Showing posts with label Department Stores. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Department Stores. Show all posts

21 April, 2019

Customers Expectations & Managing Impatience

The Ola App says your driver will arrive in 3 mins. It’s already 4.26 mins and you are irked.

The Swiggy App says your food is on the way and shall reach at say, 8.05 pm. It’s already 8.08pm and you are calling the driver frantically to figure out where your food is.

You spent one hour taking trials of 17 dresses and finally picked up 3 at the Department store in the fanciest Mall in town and have been impatiently waiting at the billing queue for over 10 mins. During a “sale” season, the wait time trebles and a few customers are already dropping their shopping bags.

Are you still staring at the guy getting his hair-cut for the past 20 mins and wondering why would the stylist take so much time to complete the "job"?


Sounds familiar? Well, you are not alone. An article in Nautilus has an easy explanation: “Slow things drive us crazy because the fast pace of society has warped our sense of timing.” Does it mean humans first experienced impatience when life became fast-paced sometime in the 19th century? No, nature gave us impatience as a useful instinct. In fact, animals also show impatience. “It’s an internal timer that tells us when we have waited too long for something,” says the article. A webpage took 4 seconds to load in 2006, 2 seconds four years back and 0.25 seconds today. We are still impatient until it loads. How true!

The iconic Sambhar at Ratna Café, a popular restaurant in Chennai which is over 6 decades’ old takes a few hours to be prepared every morning to get that consistency and a lasting taste. The iconic Lassi from Punjab is stirred for hours together while the Tanjore Spice powders and Chettinad Pickles take days to be prepared. Although I am a pure vegetarian when it comes to food, I have heard how it takes 10-12 hours to prepare the Hyderabadi Haleem dish. Remember, an egg has to spend 270 days inside a womb to be given birth as a human baby. Good things take time. Great things take eternity.


So why do humans get upset upon small delays? Why do we forget that unforeseen and unnatural delays are normal? And even if someone is actually late, why fuss so much? If the delivery boy turns up later than proposed, what would actually happen if the customer waits a few more minutes? If the Cashier at the till is slow in his/her work (probably a beginner), why cannot we wait a few more minutes and encourage them, rather than chide & complain?

I am not a psychologist, so I wouldn’t be able to answer many of those questions. But I can probably say how Retailers and Customers are handling this or perhaps supposed to. With so much of tech taking over our PoS billing solutions, why wouldn’t Department stores and Hypermarkets invest on small benches for customers to sit near the check-out areas, quite similar to Hotels? Even the smallest Lodge in town has a seating area near the Cashier while Star hotels have experience centers such as an Aquarium. This, in my opinion is the most important reason why Customers shrug the Trolley and prefer the Mobile Apps for shopping. It’s the impatience of standing in Q that drives customers to choose one over the other. While it is clichéd to say Men are bored at Department stores while their wives or girlfriends are shopping, I am yet to see (In India) a store which has a seating area or Foosball tables for men to hang around, let around a café or a bar. I don’t know of a shopping centre which has an affordable play area or Crèches, save for the one off “Fun City” outlets which end up being more expensive to hang around for an hour or so than actually shopping & dining together. 


In services businesses like a Salon or a Restaurant, chances are lower to replace the physical presence. While the Food hailing Apps can deliver even the most exquisite delicacy in town all the way to your private dining area at home, the “Dining Experience” is something that cannot be replaced. However, Restaurants take way longer time to prepare, serve the food and send the bill than it is supposed to, thus making Customers lose their cool and get impatient while leaving, although after a sumptuous and a happy meal. Sadly, most Restaurant owners and Customers fail to understand the difference between a find-dine and casual dine restaurant, forget what is a Quick Service Restaurant. 

Ultimately, impatience begins when expectations are mismanaged. So, Hello Retailers – set your business expectations right to your patrons – like a simple placard on the dining table (or even on the Menu card itself) which states the estimated time for serving the food; or like at Airports, where you estimate the waiting time for Security Check or walking time to reach the Boarding Gate.

Setting the right expectations can turn the experience to be much better. In Retail or in our personal lives. Isn't it?

