I bought my first mobile phone, a Samsung R 220 in 2002 when I used to work at Musicworld in Kolkata. Those days, it set me back by over Rs. 9,500. Colour display, trendy looking and all that. Incoming call was Rs. 2 per minute and outgoing was Rs. 5 per minute on Airtel. It was mainly meant for my family in Chennai to reach me whenever they wished to speak with me. I retained it for about three years, and then moved to Nokia for about 4 years. Then came Blackberry and then my iPhones since 2012 although I first used an iPod in 2006 which my friend gifted me. Over the past four years, have got so engrossed and obsessed with the Apple way of communicating. As I always say, Apple is neither a hardware company nor Software one. It is an ecosystem. It is something like Hinduism, a way of living. Once you get used to the Apple way of life, it is very difficult to move out – you are kind of hooked on. Yes, I know and you know many who have moved on, but so be it. After using an iPod for a decade, iPhones for 4 years and an iPad for 3, I decided to buy a Macbook which I did recently. And boy, what a life this is – so well integrated. However, I use the Microsoft Onedrive to store all my data and access it across devices. Photos, of course are on iCloud. So, I have been engrossed in this system, quite well.
Now that I run two startups (OyeThere.com and SmilingBaby.in), I am in the process of releasing their mobile applications. So, being the consumer guy, I want to experience first hand what the user goes through while using the app. And hence started to look for an Android device. Honestly, I have no experience in using an Android OS and hence had neither positive nor negative thoughts about them. I know so many Android fanatics and these are very intellectual people. I know many who swear by a Macbook yet use Android phones. So, am sure they are quite good. As usual, started reading reviews and searched online. Was impressed with the Lenovo K4 Note. I went to the big four sites online but the confused me more than I already was. My budget was sub-Rs. 10,000 and hence the dichotomy was much higher. Since my spare laptop is a Sony Vaio, I thought let me look for a Sony mobile perhaps they may sync well. Walked in to the showroom at Alwarpet and asked the guy for some details. They were so disinterested to even strike a conversation, forget selling the device. One guy was ignorant and the other couldn’t care less. This was the most premium store for Sony in Chennai and among the top ones in India, probably more than a decade old. Shame on the boys and the guy who has franchised it to have such a poor team of Retail sales staff, I thought to myself and walked away.
Next I went to the guys who pioneered Mobile Retailing in Chennai, Univercell. The brand has changed hands recently and the new team has perhaps washed off their hands off their Retail business. The store was stinking of sock’s odour and the boys were generally fooling around. This was the same store which made historic sales at a store level some 7-8 years back. They neither had what I asked for nor were they keen to continue the conversation. I walked in next in to a store called Studio Cell, a small time local retail chain with just a couple of outlets. The “owner” sits at the shop most of the time – I remember visiting the store 6 years back when I bought a phone for my Dad. He was there then too, and every time I went thereafter. He and his team of four listened to my requirements carefully and suggested a brand new model from a company that revolutionized Mobile telephony in India a decade back. The brand was LYF and was from Reliance Telecom. The sales guy was using a handset which we explored. It was 4.5 inches in size, same as my iPhone 6. Apparently, this is the only 4G handset in India at the moment and the call quality was supposed to be superior. Apart from some similar features with the iPhones, it seemed to be quite a sturdy device. And for Rs. 6,700, it seemed to be a steal, well almost. The sale was over in less than 8 minutes and billing done. Screen guard was another Rs. 300. So, for Rs. 7,000 I had a phone with as many features of a smartphone in the Rs. 10,000-15,000 price bracket. The phone weighed quite light and was a great feeling to one a unique piece which no one has around in town.
So, here is the learning. Customers are always looking for products (and services). Brands spend millions of dollars to build themselves and partner with trusted franchisees and companies, only to be let down at the point of sale. Small & Medium Retailers and Store owners on the other hand sweat it out. The phone that I bought could have got him a 15% margin and perhaps also some volume discounts if he sells more. He is not venture funded with dollars from the silicon valley who fund online companies mindlessly who in turn pass on discounts at the drop of a hat and have no clue how to retain customers who are always looking for the best bargain. He is a common man – a Retailer whose bread and butter comes from each Sale that happens at the store. Therefore, the “conversion” of an onlooker to become a customer and a repeat customer is a challenge these guys are addressing very well. He gives a new meaning to the term “Customer Service” which neither E-Commerce nor Organized Retailers have been able to provide consistently to customers.
The above pic was taken around 6.30 pm on a full moon evening from my spare bedroom on my 13th floor house which I use as my makeshift office. You can see the about to be inaugurated Kalaivanar Arangam, a multi purpose hall, the Doordarshan Tv tower, the Chennai Harbour & Port and ofcourse the Bay of Bengal with a full moon... Not bad at all for a 5 MP Camera! Have been using the phone for over 48 hours as I write this post. No major issues found. Ofcourse, it is not anywhere comparable to an iPhone and I don’t expect it either. I have always taken things (including people) as they are and here, I assert that I shall not sulk on this device comparing it to an Apple. As they say, with practice comes perfection and I would probably get used to Android LYF.
After closing the sale and while about to leave, I asked the Store Owner if he sells online to which he said he used to and has stopped because the big boys don’t pay his bills on time. So, I suggested him to take a look at my Hyperlocal Omni-Channel model OyeThere.com We surfed the site for about 10 minutes and seemed to be excited about the way the whole thing works. He has said he will come back with his thoughts to partner with us. He may. He may not. But I am sure, he will remain in business for a long time, coz his fundamentals are strong.