why this opportunity cannot be real. It is, indeed.

(Suggested Reading: Travel Retail and Luxury Retail at Airports)

Over the last weekend, India’s most consumed newspaper Times of India carried 20-30 page supplements across all major cities, most of which were advertisements by Retailers and Brands wooing shoppers to choose their respective locations and products while shopping this Diwali. Prominent advertisers included large retailers such as The Future Group (Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Food Bazaar, Central Malls, EZone, Home Town), Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Croma, Reliance Retail, etc. What was interesting was most Retailers were promoting “bill value” based promotions – a clear tactic to entice shoppers to spend a little extra – what we popularly call as “Upselling”. This could be on and off the ground – while advertisements promote the idea, it is the sales’ staff who finally “close the sale’ and hence are the messengers by the Retailers to convince shoppers to spend more. Unsurprisingly, sales grew between 25% – 45% across various Retail stores. Electronics and Furniture took centre stage this time (specifically for promotions) while apparel and accessories including Jewellery, Watches, etc. were assumed to be sure-shot purchases for the festive season.

(Suggested Reading: Consumer Driven)

Upselling is an art, taught and trained to Retail staff right from the time they join in their roles and all through their career. It’s a bit like negotiation, pushing customers to buy more. While this is expected of every staff towards every customer who walks into the store, it is emphasized especially during festive times to increase the bill values – the amount spent by a customer on his / her shopping bill.

 

Gift Vouchers

While “gifts” of a certain perceived value are given away if the customer achieves a certain amount of bill, other tactics have also been used over time – gift vouchers being the most common one. The advantage with gift vouchers is that the shopper has to return back to the store once again and encash it or utilize the voucher for part-payment and that too, within a certain time frame. The average amount spent over and above the value of Gift Vouchers ranges between 20-35% and goes up to 70% in some cases. They are also transferable, and can hence be passed on to loved ones. This festive season, Reliance Trends is providing coupons worth Rs. 3,000 for a shopping value of the same amount.

(Suggested Reading: Gift Vouchers)

By-Products

This is a smart tactic used, especially in the Electronics business. While a battery charger and headphones are in-built with the original packaging (in most cases), the retailer or the brand could throw in an additional accessory, say a screen guard or a Bluetooth ™ headset along with a mobile phone! Instead of providing a cheap one, Samsung upsells with a Samsung Bluetooth™ headset for just Rs. 500 (MRP Rs. 899) at select retail stores including at Ezone and 50% off on other accessories for its Galaxy Tablet. Great way to engage shoppers to spend more!

Buy One Get One

An age-old tactic to upsell, this is the most common (yet boring) phenomenon one can find. Giordano offers another wrist watch when you buy one! Works well for couples who want a new one for themselves but the designs may be limited. However, it also works as a worthy gift. Last year, I bought an Esprit ladies watch as a gift and I got myself a fabric-strap sporty watch from Puma which I use while cycling. Needless to say, one can always find utilities how to use the free product.

Scratch and win!

Some Retailers offer a promotion scheme where every shopper who attains a certain bill value gets to scratch a card (or crush a fortune cookie) and wins a gift as mentioned in it. The gifts may range from gift vouchers to small home utensils to accessories or even a motor bike or a car or a house! The excitement in this case is pretty high, with each shopper hoping to win something big. Atleast, there is no disappointment that one didn’t get the big fish! SPAR, world’s largest F&B Retailer is offering a similar proposition to enable more shoppers to buy more!

(Suggested Reading: National Shopping Day!)

Shop and win!

Central Malls, India’s largest Mall chain is offering a Toyota Etios (car) and a Harley Davidson (Motorbike) to be won when you shop and participate in a lucky draw! By far, the most exciting, tried-and-tested promotion globally to attract shoppers. An average middle class shopper, irrespective of whether he / she owns a car or a bike (no matter how many) wouldn’t decline an offer to own one more, especially if it is free of cost. The only catch – the winner has to pay road taxes and insurance, which may cost a few thousands. However, this sort of promotion, a raffle to say is among the ones that excite shoppers the most. Airports worldwide, including Singapore, Dubai, Heathrow, Frankfurt etc., offer luxury and high-end cars to be won for a few bucks that is spent at their airport shops. No matter, what – people buy! And buy more, and in this case, upselling just works.

(Also Read: Central Realigns the City!)