04 July, 2018

SS EOSS 2018 is a full house

After a long time, I went shopping. Once again, of course during EOSS popularly known as End of Season Sale which usually occurs twice a year after each season is over (SS – Spring Summer & AW - Autumn Winter). I recall, during my days at Benetton in 2004, there were not more than 3-4 weeks of EOSS, which would begin right after Valentine’s Day (late-Feb) & just before Ganesh Chathurthi (July). There would be a frenzy among Customers to get the best merchandise at lower prices during this time and the EOSS was a great crowd puller. A number of first time customers would turn up at the stores, those who’ve otherwise not been the Brand’s patrons earlier. They would engage with the Brand, the Staff, take Trials and purchase. If they liked what they wore, they would come back and buy again, even at full prices. Therefore, EOSS was a great tool to induce first time buyers (of a Brand).

Things started changing slowly, especially between 2006-2012 during the Retail explosion pan-India with over 300 Malls opening simultaneously across the country. What was supposed to work “for” the Retailers and Brands worked “against” them. Let me give a perspective;

Let’s say, Brand A had 3 -5 stores per Metro (around 2006) and a small presence in 1-2 Department stores. Circa 2012, the same Brand had a dozen or more stores plus larger counters at various Department stores in the city. Add to this, so many International, Domestic & Regional Brands started exploding the retail scenario in the country with total shopping space quadrupling every two years. 


All of a sudden, customers had too much choice, and at better price points. If a (Male) Customer had 4 brands to choose for Formalwear earlier, there were atleast 20+ brands in the same space now. Similarly, for casualwear & sportswear while new categories like fitness & lounge wear were created.

Meanwhile, the Bansals were building E-Commerce websites which offered clothes and accessories at half the price (like books!) and they called it disruption. It was indeed, that Customers could shop from their desks or sofas – just that a few Brand Managers got it all wrong. While pushing unsold merchandise to e-commerce (at discounts), thanks to a general slowdown in Retail Sales, even fresh Merchandise were being sold at lower prices than at stores. Mall Owners were gasping, feeling high and dry with footfalls barely hitting the precincts during the weekdays and largely window shopping over the weekends. Everyone was talking E-Commerce. So many Brands built their own websites while most of them who wanted an online presence aligned with E-commerce Marketplaces like Myntra & Jabong, as well as horizontal players like Flipkart & Amazon. 

As an ecosystem, we (Retailers) pampered Customers to shop online, return if they didn’t like what they bought, get a 100% refund if they deemed fit and encouraged them with a variety of discounts. This became a daily habit and more Brand Managers were getting intrigued with this incredible opportunity. All along, many Retailers missed meeting Customer Expectations at the Retail Outlets. Customer Engagement was negligible, Customer Service levels were dropping and the Staff were getting impatient not being able to earn more, thanks to a fall in their Incentives which was directly linked to lower Sales, thanks to fewer footfalls. The cookie crumbled. Many Brands shrunk their operations, some exited less important markets and a few downed their shutters. 


It’s been reasonably slow the last 4 seasons for most Retailers. However, I saw something incredible last weekend at one of India’s largest Department Stores. Customers were patiently waiting in a long queue to bill their products which took an average 20 mins during peak hours. Add to this, they have already spent quite some time trying out their outfits at the mobile trial rooms set-up. I was convinced, Customers haven’t shunned Offline Retail. They will come back to the stores when they see “value” for what they buy coupled with fantastic / personalised service. Ofcourse they are here for discounts right now, but then, the same discount is available on their Mobile Apps. So why did they come? Think.

25 April, 2014

Happy Hours on the Web

The term “Happy Hours’ is better known for a “Buy One. Get One Drink Free” at most bars and restaurants all across the world. F&B Retailers have for long used this to lure customers to trickle in to their premises during the lean times, which is typically between 3pm – 8pm and Happy Hours are usually between 5pm – 8pm. While the margins on alcoholic beverages are quite high, say 200 – 500% on Sales, Restaurateurs forego some of it to get customers and utilize the time well and also hope that these customers would continue much after the Happy Hours are over. Also, consumption of food during the course of having a peg or a mug is quite high and hence they make money on it as well. I remember, a tony Restobar on Church Street in Bangalore offerred a group of 8 of us Happy HOurs even after 8pm, knowing fully well that the business that would arise out of our total consumption is well worth it.

