Friday, October 31, 2014

Hate thread on McDonalds


Mc Donalds has been in India for over a decade and a half now and due to FDI regulations operates through two Franchise arrangements - with Cannaught Plaza Restaurants for North & East India and with Hardcastle restaurants for West and South India. Vikram Bakshi, the MD for Cannaught Plaza Restaurants has been locked in a legal battle for a little less than a year now and has pulled Mc Donalds to the Indian Courts and the case is only getting messier by the day with no sight of compromise or a solution between the two parties. Meanwhile, Hardcastle has been growing its number of stores and is expanding aggressively in the South, after covering West reasonably. After expanding across Mumbai, Bangalore and other key cities over the past 4-5 years, McD is now looking at growing across Chennai and the rest of Tamil Nadu. The high real estate rates is not helping them as well coupled with the availability of good quality locations along with a good fascade and parking facilities.  

Here is a video of how those insanely awesome French Fries or "taters" as they are famously known in the US are brought from farm to table, literally.



I recently spotted a new building coming up in South Madras, at Adyar just behind the famous Bus Terminus. It is a crowded neighborhood area and has a dozen or more famous restaurants and eating joints. I posted a pic of the upcoming building on Chennai Food Guide, a Facebook Community with over 40,000 members and is plannign a gala celebration of 10 years in Feb. 2015. The Group which mainly discusses about food across the city and its members reviewing restaurants every other day. Within seconds of my posting the pic, the post attracted a dozen or more "likes" and an equal number of brickbats from discerning reviewers, about the ill-effects of eating Burgers at McD. One person posted a pic of a bun with fungus and confessed that his trust in the brand was lost. Another conceded that she hates to go there but would eventually drop over due to the pestering of the little ones at home. And a few commented about their deteriorating service levels.


So, why is everyone hating McDonalds so much? Are they cooking and serving that real bad a food? Are there people dying because of consuming food at McD every year? Or is it just based on hearsay and random research? People are talking about how bad the ingredients that are used while cooking the food are to our health, which we all try to take as much care as possible. People are talking how bad the burgers are, mostly the chicken and lamb (McD doesn't serve Beef and Pork in India due to cultural reasons), not even sparing the greens which are apparently processed with chemicals. Interestingly, no one spoke about the ill-effects of Coke that we all gulp down along with the burgers. I know people who are so health conscious while eating out at Subway, but don't really mind the Coke that goes along. And the reused, recooked, refurbished food that we all consume from standalone restaurants to the best of Five Star Hotels - there was no mention of that. 

I recall an interesting article that appeared in the TIME Magazine a couple of months back. A Teacher from Iowa, USA ate at a nearby Mc Donalds outlet everyday for three months and lost 37 pounds while also lowering his cholestrol levels. He walked 45 minutes everyday along with his other day job. "Its our choices that makes us fat", John Cisna said, "Not Mc Donalds". Quite true. 


We all love our food. I have been living with a motto to live for eating for many years now. I believe one must eat well, sleep well and have fun with friends and family and that should alone be the reason of existence. Everything else such as making money, owning houses and material possessions and professional success is incidental. I am not really sure to say whether food at McD is bad for health or not. But I would trust their processes much more than indie restaurants. How many of you have been inside the kitchen of some leading restaurants in the city? Ask the owner or manager if you can take a pic and post it on Facebook - see how many agree. How many of you know that the kitchen staff use the same chopping board and knife many times to cut vegetables and chicken? How many restaurateurs here would raise their hand and accept that they do not provide healthy, fresh food, every day? So why this hypocrisy? Just because people around are making a nose about something doesn't mean we should join them too, mindlessly.

For me, I am really waiting for McD to open in my neighborhood, I would be one of their first customers probably. But yes, to overeat the patties, gulp coke, indulge in desserts and finally stuff myself with absolutely unhealthy food is a choice I have - to do or not.

PS: I am not a stooge by MCD or any other domestic or international chain - just another common man who loves his food which is everything vegetarian. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

EMIs to the rescue of Retailers

I have been receiving emailers from Bajaj Finance, one of the largest consumer finance companies in the country for a long time now, ever since I bought a couple of stuff using their services 5 years back. I still haven't unsubscribed to their mails, hoping that I get to gain a lot of insights into Consumer Behavior day in and day out. The one that I received today was a bit surprising... Even as I just finished my daily quota of early morning news releases, Bajaj Finance sends me an email that the newly launched iPhone6 can be bought using their services through EMIs, while Apple had announced earlier in the day that they have advised Retailers to discontinue the EMI Schemes specifically for the newly launched models due to overwhelming response and low stock quantity. Wonder where the communication channels failed between Apple, the Retailer and the Financing Company, clearly that there was an overlap of information to consumers which is misleading. Leading Retail chains such as Univercell, The Mobile store, EZone and a whole lot of smaller local resellers have been offering EMIs on the newly launched iPhone6 and 6 Plus.



