Showing posts with label Central Malls. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Central Malls. Show all posts

15 January, 2021

Uttarayan and my Professional Life


On 13 Jan. 2021, I was driving back yet again to Chennai from Bangalore on my XUV500. Even as my playlist kept jumping from 90s Tamil film songs to the latest tunes, spiritual discourses to FM Radio, my thoughts kept wandering from one to another to another. I was driving back in a spacious SUV, all alone and reasonably well placed in life than what I had imagined for myself 24 years back when I first joined the Retail Industry scooping Ice-Cream at Baskin Robbins as a part time salesman during the day, learning computer languages in the morning at NIIT and studying B. Com in the Evening College. I am ever thankful for my Stars, the Creator’s benevolence, blessings of Elders and good wishes of my close friends for where I am today in life. Professionally, Socially, personally and of course, most recently on the spiritual lane. 


It was a Makara Sankrathi / Pongal day that I landed up at Bangalore in 2004 to be part of a revolution in the making, little which I knew when I was interviewed in Oct. 2003. Even on the inaugural day of Bangalore Central in May 2004, none of us back then knew how big the Indian Retail Consumption story would grow to and that some of us would be a strategic part of it with our own tales of success, failure and most importantly, that of abundant learning.



As the playlist kept changing every few hours during my recent drive, I couldn’t help but realise how my life has been such a roller-coaster drive and that I have enjoyed, messed up and have overcome many such moments all along. The morning chills of my bike rides from my temporary stay at a cousin’s house in RT Nagar, Bangalore back in 2004 all the way to MG Road (where the Mall was located) and getting lost every now and then on my way to Jayanagar 4th block where the Regional Office of the erstwhile Pantaloon Retail was once located gives me the chills in the spine till date. Honestly, I never thought I will come this far in my professional life, that I would write about the last 20 years every now and then and fondly recollect the moments that has made me an eternal Student of Retailing for the rest of my life.



Last Sunday, I had met a former colleague for Lunch at a posh Restobar which was once upon a time a suburban hamlet that was Sahakar Nagar. I was sharing how I could never feel “belonged” at “Bengaluru” although the city has given me so much. My retail resurrection has happened multiple times and Bangalore has lifted me up multiple times. A few other cities hold as much or more importance to me – of course Madras being my hometown is always the dearest. Every time, I enter or exit Bangalore city - the iconic arch at Attibele, the retail library that is Brigade Road / MG Road, the eponymous UB City, the wet markets of Malleswaram or Basavangudi, the Windsor Manor underpass, Mekhri Circle, the new Airport Road towards KGIA and so on – each one of them have a deep meaning and a related anecdote in my life. But the attachment is always temporary. Just that this temporary attachment turns 17 this Uttarayan season and remains an undetachable part of me forever. 


Yet again, I moved to Bangalore during Uttarayan 2020, bag and baggage for my current role at Levista. What was once supposedly a guest accommodation at my current abode in the Western suburb of Bangalore, Peenya and “the so-called home” at Chennai has now been reversed, with me spending more time at my own Bangalore Headquarters even as we march against an insurmountable business target of achieving Rs. 100 Crores of turnover for the 4 year young brand in the next 12-18 months. Am I dreaming, yes. Are dreams good, yes. Do they get achieved, sometimes yes. And how about this one, I am working harder than ever for it. 


I am once again grateful to this once-upon-a-time quaint town which has given me so much yet remains detached from my life and expects nothing from me, other than gratitude and thankfulness in my thoughts. But I vow to make this city proud of an outsider like me, in one way or another and give her the due recognition as I share a great part of my professionally somewhat-successful career to this place. 

I won’t get attached to her ever. But would always ensure that this city is always a part of me and My Retail Journey in the making. Forever.

