17 July, 2010

Drop the Basket, Go for a Trolley!

There is something about the way consumers shop which amazes me every time I observe the way they shop. As it is, women shop & men buy. And within that, there are so many complexities that are involved. For example, when men walk into a Supermarket, they go straight to the product category they came looking for – could be Shaving creams or Shoe polish; and if they can’t find something, they would typically reach out for help – ask the closest associate in the store to help them out. Once finished, they would walk straight to the cash counter, wait impatiently, fiddling with their mobile phones and would be out of the store – all this within 7-9 minutes on an average. The duration could be just about double if they enter a Hypermarket, the additional time taken purely to walk the aisles. And Women – Welcome to Shopping; typically spend between 20-35 minutes in a supermarket and 60-80 minutes in a Hypermarket. While men do not keep a list of things that they want to buy (they think it is manly not to carry such lists), women are quite the opposite. They not only carry a list, but also pick up many other things that are not in the list. According to a survey done in 2008 by a famous Research agency, women shopper’s purchased atleast 30% of their total shopping by impulse.  
The scene is a bit different while shopping apparel and accessories. Men usually know which brand, what fit and colours they intend to “buy” and usually end up to Speciality Stores that stock a single brand with a deeper assortment. Quite contrarily, Women shoppers are more likely to visit Department Stores since they are usually undecided on all parameters – brand, fit and colour except in rare instances. And hence, spend twice or more time than men in such outlets. While I used to work in Benetton, I have observed that 7 out of 10 shoppers who took “trials” of apparel ended up buying. But it was only 20% men who took trials – they feel shy to come out of the Trial rooms just too often to show-off their attire to their kith and kin and it is common to see Men shop alone, while women shop in groups, most commonly friends, if not other family members. While Men replace their worn-out accessories, women buy a new one much before they discard their old ones, be it bags or belts. What’s interesting is the way women and men behave while shopping – it’s not just informative but amazing to see how both genders react.

While most Hypermarkets and Supermarkets have trolleys for the convenience of customers, they are usually seen as mere tools and must-haves because others in the business do. But if they are put to better use, then they can actually make a big difference in the way people end up shopping. For example, men never care to take a shopping bag, whether at super markets or Hypers or apparel stores. Somehow, they believe their two hands can carry almost everything they wanted to buy. It’s common to see Shopping assistants or CCAs handing over shopping bags to them – not just to help them carry safely but also in the thought that they would carry on shopping even if their hands are full. Women shoppers are encouraged to upgrade from their shopping bags to shopping trolleys. Hypermarkets have created a trend by stocking up empty trolleys at the entrance of the shops to urge shoppers to walk-in with one. Research has shown that 90% of those who walk in Hypers like Hypercity and Spar carry along a Trolley. On an average, a trolley is expected to result in a shopping size of Rs. 2,000 – 3,000. Not bad at all, given the fact that most of them never intended to walk in with one. Some of the older Hypers such as Big Bazaar and Total have very narrow aisles in their stores, which make it quite inconvenient to move around.

The legendary Shopping cart was invented by Sylvan Goldman, owner of Humpty Dumpty department store in Oklahoma City during late-1930s. His invention was a result of a simple thought – how to make shoppers buy more groceries and he used a foldable chair with a small basket on top and wheels in the bottom to experiment this. Initially, the idea wasn’t taken very well, men found it effeminate and women considered it as an alternate to pushing baby prams. Models were used within the store to demonstrate the use of such trolleys and eventually, it not only caught up with the habit of shoppers but also became one of the biggest innovations in Retailing. The modern trolley in use today has come a long way after many variations over the past decades and today it is even common to see baby carts within the trolleys where children are made to sit and enjoy the ride while the mother shops around.

Many countries, especially in the US and Europe charge a small fee- usually a refundable deposit, a Dollar or a Euro for using the Trolley. The idea is not to safeguard the equipment against theft or as a deterrent, as the cost of the trolley is many times that of the deposit but to ensure users returned them to trolley-parking lots safely after which they would get back their deposit. In Germany for example, over 10% of shoppers don’t care to collect their deposits and the money that retailers make with such a deposit is used for paying the salaries of part-time helpers and trolley retrievers. Many airports worldwide use shopping trolleys to encourage passengers to shop. Zurich Airport (a shareholder in the Bangalore International Airport), which is among the most commercially successful ones in the world puts its trolleys to good use by using the side-panels for advertising. Changi Airport which is among the best airports in the world in all senses, uses its trolleys so effectively that passengers who initially intended to use them only for their hand-baggage convert them into shopping trolleys as there are hundreds of shops selling almost everything under the sun, all within the airport. 

This column today is being written at a Cafe Coffee Day outlet at Bangalore Central Mall while I have been watching hundreds of shoppers use their own trolleys – most of them came with an intention to shop during the ongoing “Happiness Sale” but few would realise that they have filled their trolleys because of compulsive offers around. Such is the power of trolleys; so Drop the Basket, Go for a Trolley instead. Happy Shopping.

10 years in Madras - A recap

It was on this day 10 years back I returned to Madras (by then it was renamed Chennai) - where I have grown up all my life, after a long sta...