Diwali is gone, but the offers are still on! Festivals would come and go buy upselling continues. Retailers must spend a lot of time encouraging their staff to upsell, rather to talk to potential customers, to begin with. These days, many shop assistants feel they are paid to stand (there are well-dressed mannequins already) and usually talk with each other but move to a corner when a shopper walks by. Store Managers would do well for themselves if they lead by example. I have done so, many years back encouraging shoppers to buy bread when they come to buy their morning milk, to try a new range of ketchup when they are looking for noodles at Foodworld.

It’s possible. Just needs a bit of push. By each of us! Happy Selling… errr… Upselling…

Friday, October 14, 2011

Airports, A/c and Retail Opportunities

 

I came across an article recently on Times of India according to which Airports Authority of India (AAI) plans to turn-off air-conditioning in certain parts of the airports to reduce its expenses. “Our model for low-cost airports is based on a good low-cost carrier where people will get good, cost-efficient services. AC is the single biggest cost factor in airports. We are examining models to cut down the need for air-conditioning in the tier III airports that will come up,” said a senior official of AAI. Hubli in Karnataka will prove to be the first test case for this new phenomenon. The AAI is building an airport in Hubli for which the terminal cost has been pegged at Rs 60 crore (USD 13 Million). “We are going to further reduce this cost by shunning the fancy and shining tiles used for flooring and are looking at more areas for economy without compromising the efficiency and comfort level for flyers,” said sources. There is an increasing clamour among airlines, many of whom are struggling to survive and unable to pay hefty fees that the fancy new airports levy. Their logic: have economic airports with low charges so that flying remains affordable as high charges for ‘Taj Mahal’ kind of airports would have to be recovered in the form of higher fares from passengers.

(Suggested Reading: Airline guidelines – a boon to Retailers)

Another recent article in The Economic Times illustrates the financial performance of GMR Airports, the company that has built and manages two of the top 6 airports in India at Delhi and Hyderabad. Incidentally, Hyderabad Airport is the Number 1 among its peers according to the latest ACI Survey which grades airports across the world on passenger amenities and services. And yes, GMR neither switches off nor plans to switch of A/c. Their opportunity – non-Aeronautical Revenues which includes Retail and F&B options at the airport premises. World over, non-Aeronautical revenues account 30-50% of an airport’s revenues. Of this, Retail/F&B contributes significantly, over 70% in some cases closely followed by “Car Parking Revenues”.

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In India, the focus on Non-Aero income has hardly been given importance by AAI, the erstwhile operator of the top airports in India (located at Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad which are now privatised). In the year 2006, Airport privatisation was formally passed on a Private-Public Partnership model (PPP) and Delhi, Mumbai airports were handed over by AAI to two private parties, viz., GMR and GVK to modernize the respective airports. While Mumbai is half-done (not sure which half), Delhi has a swanky new terminal, more popularly known as T3, built at a cost of over USD 2.5 billion. Over 100,000 sft of space is dedicated to Retail, F&B and other commercial areas and also boasts the largest car parking facility in town! (while compared to any other Mall or Shopping Centre). Hyderabad and Bangalore had their own greenfield (built from scratch) airports led by GMR and Zurich airports’ consortium in the year 2008.

(Also read: Privatisation of airports)

Instead of switching off A/c or using inferior quality of flooring and other amenities, AAI should rather focus more on the commercial opportunities. AAI follows the “Competitive Tender” model where the bidder with the highest bid amount qualifies to operate the said commercial locations. Needless to say, most of the branded players shun from such tenders due to inconsistency of participation. For example, a branded pizza chain cannot sell beyond their range, so does a branded formal wear Retailer! Most of the spaces that are tendered out are between 8-20 sqm (about 90 – 220 sft) for a snack bar or even a specialised category apparel / accessories store or a book store! It’s not only a business challenge to run a retail establishment within such a small area – but it doesn’t provide a good retail experience as well. This is a fundamental philosophy-flaw of AAI that needs to change. Change NOW.

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If done properly, AAI can expect to garner reasonably good revenues from Non-Aero revenues. Chennai and Kolkata Airports which are being modernised by the AAI themselves will be a litmus test for Retailers. These airports are as large or larger than Bangalore & Hyderabad and the customer (Read: Passenger) is the same who is spending time and money at Delhi, Mumbai and other International airports. So, the intent to spend / opportunity to serve is already huge. With the burgeoning spends in Organized Retail even in tier II and tier III cities growing by over 35% year on year, it is no surprise that passengers in smaller airports / cities would spend on good quality products and services. HMSHost, a leading player in the F&B space at airports worldwide is now the largest player across Indian airports with significant presence at Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and more recently at AAI managed airports at Chandigarh and Lucknow. Cafe Coffee Day, India’s largest cafe chain operates over 25 locations across various airports in India.