30 August, 2020

The Future of Retail

The writing was on the wall for a long time. Many old timers like me and thousands of retail enthusiasts in India and worldwide were eagerly waiting for the announcement. That the Reliance Group was a strong contender to buy out The Future Group lock, stock and barrel was a known fact. And that Amazon and Walmart were discussing the final nuances was also a known thing. And then, it happened finally. It Happened In India – on 29th August 2020, Reliance Retail and The Future Group formally announced in the media that the former had bought out the wholesale, retail and warehousing business of the latter in full. A red letter day for self made Entrepreneurs, groaned many on social media and in passive interactions. The man recovered his 30 year’s investment of time, quipped many others. A few former employees were seen sulking in public and private, some even wept at this outcome. At the end of the day, it’s a business that has changed hands, owners and course. Life moves on, so why fret, said many others. 


Kishore Biyani and his cousins started the traditional business of selling dress materials for men in Calcutta in the 80s. As a family driven business from the “Maheshwari” community of Marwaris, the family spread their work load. Each one of them had an important role to play – from sourcing to selling, accounting to managing working capital. They named the company “Pantaloon” as they were selling Pant lengths for making patloon, the Indian namesake for western clothing. When the family gathered pace with their wholesale business, was born an idea of retail models such that customers could grace the shop and buy. They opened their fancy big outlet at Gariahat, Calcutta in the late 90s. The shop was a runaway hit and also boasted “Green Card” – a loyalty platform. Yes, 1990s. With the stupendous success of the fashion format, the company decided to cater to the other essentials for the family – Roti, Kapda aur Makaan. Thus was born Big Bazaar on VIP Road, Kolkata in 2001. All along the Biyanis were shuttling between the city of joy and the city of dreams. With dreams unlimited. 


I joined the group in 2004 when the company ventured with Mall Retailing – Bangalore Central which opened it’s doors in May 2004 And has over 45 Malls to its credit till date all India. The company opened some format of retailing in every residential locality of India’s top 100 cities – from Gauhati to Madurai, Baroda to Bilaspur. At some point, the company was selling everything from a humble Rs. 10 samosa to the entire wardrobe for the house with accessories, furnishings, paraphernalia and everything in between. After the big slowdown of 2008, Kishore Ji in his inimitable style conceded at the 2009 India Retail Forum at Mumbai that the company wanted to be “everything to everyone” and failed miserably at it. As a person who only gathers learning and lessons from failures, he simply moved on to build a coveted “Pantaloon Fashion” business which he sold at a handsome profit to the Birlas. Once again, he painstakingly built other fashion retail brands including Cover Story and fBB alongside the equivalent of India’s very own Walmart – Big Bazaar. 


For every 10 customers who frowned at the business model of BB, 100 others became loyal patrons everyday of the multi-category retailer infamous for crazy deals and price-offs. During these last 20 years, there were several internal and external forces that wanted a slice of the Golden Sparrow – a pneumonic which the group added to it’s logo when the company’s name was changed to The Future Group – Sone Ki Chidiya tagged along with. When Reliance Retail was contemplating to enter the retail business in 2008, they had obviously explored a buy out. However, the company built it’s own fort with all it’s might. Amazon and Walmart made several attempts all these years to get a pie in the business but couldn’t lay siege in a big way. In turn, Bharti-Walmart ended up selling their retail business “Easy Day Stores” to the group several years back even as Carrefour bowed out of India with a single store in East Delhi which never took off. The group and it’s Founder were building a mighty retail company with several formats, several business models including a foray in to packaged FMCG with the “Tasty Treat” Brand which was an outcome of the private label business of the company through its grocery retail business. 

It’s all about timing, as they say in business and bourses. 


The Corona Crisis was a great opportunity for the Promoters to exit the business especially when the richest man of Asia was willing to write a cheque. This was not a hostile bid. Yes, there has been mounting pressure from Investors, bankers and share holders due the company’s debt levels. But a bailout, if needed was only favorable for the Biyanis. As they didn’t just sell grocery, household, electronics and fashion alone. Kishore Biyani was a Dream Merchant. He made millions of Indians to dream. To dream Big. To dream big about building scale and grow their businesses. For thousands of naysayers of the group’s way of running the business, lakhs of small time business persons grew their small ventures inspired by the self-styled and non-conformist serial Entrepreneur who tried to sell everything a consumer can consume, literally and figuratively including insurance and EMI-led credit to shop more at his 1,000s of stores. Some even went public or raised private investments. He strongly believed in a consumption led economy and Kept repeating that the Great Indian Consumption Story is yet to take off in a big way.