What is new, is that e-commerce companies are now promoting their “Happy Hours” to lure shoppers to buy online during the so called “lean hours”. What is interesting is that the business on the web is busy only during a few hours in the day. As you would guess, it is during the day time, and between lunch and evening. The reasons for this kind of hectic activity is as follows;

Broadband Speed

Most (online) shoppers’ households still do not have the kind of internet speed that’s available at their respective offices. The Airtels and BSNLs of the world do not offer seamless connectivity that the IT Managers in small and large companies work relentlessly to ensure connectivity all the time for business purposes. And therefore consumers prefer to shop online during office hours. Incidentally, IRCTC sees hectic activity between 9am – 11am, especially for tatkal bookings.

Secure Access

Home internet is certainly not as safe and secure for making online transactions, and is vulnerable for hacking, especially by fraudsters who are constantly monitoring those who are shopping online. So, online shoppers tend to believe that office internet is much safer and is hack-proof, although it is indeed a misnomer

Delivery

Many youngsters live away from their families these days, mainly owing to work and do not have a permanent address. Some others do not have anyone to collect the goods being delivered, especially if they as COD – Cash on Delivery products. Hence it makes sense to get them delivered at their office making it more convenient.

Boredom

Over the past decade, the internet has been an important leveler to kill boredom. During the initial days, it was just about reading (Internet 1.0) where one could only transact one way. Then came the years when Google started invading our lives with various products, Youtube being a very important one. Social networking has seen hectic parleys over the years including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and so on. Online Shopping is a mere extension. People shop online, from grocery to gadgets, tickets to gifts, just to kill their boredom. Also, long office hours (during the week) and travel to hometown (over weekends) doesn’t allow many to shop at High Streets and Malls.

Desktop / Laptop

While mCommerce or shopping on the Apple or Android smartphones is becoming common, shoppers still prefer to see the products on a wider screen such as Desktops and Laptops as it gives them a better view of the products. Also, the reliability of 2G/3G connections is much lower than on wifi/broadband services.

AmazonIn

I read this recently on the web;

“If I want to find something, I will Google it. If I want to buy something, I will Amazon it.”

Very powerful statement.

Amazon India recently launched a campaign to encourage shoppers to shop online during the evening hours, promising them best deals in town. I guess more and more etailers would follow this trend shortly. "Working hour visits are the highest—there's a spike around lunch time and evening and dies out at night," said Sandeep Komaravelly, vicepresident, marketing, Snapdeal.com told in a recent interview to The Economic Times. "Besides, weekdays are busy for shopping online, while weekend traffic drops by 10-12 per cent, particularly on long weekends like this one." Hasbro Clothing, the parent company of basicslife.com runs 100 exclusive offline stores and also retails via 800 multibrand outlets. "Office net connectivity is much faster than at home, prompting quick purchases at work," said Sriram Ravi, head, digital marketing, Hasbro Clothing. "We get 20 per cent daily orders around lunch time and marked increase during office closing hours. People are done with the day's work and use the last hour to browse and buy from shopping sites, while on weekends, sales in retail outlets are higher." Average time spent in buying boxers or handbags or shoes online is five to 10 minutes and these are typically repeat buyers, familiar with a site and knowing what they want.Same-day delivery options are also pushing buyers to shop during office hours. For example, eBay India offers nine-hour delivery, but for this, orders have to be placed by noon. At Amazon, orders have to be placed by 10 am to qualify for sameday delivery according to The Economic Times.

Honestly, there is no good time to shop. Anytime is a good time, from the view point of Retailers. It’s just a matter of time that Offline Retailers would also start offerring discounts during lean hours, a practice started by United Colours of Benneton many years ago. For now, check out the web for special deals. If you reading this later in the evening, you may be in for a surprise! Happy Shopping…

21 March, 2014

Reliance wins handsdown

The first store for Reliance came up in Hyderabad. It was a grocery retail format and many skeptics wrote off the idea, citing intense competition in this segment. Gross Margins are low, two-digits and net margins, if any are a mere 4-6%. So, how would the company ever make money? Further, there were already established players in this segment, especially in the South (of India) such as Foodworld, Spencers, Food Bazaar, Nilgiris, FabMall, Trinetra (now together More), Fresh @ from Heritage Foods – the list could go on! But patience and perseverance has helped the company in the long term. According to a report in the most respected Hindustan Times newspaper, the company would become the largest Retailer in India by Sales in 2013-2014. The company is expected to close the year with $2 Billion in Sales, approx. INR 12,000 Crores. And it made a meagre INR 78 Crores last year and has made INR 278 Crores in 2013-14. That’s not bad at all. The company has been able to achieve scale over the past 7 years and its many Chief Executives of respective businesses have built the business brick by brick, sweating and toiling between Board Rooms and Store fronts.