(Also Read: A lot happened over coffee!)

So now, its up to AAI how they would want to capture the wallet-spends of its passengers! As a regular user of airports, I wouldn’t mind lesser space at the terminals (as a passenger, my dwell time is no more than 45 minutes and I am not going to play football anyway), rather prefer a comfortable environment – reasonably well maintained terminals and hygienic toilets included.

Hope – the most important word in our lives. I hope things will change. Even with AAI. Let’s see.

Ashta Mudras

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Malls are also parking lots!

I recently came across an article which claims that Bangalore is the most painful place when it comes to commuting and parking of vehicles! My suggestion – is to build more Malls.

IBM Global Commuter Pain survey

A new IBM survey of the daily commute in a cross-section of some of the most economically important international cities reveals a startling dichotomy: while the commute has become a lot more bearable over the past year, drivers’ complaints are going through the roof. The annual global Commuter Pain Survey, which IBM released recently, reveals that in a number of cities more people are taking public transportation rather than driving, when compared with last year’s survey. In many cities, there were big jumps in the percentage of respondents who said that roadway traffic has improved either “somewhat” or “substantially” in the past three years.

IBM Commuter Pain Index

To better understand consumer attitudes around traffic congestion as the issue continues to grow around the world, IBM conducted the 2011 Commuter Pain survey. The IBM Commuter Pain Index, illustrated in this speedometer graphic, ranks the emotional and economic toll of commuting in 20 international cities. From right to left, cities are plotted from least painful starting with Montreal and gradually increase to the most painful city, Mexico City. But that’s only part of the story. In many cities, the survey recorded significant increases, when compared with last year, in the number of respondents who said that roadway traffic has increased their levels of personal stress and anger and negatively affected their performance at work or school.  “Commuting doesn’t occur in a vacuum,” said Naveen Lamba, IBM’s global intelligent transportation expert. “A person’s emotional response to the daily commute is colored by many factors – pertaining both to traffic congestion as well as to other, unrelated, issues. This year’s Global Commuter Pain survey indicates that drivers in cities around the world are much more unsettled and anxious compared with 2010.” 

According a report recently in Times of India, around 1,300 vehicles are fined everyday for illegal parking. And this is just the official number. I would assume for every ticket that is issued, atleast 5 are not! So, we can guess the number of illegal / wrong parking. Whose fault is it – to provide adequate parking spaces in a city like Bangalore, to ensure ample public transport is provided? And as users, as commuters, aren’t we as public responsible too? Well, there are no straight answers. In a growing urban metropolitan city like Bangalore, this is bound to happen. With the price of automobiles going down each year (and despite the rising petrol costs), more people are opting for personal transportation options, both for official as well as personal usage. And I wonder what relief a 3km Metro rail will bring in the short-term and even if a fifth of the city is connected, am not sure how useful it is going to be!

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However, there is a simple solution through public-private partnership that can significantly reduce the pain-points – build more public car parking spaces which would also double up as Retail Destinations! Call them Malls, Shopping Centres, whatever. And we already have a great example in Garuda Mall. The land belongs to the city Corporation, the structure built by a private party which was expected to house over 2000 cars and two-wheelers. And also have some shops which would provide the revenues to maintain and manage the parking lot. And we know the result – a swanky mall with 100s of shops and restaurants including some big names such as Shoppers Stop, Westside, Louis Philippe, Benetton, etc. a full-blown food court and a six screen INOX Multiplex! Avid shoppers wait patiently outside just to just enter the mall over the weekends! Movie-goers reach the Mall 20-30 minutes before the cinema commences to ensure they watch the film from the beginning. A similar example is Mantri Mall at Malleswaram in South Bangalore

Bangalore, overall has only 10 notable Malls for a city that has a population of over 8 million people (as per the recent census). By any means, this is just not enough. World cities like New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, and even Shanghai and Beijing have a reasonably more number of Malls. And many other Retail destinations such as Hypermarkets, Neighbourhood Malls, etc. These locations, typically act as public parking spots for a particular locality during the day (since serious shoppers typically prefer late evenings or weekends). In a way, higher retail proliferation also means additional space on offer, which makes the market more competitive, such that builders and developers or Mall Management companies do not charge the Retailers exorbitantly, which in turn affects the number of stores a Retailer or a Brand operates in that market. This can be seen vividly in markets like China close by and in the US, needless to say. For example, every locality would have a Wal-Mart with hundreds of car parking lots – and it is not just for shoppers, but also for those who have work in the vicinity.  The expectation is that those who didn’t have any work in the mall may also just pop-in. And it happens many times. 