As a Retail professional, my second stint was with the group where I saw firsthand decision making of a slew of deals; how to take risks with determination and a cushion to fall; gather self motivation and courage to keep moving, no matter what. If one thing doesn’t work one way, try it another away. And a 100 other ways. It would eventually work, after all. It had to. Had I not moved to Bangalore on that Sankranthi day of 2004, much to the chagrin of my parents with 4 bags and a bagful of dreams, my professional career, a Retail dominated one at that wouldn’t have occurred, probably. I am ever grateful to the Leadership Team at the erstwhile Pantaloon group who guided me as a young man with a mere 2.5 years’ experience and of course my many interactions with Mr. Rakesh Biyani with whom I worked closely while setting up the Concessionaire Business at Bangalore Central. 


I personally see this as yet another lesson for budding as well as well settled Entrepreneurs  - to believe in oneself and keep moving with earnest efforts. If you do well, you will succeed. If you don’t do as well as you could have, yet have built something incredible, then there will always be someone to support you, invest in your dreams or perhaps buy them out. 

The Great Indian Retail story is yet to be fully told. I am glad I am a part of it.
A Retailer by Profession and Choice. Since 1997. 

21 June, 2018

Is Consumer Loyalty Dead?

Commencing this weekend (23 June), almost all Fashion Brands in India will go on EOSS – End of Season Sale, a biennial activity that has been witnessing a higher share of annual sales. When I used to work for Benetton as Area Manager in 2004, things were different. There used to be EOSS Twice a year followed by the “seasons” as they are called, viz., “Spring Summer (SS)” and “Autumn Winter (AW)”. EOSS would usually start after Valentine’s Day in the hope that shoppers would still shop at full price for the big day to impress their dear ones. And the next EOSS would occur after Schools and Colleges have reopened, just ahead of the Festival season that usually begins from August onwards. Slowly, things started changing, rather realigning to Global trends. Many international brands had to match their Global Fashion Calendar and the year-end Christmas Sales, so the EOSS was pushed to December & January and accordingly the next EOSS moved earlier to end-June. And that’s the current trend now.


From Apparel Department Stores to Mono Brands, almost all Brands try to exhaust their Stocks during the EOSS. Interestingly, 15 years back, EOSS was restricted to a little less than 3-4 weeks. However, now it has moved to 6-8 weeks. There are many reasons that could be attributed to this;

  • There is limited seasonality these days, in a sense Customers shop all through the year compared to “Occasion-based Shopping” such as for festivals, wedding season, special occasions etc. So, while the lean periods through the year have more or less flattened, the demand spread has also evened out
  • Ever since the 2008 Economic Crash worldwide, Customers have become wary of spending high on products which would eventually be available at a lower price in a few weeks (sic). While India saw a boom in Mall culture between 2009-2014, the sheer number of Brands and their availability all through the year have been a cake for the Customers with easier accessibility 365 days
  • While I am not a big fan of “E-Commerce killed Offline” theory, it is a fact that there has been a reasonable impact for fashion brands, especially. This is mainly because the unsold Inventory were pushed to their digital vertical by Brands to liquidate the stocks and over time, the likes of Jabong and Myntra have become more of “Factory Outlets” where discounted Merchandise are available, always. It is no wonder that the share of products which are on Full Price on such Ecommerce Marketplaces is relatively low compared to those on Discounts. Actually, this is applicable for all categories
  • Department Stores offer a larger “Discount Pie” compared to the Mono Brands, given that most of them operate on a “Buy and Sell” model with no stock returns to the Brands. Therefore, in an effort to reduce the impact of their exposure to unsold Inventory, Department Stores offer aggressive discounts & promotions to ensure they clear old stocks as much as possible. 
So, with all the above factors taken in to account, I wonder at times, is there “Brand Loyalty” left anymore especially for the Fashion Brands?