Take a quick look at how the numbers stack up;

Reliance Retail

It’s a commendable achievement for Reliance Retail to achieve this position. Those who know me well would now agree what I have been saying ever since Reliance joined the fray in the Retail sector. I predicted right in the beginning that they are here for the long term. With a cash pile of INR 90,000 Crores and managing the largest Oil refinery in the world, Reliance has real deep pockets. And its Chairman Mukesh Ambani is not someone to open and shut businesses. Its not in their blood. Dirubhai Ambani, the patron founder of the group tht every household in India should have a Reliance product in some form or the other. The group created a furore in 2002 when the Reliance Mobile network was launched with an exciting Rs. 501/- package making it the most affordable mobile phone of its times. Similarly, they forayed into various other businesses and turned around all of them, albeit patiently.

One of the biggest reasons why Reliance has been able to reach where they are is also because of steadfast focus in the formats that they have opened and operated. They just have one Hypermarket, One Digital Electronics Format, three formats in Fashion, one in Jewelry and half a dozen international brand tie-ups. Makes it easy to focus on scaling up each vertical constantly. Reliance operates small supermarkets which compete with Kiran Stores and other organized players such as Spencers, Foodworld, Food Bazaar, etc. Reliance hyper directly competes with Metro AG, Best Price (Bharti Retail), Hypercity (K Raheja Group), Total (Jubilant  Retail), Big Bazaar (Future Group) nd other local wholesale markets and APMC operated mandis. In the fashion segment, Reliance Trends is positioned against Lifestyle (Dubai based Landmark Group), Shoppers Stop (India’s largest Department store Chain) and Pantaloon (now owned by Aditya Birla Group). Reliance Footprints has a unique positioning and doesn’t have major names for competition except Metro and Mochi who have a pan-India presence. Reliance Jewels competes with the local jewelry stores in each micro market. Reliance Brands such as Diesel, Quicksilver, etc. compete with their international competitive brands.

This is just the beginning. Look how Reliance is going to grow leaps and bounds in times to come. I am still sure that they wouldn’t have a JV with the global biggies such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour, etc. They would rather grow organically in times to come.

The game gets more interesting.

24 December, 2013

‘Santa’stic Holiday Shopping!

Santa Claus is a symbol of positivity and cheer, is well known. But he has been used as a constant Brand Ambassador by Retailers all over the world for quite many years now. Retail Stores use various displays of Santa at their precincts – some use static images and some use real men (or women) as real life Santas who give away candy bars and chocolates, goodies and gifts to children and elders who pass by the store. Santa is a global symbol of mass Retail Advertising, I would say. From Brown Goods to Apparel, all Retail formats use Santa in their copy some way or the other to connect with their audience and to bring the relevance of shopping during this season.

Afterall, Christmas is not just a religious festival, not atleast in India, one of the most secular countries in the world which embraces all forms of worship in its country. While it may be rare to have a Masjid, a Temple and a Church to share walls, its not uncommon for people across religions to celebrate each others festivals. Diwali and Id are two other festivals which are celebrated with much fervor all over the country. Christmas is no more restricted to Christians in India, but to the community at large. Many Hindu and Muslim homes decorate their premises with small and large Christmas Trees and Stars in their balconies and order Cakes to consume with their family and friends.

shopping_santa

This Christmas Season, leading Retailers have used Santa in their campaigns. Pantaloon Retail, formerly owned by The Future Group and now by Aditya Birla Group has a “Buy 2 Get 1” Offer on its entire range of products. Shoppers Stop, India’s largest Department Store chain with over 61 outlets across the country has a 20% cash back offer in the form of Discount Vouchers. While the offer is only for a limited period, it would promote future walkins and shopping due the Discount Vouchers being provided with every shopping worth Rs. 5,000 or more.