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Infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges India is facing, and Retail Infrastructure is no better. Coupled to that, we as a society are averse to walking – which is very common to see in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Europe and other countries. They say, that cafes and QSRs do not have parking lots (worldwide) because customers prefer to walk a bit. But not in India. Even a humble “darshini” restaurant which serves local fare would see a dozen two-wheelers parked outside its shop, mostly in a “No-Parking” area. Most of us, in the name of saving time prefer not to walk even a bit. And people also blame it on pollution, lack of pavements or walking tracks and so on.

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Bangalore will see two new retail developments open its doors within the next six months. Each of them have a million square feet of Retail, F&B and Entertainment. And a couple of smaller developments are in various stages too. Together, at the moment around 5,000 cars and two-wheelers can be parked in our Malls but this expected to simply double with the new developments coming in. I assure, the next time I have to visit a place I will atleast attempt to look for a nearby mall. What about you?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dasera – Diwali Dhamaka for Retailers

A former colleague of mine, a Swiss gentleman once quipped that everyday in India is a festival day! Well, he was right in a way, maybe not quite literally though. With so many religions and diverse cultures, indeed every day may have some form of festival in India…

This October month is one of those rare ones – that benefit Grocery Retailers, typically supermarket and hypermarket chains like Food Bazaar, Reliance, Spencer's, More, SPAR, EasyDay and others. Navaratri / Dasera, which commenced on 27th Sep continues into the first week of October and Diwali will be celebrated during the last week of the month. Typically, the monthly Grocery shopping happens once a month, usually in the last week of the month gone by or during the first week of the current month. But in this case, families would have to shop twice, and probably more quantities than usual – roughly 1.5 to 2 times the average quantities. Navaratri is celebrated in different forms and signify different things for people across the country. in Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka, families set-up dolls at home – popularly known as the “Kolu”. During this period, Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are prayed and celebrated three days each. Every evening, women folk and children visit houses of neighbours and are fed with “sundal” – the nine grains, one each every day. Now – this category is shopped for extensively before the festival commences which may not be consumed so much otherwise through the year. Also, the visitors are gifted small household articles usually made of plastic and this category also sees an increase in sales during the period. Fruits, which are distributed benevolently, see a surge in price and hence consumers prefer shopping at Supermarkets and Hypermarkets for a better bargain.

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In Gujarat and West Bengal, it is more a societal occasion. While Hindus celebrate it the most, people across all walks of life join into the celebrations. While “Dandiya” – an art form of dance is the most happening one in Gujarat, the Bengalis install huge “Pandals” which showcase Goddess Durga in different forms. People visit Pandals day and night and wear new clothes (in Bengal) while late evening Dandiya sessions are regular during the week. And obviously, new clothes are something that every one looks forward to! Even Western / Foreign brands (like Benetton seen below) join in the festivities by promoting themselves during this period.

Just around the corner is Diwali – the festival of lights and the biggest grosser for Retailers across categories. This festival is also celebrated in its unique way across the country. While families shop for Electronics and Gadgets, Home Furniture, Clothing and Accessories, sweets for distribution and consumption is a big hit too. Retailers and Brands have already started advertising for the ensuing Diwali as well and is expected to step up their promotions starting this weekend.

If there is one category that sees a low, it’s liquor and alcoholic beverages. People generally refrain from visiting bars / consuming such beverages due to the ensuing festivities but things are indeed changing. And hopefully, this category will support Retailers in November which is expected to be one of the lowest months  for business since there are not major festivals (duh) until the Christmas season commences. Anyway, wishing each one of you Seasons’ Greetings and of course, Happy Shopping!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Controversial Ads, Branding and Footfalls

There has been a lot of furore over the recent so called “indecent” advertisements in the mainline media by “Flying Machine” (FM), a popular denim wear brand in India for close to two decades now. The brand, which was one of the earliest entrants in the denim wear market competed with international ones such as Lee, Levis and Pepe since the late 90s and has hence maintained its position as an entry level fashion wear due to its affordable price tag and distribution reach – since it shares shelf space with other brands such as Arrow and Lee from the house of Arvind Mills. The debate is about how much indecent an ad can get and what the society would feel rather than its impact on sales! Well.