When was the last time, You – the Reader of this Article, bought the same Brand of Apparel or Footwear or Watch or Sunglasses? Are you wearing now the same Brand that you wore yesterday? If two Brands are offering similar discounts during EOSS (or even at full price), would you buy a particular Brand? If so, then why?

So, the responses could be very subjective and suits each one of our needs. 

Honestly, I do not see Consumers clinging on to any particular Brand and I attribute it to two reasons – variety offered by over Top 500 Indian and International Brands (and Labels) across products categories from Perfumes to Casual wear, formal shoes, running shoes and beyond. 

Are you rewarding your Loyal Customers just with just Loyalty Points, Sale Previews and price-offs? Is this going to be sustainable at all in the long term? 

How would you retain them for longer – LTV as they say, Life Time Value (sic)?

21 July, 2012

Why IKEA will do well in India

It has been a regular discussion point in Retail circles about the imminent Indian entry of IKEA, the Swedish Retailer which is also the largest Furniture Retailer in the world with sales over USD 30 Billion. A few years ago, IKEA announced its plans to enter India but later withheld due to the unfriendly FDI policy and other regulations. Most recently, in July 2012, IKEA submitted an application to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (of India) to allow its Indian subsidiary to operate its business in the country. Although FIPB and FDI norms allow multi-national Retailers only to operate a B-to-B business in India (Wholesale businesses like the ones followed by Bharti Wal-Mart, Carrefour & Metro AG), the much awaited Single-Brand Retail FDI which allows foreign companies to transact directly with end-users and consumers is expected to be announced soon. And IKEA sees merit in it. After all, the Indian market by size is one that cannot be ignored, about INR 100,000 Crores of which the Organized market is a less than 10%. Home grown Retailers such as The Future Group (which operates the Pantaloon Department Store Chain, Big Bazaar Hypermarkets and Central Malls among others), K Raheja Corporation (which also runs the Department store chain Shoppers Stop) and Landmark Group (of Dubai which operates Lifestyle Department Stores and MAX Hypermarkets) dominate the space with their respective ventures Home Town, Home Stop and Home Centre. The price points at which these furniture retailers sell is rather high – and rightfully so since that is exactly what the unorganized market doesn’t offer. Also, the life expectancy of such furniture is manifold compared to the “one time use and throw” offering from the not-so-Organized Retailers. And hence they have been thriving selling premium products.

IKEA is hopefully expected to be a game-changer. Its strength lies in design – easy to use furniture for day-today utility. For any furniture, its form factor and utility are the two most important aspects followed by its cost. “Product developers and designers work directly with suppliers to ensure that creating the low prices starts on the factory floor,” says IKEA Group spokesperson Josefin Thorell. Just one sentence in the IKEA website sums it all up: “We design the price tag first and then develop the product to suit that price”. The furniture powerhouse with 330 stores worldwide obviously doesn’t like to mince words: it’s an out and out price warrior in all the 41 countries (India will be the 42nd) it operates in. At the heart of the strategy is the concept of do-it-yourself (DIY) furniture which means buyers have to assemble different pieces of the product themselves. The ‘flat packs’ design helps the retailer to sell them at lower prices. A customer has to take the delivery of the product and assemble it himself.

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Furniture is used everyday in some form or the other and hence it is most valued for their usage. In the Indian context, furniture, like jewelry is always expected to be passed on down the generations. At my own home, I have a forty year old chair that my grandfather used. And original Burmese Teak wood almirah doors which once adorned the cupboards of his palatial house. And there are millions of them out there like me who maintain their hereditary furniture in India. It is indeed almost a custom. But things are changing, rather evolving. With more and more people moving out of their home towns to larger cities in search of education and employment, the need for simple, usable furniture is on the rise. Also, with transferrable jobs across the country, given the overall market boom, urban dwellers don’t prefer to invest heavily on movable furniture. They would rather buy those which can be easily discarded, usually to their drivers, maids, helpers, etc. And this is where probably IKEA becomes an exciting idea!

