28 September, 2009

give me more.

With a little bias, I would like to call them the BIG Four of Indian Retail (like the ones in the Auditing world such as E&Y, PwC, KPMG and Deloitte) – The Future Group, Reliance, Tata and Birla. My very close friends and associates are working in very senior positions in other Retail Organizations, but going by history, these four are expected to lead the Great Indian Retail Story that is unfolding faster than the world believes. While the Future Group came into Bangalore over six years ago, the Tatas and Reliance came over the past years. And last week, Birlas opened their first and largest (yet) Hypermarket in Bangalore. Aptly named more. MEGASTORE, it is located on the Outer Ring Road, quite equidistant from Marathalli, KR Puram and Whitefield. Approximately, over 1 million people are expected to be living in a 10 sq. km area from here (based on various studies on the internet that advocates catchment analyses) and over 100,000 households that appear to be the most relevant target segment. Within the same area, there is a Big Bazaar on Old Madras Road and Whitefield, Total Hypermarket on Sarjapur Road, and a few more expected. With a dozen malls in various level of completion in this area, it is indeed going to be one of the most watched markets in Bangalore as far as Organized Retail is concerned.

I managed to spend some quality time at the new hyper – more from an academic and learning perspective than from the main motive – shopping. My first impression – Wow. State of the art, world class Hypers have arrived and it was nice to see consumers’ acceptance too. By the way, if there is one place where the entire family visits over the weekend to while away time, to buy things that are “perceived” to be cheaper, to catch up with other relatives or to buy some grocery and household articles, then it is the modern Hypers! Yes – it was a sight to see last Saturday when everyone in the family was there – to see the new Outlet, to check out the offers that were being popularized, and to “save” – the new mantra of the modern household families.

While it is a continuing debate on what is the ideal size of the Hypers, how many SKUs should they carry and whether specialty Hypers would work, I believe what we need is higher penetration – more outlets within a locality than fewer “Big Boxes”. We already have a dozen players at a regional, national and international level within the country that are focusing on these models, so it would be possible to have more than one operator/retailer in a specific locality. And Indian consumers need a variety and seek a change quite often, so they would end up visiting different outlets over a period of time – and hence I wonder if “Hyper Store Loyalty” is anything but a big wish for the Retailers.

When one looks at the Store front, it is very welcoming. The “Free Parking” signage is soothing and sends a positive message to shoppers. That there are no other commercial attractions or hangouts close by would mean that visitors come into the store only. As you enter, the Clubmore Loyalty desk is visible. Again, this communicates shoppers that if they are loyal, then they would be rewarded. Smart. Large trolleys are located at the entrance to ensure that most shoppers pick it up as early as possible (for obvious reasons). Just after this, the confusion begins. There are over 18 Cash counters and to enter the ground floor, one has to weed through the customers who are billing! Strange. Almost no one would do that. So, I approached the gentleman who was standing near the check-out, observing and ensuring a disciplined and smooth flow of operations and asked him how/where should I begin my journey. He showed me a travellator that’s near the window and asked me to go to the first floor before I come back to the Ground. I did. I was fumbled to see that the travellator arrives at a dead end – only to be greeted by the Security Guard who is standing there clueless. And just as I pass by, I see another travellator that takes you to the next floor. As always, one couldn’t find a store directory at any of these places. Usually, shoppers who haven’t especially come to shop would have gone up.

But the sincere me who was on an academic tour went into the first floor only to get caught into the crowd. Men’s formals mixed with casuals and then the women’s categories and well, a large “Saree” and other Indian ethnic wear followed and at the end of the floor was stainless steel, plastic and other household items! The travellator at the end of this floor takes you to the ground floor. But I wanted to see the next floor above. So, I came back to where I started and took the way upward. Again, this arrives in a “no-man’s land” – so, I turn left and get into the electronics area which leads to home appliances which leads to sports equipments and ends with bicycles! One walks back all the way to take the travellator down to the next floor and then to the ground floor. Phew. I guess the planners have probably somewhere forgotten why the travellators are created/placed. They are not for moving people from one floor to another (a simple elevator would do that); rather, they are placed such that shoppers walk across areas which they wouldn’t have otherwise and so to see some conversions. So, then I finally came to the ground floor. Strangely, Fruits and Vegetables along with Meat and Dairy products were at the fag end. The philosophy that they must be kept at the entrance is defeated – probably because we expect shoppers to finish buying everything until they reach this area. We expect.

Suddenly realized that I had to pick up some stuff which my aunt had reminded the same morning, so took the list out and bought them. With just three products on hand, I walked towards the cash counters – and voila! All the counters were busy, with atleast three of four trolleys in each of them. There was no “Express Counter” according to one of the staff around, so I politely handed over all the products in his hand to bid adieu. Only to see the signage “Express Counter” at the end! Now, we all agree that most of the shoppers do not visit a hyper to buy the top-ups or the smaller articles, but what happens to those who do so? There were only two express counters and both had atleast six customers and usually, one doesn’t wait for so long.

Finally, I stepped out into the open area where I started my tour. It had taken me about 40 minutes for a full visit from start to finish. I would expect that it would be double or more if one had to shop. Decent enough time to convert as many as possible and also to increase bill values. I am not even talking about the promotions/pricing as they seemed to be attractive enough for families to shop (more than what they would have wanted to). At the entrance (or exit however you call), I didn’t find the customary short-eats – Pop Corn, Sweet Corn, Chat items and some fast food. Although this is not a mainstay, it contributes quite much to the total sales of the Hyper at the end of the day. And it does bring in regular shoppers to have a quick bite. As I stood on the other side of the road, looking at this marvelous structure, I was wondering if all the hype has paid off and what a challenge it would be to sustain the operations. There are large hoardings all over the city placed at strategic locations (one near my house that’s 22 km away from the store), but after all the waiting for the past months and a whole lot of effort by various team members, it was sense of disappointment for me. Of course, an average shopper would think/ interpret/ blog as much as I do, but what they look for in such outlets is not what they get – convenience. After all, Hypermarkets are not about the hyper space alone, it’s also about Hyper convenience of shopping. more.- convenience, if you may allow me to say so.

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