(Suggested reading: National Shopping Day)

Denim Market in India is highly unorganized – with less than 25% of all denim wear sold at Organized retail outlets such as Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Central Malls, MegaMart, Brand Factory, Fashion @ Big Bazaar and other exclusive brand stores. We have denim wear (bottoms) starting from as low as Rs. 200 (1 USD = Rs. 48 approx) on footpaths at Linking Road in Mumbai, Janpath in New Delhi, Commercial Street in Bangalore, etc. to over Rs. 10,000 across premium brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Diesel and in the range of Rs. 20,000 – Rs. 40,000 across exclusive luxury brands such as Versace and Armani. Denim for long was not considered a comfortable dress to use in India due to various reasons;

  • The texture/fabric was rather thick – and many thought it wasn't suitable to wear during hot and humid weather which is the case across the country for 6-9 months a year
  • Washing the Denim wasn’t an easy affair since most households (in the urban areas) didn’t have Washing machines and maids would complain washing denim by hand due to its heaviness when soaked in water
  • It wasn’t well accepted in the society – Colleges had banned them, Offices preferred formal attire and hence Denim was rather dedicated for a select few special occasions
  • Women were not the main Target consumers, essentially because denim bottom wear couldn’t be well coordinated with other dresses in the wardrobe
  • Blue and Black were the only colours mostly and the “fit” was standardised

Things have changed and how over the last decade!

The fabric has been well-treated to ensure it is light-weight and easy to wear. Also most reputed brands mix denim with cotton fabric, thus ensuring sweat is absorbed and hence making it a comfortable thing to wear all through the year. A fully automatic Washing Machine from a reputed brand that used to cost over Rs. 20,000 during the early part of the past decade is almost half the price now. Most urban households have moved away from the concept of house maids (especially for washing clothes) and now boast of semi-automatic or even fully-automatic washing machines which also dry the clothes after washing within an hour! Most colleges do not have such bans anymore, as long as the students wear decent clothing! More and more offices are moving towards smart work-wear and hence denim (especially on Fridays / Weekends) at most offices and all week across companies in the IT and ITES sectors, Ad agencies, etc. is an accepted norm. Denims are now available in various colours and women coordinate with traditional looking “Kurtis” or short-tops. To the benefit of consumers and retailers, the market has indeed evolved for good. The number of “fits” available today is exhaustive and one can really choose the best fit for oneself – mostly across brands.

(Suggested Reading: Customer Service)

So, do brands in this space still need controversial aspects to advertise, to divert attention? FM is not the only exception. During a Fashion Show last year, actor Akshay Kumar, the brand ambassador for Levi’s walked up to his wife and yester year actress Twinkle Khanna who was seated in the front row for her to open the button fly in full public view! The act was a trending video online and the photos would have been searched a zillion times! Bizarre, some quipped. What a great attention seeking tactic, many others said. “Seeking Cheap Publicity” – a few blasted. Well, no more than that.

Leading Business newspaper The Economic Times has carried an interesting article over the weekend that illustrates how internationally denim brands use controversial advertisements and other such acts especially in the print media to create attention. The big question though is “Has it increased Sales?”. the answer is a big NO. But what it does is create a flutter effect – people get talking about it and the word spreads faster these days than before, thanks to powerful social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook. For Retailers (and Brands), the most important outcome for any investment is a substantive increase in footfalls at its stores. Research has it that only 30% of men and 60% of women who enter a store undertake “product trials”, however over 80% of those who took a trial end up buying the product. And this applies all the more for Denim-wear because each fit is different and unique in its own sense. Now, do such Ads pull shoppers into the stores? No. And hence the question of “new trials” doesn’t arise. However, Ad agencies benefit enormously in the meanwhile. #justsaying

(Suggested Reading: The Levi’s way of collaboration)

I bet if such ads are a great way of brand-building, especially when the Brand is communicating to middle-class masses who neither understand nor appreciate such bold communication. It is a lot different when showcased at Fashion Weeks in London or Lisbon, Paris of New York. For now, the focus should be on creating Ads that have a pull-effect; one that attracts the eye of potential shoppers and drives them to the stores. If not anything, the Retailer’s names and contact numbers could have been a font bigger in the said Ad. If only someone is wanting more footfalls, that is.