The DIY concept is another unique thing about IKEA which would do well with the youngsters – the Indian population has over 65% of them under the age of 35. IKEA sells pre-packed boxes of furniture and not assembled ones, thereby saving precious retail space at their outlets. While the turnover in this business is huge, margins are wafer thin. And real estate costs don’t help either. The DIY kits would hopefully do well among the majority of users who are youngsters. They like adventure and setting up a Dining Table or a Wardrobe would be pretty exciting. Also, to manufacture in the form of flat panels is mammoth effort, which is where IKEA would initially focus their efforts on, which is also their inherent strength.

Apart from bringing down prices substantially, IKEA is expected to bring in great designs with it while entering India. Fancy book shelves, cupboards and many other art forms would be a sure hit among consumers. With their maverick pricing strategy, they would also be taking on the local businesses head-on. However, there seems to be room for atleast half a dozen large players, so the market would respond well to them.

Looking forward to assembling my first IKEA furniture soon!

06 January, 2012

End of Season! End of Party time?!?

Late 2009 was the time when one could see the slow down of the 2008 Economic slowdown in India. While rest of the world including America, Japan and parts of Europe were down with Recession (read: 2 Quarters of continued negative economic growth), India was seeing its GDP grow at a modest 7%. As Kishore Biyani, CEO Future Group once said in 2008, “Consumers are sitting on the fence, not really knowing when and what to spend”. How true, it was at that time. And then 2010 happened. Growth was the new buzz word and Retailers were back in action. New swanky stores, additional staffing, high-paid executives in the upper echelons and yes, a double digit same store sales growth which was being celebrated by one and all. All izzz well – the song from the movie “3 Idiots” was the most hummed song among the Retail fraternity thereafter for the next 18 months.

lifestylePhoto Courtesy: Times of India

Consumers who were holding on started buying new houses; furniture and furnishings for their new/old houses; Cars of all sizes – from an upgrade to a sedan to the first four-wheeler in the family; brown goods – LCDs and LEDs saw growth of over 100% for some brands! Refrigerators and Washing machines were flying off the shelves; Smartphones’ sales grew than those of normal phones; shoppers were buying more footwear and clothes, not just to show-off their wealth and happiness but because they could now afford to. Monthly grocery, which is an important metric to measure consumer confidence was growing at a healthy double digit. The confidence in consumer spending allowed Retailers and Brands to invest more and more – on new stores as well as higher targets. Unfortunately, the party seems to have ended abruptly.

(Suggested Reading: New Store Openings)

Lifestyle, India’s premier Department Store Chain was the first to announce EOSS – End of Season Sale last week. This came as a big surprise to the market – consumers aren’t complaining though. Central Malls, part of the Future Group and the largest mall chain in the country announced flash sales over the New Year Weekend, only to end up disappointing itself. Even brands like Levis which wait until Valentines announced “Sale” a day before. Spanish chain Zara, went on sale too, albeit it matches its International calendar where the end of season sale happens around Boxing Day and continues until Christmas. The new season in the West begins from January onwards. Most brands usually run on full price until Feb. 14, assuming shoppers would anyway buy, irrespective of the price-tag to fulfill their own wishes as that of their loved ones. This year seems to be an aberration.

Photo Courtesy: Times of IndiaZara

“The targets for the current year were ridiculously high; We pleaded the Management not to set such high, unrealistic targets but they were in no mood to listen, thanks to the high voltage sales that have happened over the past 4 seasons” – says the Area Sales Manager of a premium apparel brand, who requested anonymity, saying he was not the official spokesperson. The Unit-Head of one of India’s largest Department store chains quipped that the chain has more stores today in large cities and hence the pie doesn’t seem to be growing rather getting cannibalized. “Instead of increasing the customer base of loyalty members through marketing activities and TV ads, the Management is getting into deep discounting; we had one of the finest customer service staff 4 years ago, but I cannot claim so now; they (the CSAs) are paid 6-7000 bucks and obviously the quality of staff and their service has deteriorated.” This gentleman, whom I’ve known for over seven years now requested I don’t mention his name as he may even lose his job for saying so.