Apple has been struggling in India, not because of a slowing market. Its quite the opposite. More and more people are embracing the Apple Ecosystem and this trend is clearly visible every time there is a new launch. For a country of over 1.2 billion with 300 million youth population, assuming a 0.1% population that would aspire to buy a new iPhone, Apple Inc has dispatched just 55,000 units of the newly launched model. This is quite amusing. Apple Sales have been scaling higher and higher in India over the last 2-3 years, yet the US Headquarters hasn't been giving the subsidiary and the market its due. In fact, it was the news recently that Apple India had to almost fight with HQ to advance the sales of the newly launched models ahead of Diwali to cash in on Festive sales. That the Sales would have been the same otherwise too, is another matter.

So why has Apple advised Retailers not to offer EMIs on the newly launched models? According to trade partners, the reason is three fold. To begin with, the company wants to create an atmosphere of desirability - EMI is the easiest way for youngsters to posess the product and Apple wants to keep it away from this lot of consumers. By not offering the EMI, only those who can really afford would end up buying the new models and it would command a premium in the market for a much longer time. Second, Apple and the Retailer would have to bear the interest costs partially since the EMI would be offered interest free to the consumer and it wants to minimise this cost at the moment. Third, Apple wants to clear the past inventory in the market; Models such as the iPhone 4 and 4S which were released over 3-4 years ago are still available to buy in the market and since there is no bigger market opportunity than India, Apple perhaps wants to clear the last lot of models asap.

So, if you are looking for a great deal on an older model of iPhone, now is the time. Rush to your nearest Retailer and negotiate a good deal, which I am sure they would be happy to offer. After all, an Apple product has a wonderful ecosystem and the older models too have a great experience to offer.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The iPhone Saga continues...

When I posted on my Facebook page at 11.35pm on the night of 16 Oct. 2014 that I was the first in the city of Chennai to receive a 64 GB Gold variant of the iPhone 6, someone sarcastically quipped "So?!?" Well. It was no big deal. Really. Anyone could have been the first one if they had put in the effort. And for me, it was pure fun. And a Retailer's delight too - to see how a Retailer delights his customers through completing a much anticipated and well hyped "transaction". In many parts of the country, the event was quite publicized and draw discerning customers to the Retail Stores - one retailer in Chennai had gone a step ahead to rope in leading actress Hansika Motwani to do the honours. India's largest mobile store chain, The Mobile Store took a full page Ad in national newspapers urging people to preorder and get the device in the midnight. Flipkart, India's largest ECommerce company along with rivals Snapdeal and Amazon was taking preorders promising one-day delivery. Crazy Apple Fans lined up the outsides of the Retail Stores, from UB City in Bangalore to Select City Walk in New Delhi's posh Saket area. I, however chose to skip the queues and chose to book with a low-key Retailer close to my workplace. I really took a chance with this Retail Shop, it is called Hello World located at Adyar, in South Chennai. They charged me Rs. 5,000 as booking charges 5 days before the original launch and assured to deliver the phone by midnight.



 On the day of release, I called then twice during the day to check if everything was as per plan, and they continued to assure that they were geared up for the event and I could come over after 11.30 in the night to collect the "piece". Yeah, ultimately its a piece, but a precious one though! I finished work, went home, had shower and dinner and drove back to the shop and reached around 11.15pm. There were 2-3 other customers who had turned up at that time. I was actually taking a chance, just in case they offered to sell the piece well before the time the invitation suggested. And in true Indian style, they did. They "sold" the first piece to me well in advance of the promised time but cautioned me not to activate the phone until 00.00 hours, lest I lose warranty.

I came back to my car, clicked a Selfie and shared on social media and whatsapp groups - small thrills, you see. And was greeted and responded by many people whom I knew and didn't. I really felt happy that the Retailer stood its purpose and kept us its word by delivering what was promised.


I came home and waited patiently, only to activate my new iPhone6 at 00.05 hrs. Its a delight to restart or swicth on an iDevice. And I love that experience absolutely. The finesse with which a product has been created and packaged - Hats off to Steve Jobs for this. I have been using Apple products for a decade now, with my first one being an iPod Nano 4GB. In the year 2004, it was a miracle to store over 10,000 songs on a single portable device that can be heard through headphones, on a car through an AUX Jack as well as played on a music system. And Apple has gradually grown its line-up. at the moment, I guess they have over 30 SKUs, some in sales in a few countries while some have been discontinued from production as well.

There have been a number of reviews about iPhone6 itself, so I am not going to get into the technicalities. Your favourite news websites are a better source than mine. So, I would urge you to read what you think suits you best. I am only going to share how it feels as a user, as a keen observer of consumerism, as a retailer and as a Retail Consultant who advises various businesses.