(Suggested Reading: Customer Service by Trial & Error)

“These days, people are walking to our stores, checking out the products and then buying online. 5 years ago, the larger players were threatening our livelihood, but these days, looks like the online players will wipe us out”, quips Ravindra, shop assistant at a leading electronic store in Bangalore. “FDI in Retail is a big threat for us; if the big international players step up their expansion like what I’ve seen in the Gulf over the past 15 years (read: Middle East), then we will all have to shut shop and find an alternative full-time job rather than running these departmental stores”, cries Syed Pasha who settled in East Bangalore 5 years ago after working in Sharjah for 15 years as a low-cost laborer.

Photo Courtesy: Times of IndiaLevis

So, is the party over already? The answer is a big NO. Retailers and Brands have to realize that short-term growth is no metric for long-term survival. Nor would E-Commerce players like Indiaplaza.com would take away their share of business. India is a one trillion dollar economy and is fundamentally a strong one, with its ability for self-sustenance. (Sale) Targets are an important part of the business but they are not the only ones to focus on. Most Retailers and EBOs of Brands need to step up customer service. Rather than pay lower and have more staff, they should consider paying higher salaries, mostly linked to sales and have lower staff on the floor who are efficient and effective in their output.

(Suggested Reading: What retailers can learn from the aviation crisis)

The Retail India Story has just begun; Internet Commerce is still under-penetrated at the moment. Retailers can and should take advantage of growing consumerism with better service with fewer stores. As always, Small is Beautiful.

29 November, 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!

27 November, 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.

28 October, 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…

29 September, 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.

31 August, 2011

Is Online Sales all about Discounts?

Sale upto 51% off - Shop Now

Early this week, I received a mailer on my inbox – that screamed a 51% Discount – just that I was confused if it was at their physical stores or on their website. While Shoppers Stop’s online avatar has been around for over three years now, all of a sudden there seems to be a high decibel discounts’ driven campaign. Not just this retailer which is India’s largest with over 40 stores across 20 cities and attracts over 5 million customers every year, but a quick look at most of the online e-tailers confirms that they have all been offering rather steep discounts of 30-70% on their  offering. Rather, the assumption is that higher discounts would attract more shoppers. In my opinion, this is a rather disastrous move. And here are my observations;

Pricing and Discounts

Most of the online retailers (or mere web companies) do not have the background of traditional retailers. If predatory pricing was the best way to attract shoppers, then the whole world would only have Discount Retailers selling everything on discounts all through the year! But this is not the case. Discounts  are a way of getting rid of older stocks and also a way to attract new shoppers into the stores (or websites). While this “P” can be played with once in a while, it is dangerous to keep it as a hook all the time. There should be a stronger reason for shoppers to shop online, than just discounts and price-offs. 

Image Courtesy: shopperstop.com

Merchandise offering

It’s myth that online retailers and their ilk propose a wider range of products (Read: Depth of categories and the number of SKUs) than physical stores – this is more a proposition than reality. By showcasing a wider range, the e-tailers are committing to the fact that they have a wider range, which more often than not is not the reality. I was looking for a famous auto-bio of a Retail business leader a few days ago for gifting my classmate. Since there wasn’t a “Crossword” or a “Odyssey” book store close to where I stay, I preferred to shop online. Tough luck. One e-tailer didn’t have the stock; another had it but would take 7-10 days to deliver; and yet another showed a “http syntax error!”. I gave up on my search and proceeded to the closest store to buy it. A famous fashion e-tailer who sends exciting emailers everyday had a bigger surprise in store. Most of the products they had advertised was out of stock! Insult to injury is that no one (internally) had even bothered to remove the images or those products temporarily (if stocks were awaited) or permanently if the stock wouldn’t return. On the section which boasts “Luxury Lounge”, there is a sleek note which says that the sales would return and the user would be informed. Bizarre!