The iPhone6 is a tad bigger than the previously launched iPhone5S. The beauty of the earlier iPhones and iPods was that they could be managed using one hand, depending on what suits you. Not anymore with the new model. While a few can hold the device comfortably in one hand, most people, including a few women may find it difficult to use it on one hand. However, the flipside is the screen size looks much bigger. You get to see and read a lot more, especially on sites like twitter and facebook as well was webpages. While the default font size remains the same (it can be increased through manual settings though), one gets a feeling of using a non-Apple device. Maybe like an HTC or Sony. Samsung has launched various sizes appealing to various strata of people, just like how another Korean Automobile company Hyundai does. So, it depends on which other smartphone you compare it with. But interestingly the new model is lighter than the previous one, so the size is compensated with the pressure exerted by the palm.


Speed is immensely better in the iPhone6, but you would realise this only while using certain apps. And the likes of Facebook and Twitter have updated their own apps in line with the iOS8 Operating system, so the apps now open up and perform much better than in previous devices. Battery drains slower than before, although I haven't put the device to too much of use such as having a Facetime Call or watching a movie. Features like Near Field Communication (NFC) and ApplePay wouldn't be usable in India, for we dont have the relevant infrastructure here. Other than some basic cosmetic changes, there is nothing new in the device, although hardcore Apple Fans will tell you about the technicalities which I dont think will change the way we live! However, to each his own. 

At the moment, its been just about 36 hours since I have been using the phone and it seems to be working well and doing its job to its best. And my love for Apple keeps increasing by the day. As the saga continues...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

6/10 was not the best date: #BigBillionDay

I have been keenly watching the proposed #BigBillionDay of Flipkart for quite some time. There has already been much written about the negative customer experience they created on this day and how competition took advantage of this – by offering products at a much lower price (note: I didn’t say “cheaper” and shall come back to it). Apparently, the Bansals chose 6/10 as the day since it was also the house number where they started their business a couple of years back. I found this to be a weird coincidence, honestly no offence meant. This is that time of the year when the Retail Industry sees a surge in sales – for big consumer brands such as the ones in Consumer Durables and Electronics, Apparel and Watches, the 3rd Quarter of the Financial Year beginning Oct-Dec. contributes almost 40-50% of their annual sales. Brands and Retailers have taken advantage of this proposition during this period, thanks to the biggest festival of the country, Diwali, Id and Christmas which fall during these months. Salman, Shah Rukh, Aamir and all other leading actors of the country plan their movie releases during this time of the year hoping to see a massive box-office opening. In general, people tend to save all through the year only to spend during this time – from cars to bikes to all kinds of shopping, consumers go easy during their respective festival times.

BBD1 

Am sure the Bansals knew this. Or probably not, I wonder. Why would a Retailer, online or offline discount their products during festive season when consumers are anyway going to spend? They would rather increase the bill values and promote big ticket items to cash in on the popularity of the festive mood. While offline Retailers do pass on a benefit to the consumers, it is mostly in the form of a freebie – a gift article or perhaps a Gift Voucher, so as to enable the customer to come back to them again. I have been witnessing over the past few days, full page advertisements by leading brands such as Samsung, Sony, Panasonic etc. about their latest LCD and LED TVs. The screen size seems to be getting bigger while the Selling Price has remained the same or has rather reduced considerably compared to the past few years.

In my humble opinion, Flipkart should not have undertaken this activity during this time. Atleast, they should have refrained with those massive discounts, notwithstanding the fact that the offers advertised didn’t match with what curious e-customers found, apart from the error pages. There was much angst by the public who took to social media sites like twitter and facebook – some published long blogs while many were content with the 140 characters to display their frustration and rejection of the idea of Big Billion Day. I will not get into the mechanics of the promotion, would rather reserve it as a case for another day.

BBD2

Simply put, the festive season is not for discounting. I find it weird that the Bansals have given an explanation such as the one above for the date that was chosen. We in India, generally like to ape the West mindlessly. The Black Friday Sales that happen in the US is at the end of the year who follow the calendar year to close their books of records. What is given on discount are the older models ahead of new launches starting the New Year. Some intelligent geek who would have shopped in the US during one such sale might have pondered this idea during one of their internal meetings and bingo! The Flipkart Team took it too seriously! From a pure Retail Marketing point of view, I think this is one of the most disastrous campaigns that would remain etched in the memory of consumers and marketers. Many Brands and Retailers have been taken by surprise that Flipkart sold the products at a lower price than what they had offered, sometime even lower than cost. To the astonishment of the Consumer Products Industry, Flipkart claims to be the guiding institute for developing the E-Commerce Industry in the country.

While I do appreciate what they been championing, the method undertaken is not appropriate. E-Commerce shopping in India means Discount Shopping, to the extent that people do not see it as a convenient alternate method for shopping at all. In the process, Flipkart has distanced itself further from fellow Retailers and e-Tailers. It would have helped if this activity was conducted in February, which is one of the leanest months for consumption. Hope they take note of this and plan their marketing better in future.