Image Courtesy: fashionandyou.com

In my humble opinion, Online shopping is, and should be an experience. Let’s not forget that India has over 12 million retailers – across various formats and sizes, though mostly unorganized while the Organized Retailers contribute for less than 10% of the estimated business size of INR 200,000 Crores. Online Retail is a single-digit contribution to this, but is expected to reach a significant number over the next five years. If a potential consumer has to shop online, here are a few points why they would;

Convenience

First and foremost, its the convenience of shopping online from a preferred device – it could be a desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile phone, etc. The entire process should be quick and efficient. Although most e-tailers insist on the customer to create a user log-in, the transaction time and check-out should be faster, ideally lesser than the 2-3 minutes it takes at a physical store. Also, the web-pages should have limited graphics and high-end visuals – while the idea could be to present the site in a glamorous way, let’s not forget the dismal internet speed (could be worse if its on GPRS or even 3G) unless the user is using high bandwidth Broadband services. Therefore, simple JPEGs could be a better idea.

Ambience

The good-old grid layout is so boring! Almost all e-tailers are using this format because the most recent entrant used it. If physical stores could have various shapes and sizes, colours and backgrounds, then why not online? In fact online e-tailers could do even better since they have the opportunity to change as often as possible, usually at minimal or no cost. While the usual moments of truth that a customer experiences at the physical store cannot be provided online, what can be offered is the simplicity in approach. There are different ways of doing it, and it’s up to the company to decide depending on their user base.

Depth Vs. Width

A raging debate, even for offline Retailers, its quite tricky which is better. To have, say for example – 50 brands of shirts with fewer stock options or just 5 brands but will all options (including colour and size). Again, there is no correct way – just that the retailer need to position itself accordingly to attract relevant audience and footfalls (should we say fingerfalls!). Similar to various kinds of “offline shoppers”, online shoppers too would choose their preferred retailers accordingly.

Friends: The Complete Series Boxset DVD

Image Courtesy: shopping.indiatimes.com

Customer Service

This point is, in my opinion more important online than anything else. Reason: In physical retail, the customer sees a person, interacts with him or her and there is a “touch and feel” during the entire transaction. In this case, there is none. Even after the payments are done, there is no assurance that the product would be delivered safely and on time as was promised. Most importantly, in case of a query, there should be someone whom the Customer should be able to reach out to. This is of utmost importance. If the “web” doesn’t have day or night, if the “internet” world never sleeps, then how can a Call Centre (of the online Retailer) work selectively?

On-time Delivery

This is one major area that most e-tailers are focussing on, apparently. And quite obviously. Unlike a physical retail store where the customer not just gets to see the product while buying, but also gets to carry it themselves, in this case, there is a wait time – from 1 working day leading up to a week or maybe more. And when the product arrives at the doorstep, it’s all about packaging and safe-delivery. It would be better to have a reasonable shipping time, rather than delay the delivery time. But having said that, it is important to stick to timelines and be reasonable about it. To take a week to ship a Book is not done! However, it’s better to “Under Promise, Over Deliver”.

Payment & Security

I was reading recently that most shoppers are more comfortable to shop when there is a trusted gateway. Indeed. Frauds can happen more often offline than on the Net – we have recently come across cases where ATM Debit cards have been masked in Mumbai, waiters photo copying Credit cards and CVV number to use them later on, etc. So, the risk element exists and this is a reality. Online Retailers should have comforting information about online security policies and may even want to have an Insurance Company to be roped in – after all, what a better product to sell online!

Secured by thawtes, Secured by MasterCard SecureCode, VERIFIED by VISA

At the end of it, “Price” is not just the one factor that the shopper is looking forward to, while shopping online. It’s a wholesome experience. From a transactional activity to an experiential activity, it’s going to take some effort and time for e-tailers to entice shoppers to be active online. But I am sure, this would happen sooner than later. Watch this space.

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