Pantaloon SSL

Its also a great time to shop for Consumer Durables. Chennai’s leading Retailer Shahs and Viveks are offering massive discounts on LED Tvs, Washing Machines, Refridgerators, Cameras, et al.

Viveks Shahs

Leading Brands like Apple and Samsung, surprisingly do not have any special schemes this Christmas – Diwali is probably a bigger festival for shopping personal gadgets. Now is the best time to fill your homes and wardrobes. So rush to your nearest Retail Store and shop more, save more! Have a Santastic Shopping Season. Merry Christmas.

28 September, 2013

Restaurants in Malls…

I was recently at Forum Vijaya Mall (Chennai), one of the newest in town. It was a Sunday and I was there for lunch, but the upper level of car parking was almost empty around noon, which took me by surprise. However, I was told two days later by someone who works for the Mall that there were over 45,000 footfalls on that day. The Restaurant that I was supposed to visit was located on the second floor of the Mall. As is usually the case, I checked the reviews of the restaurant on the Zomato app on my iPhone. Most of them had written good things about the place and its menu, not to forget their wonderful service. Here is a sample;

After such a good meal, the bill came to around 2500 bucks. "Not bad at all!", we thought, given the amount of food we had eaten. The service too was perfect. The waiters were very watchful, responsive and most importantly, proactive. – Amruth

A great place with tastefully done interiors and food! The options on the menu are limited, but every single item you are served taste good and also look really good on the plate! – Nandhini

If I have to be perfectly honest, there could not be a more unfortunate location to host such a lovely restaurant. A mall in Vadapalani is hardly any place for a classy place like this. Where venue fails, Salt takes North Indian Cuisine and gives it a fantastic twist, to ensure they stand out from the others. I expect much more of this restaurant in the near future. – Vaishnavi

Apart from many reviews, the one above set me thinking. Are Restaurants in Malls a viable option as compared to those on high streets? Are Mall shoppers the right TG for specialty restaurants in Malls? For the cost of operation in Malls, do restaurants make any money at all as a business option? When I spoke to the gentleman who runs the restaurant, he mentioned that the rent is about Rs. 65 per sft per month. Assuming they have an area of 2,000 sft, their rent per month would be about Rs. 1.30 lakhs. Add to that all other expenses which would be around Rs. 2 lakhs pm. On a conservative estimate of Rs. 15 lakhs of sales per month and an operating margin of 50%, the store would recover its expenses and have an EBIDTA of about Rs. 2 –3 lakhs per month. Given the way the outlet has been done, their investment would have been about Rs. 70 lakhs. So, the restaurant makes about Rs. 25 lakhs in profits (before interest and taxes a year)  and would take about 3 years to break even.

2013-09-22 16.17.12

On the contrary, business would be double, if not more were it to be on a High Street. There are a number of good quality specialty restaurants that are garnering those numbers already. So, why do Restaurants still prefer Malls? Perhaps, Brand building and familiarity. I don’t see any logical reason why someone would invest so heavily in a Restaurant inside a Mall and wait for 3-4 years to break even, when it could be faster in a High Street. What works best are for established brands such as Rajdhani, Sigree, Mainland China, etc. which have built reputation over the years and have hence chosen to be within Malls to leverage their brand value. For first timers in the Restaurant business, Malls are probably not the place to be in. This is not restricted just to Chennai but to other cities as well. I was at Chandigarh a few weeks back and they have a brand new Mall called Elante. I was almost alone at Chilis on a weekday evening, which is located in the same floor as the cinemas on the fourth floor of the mall. Restaurants in India’s most successful Mall, Select City Walk face the same fate – Restaurants are empty through the week with weekends being their only busy times.

So, what ails Restaurants in Malls?

Mall shoppers are mostly for spending time, probably window shopping. Conversions for Retailers too is lower than on high streets. The sheer number of footfalls make up for lower conversions and therefore helps Retailers and Restaurants. Unless you are a destination such as a Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Café Coffee Day, Starbucks, Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. These are places which plan to visit and hence drop by. Eating out is way to expensive these days, given the cost of ingredients. And Restaurants are trying their best not to upset their clientele by absorbing losses as much as they can. But then, consumers are staying away from eating places on a regular basis, as was the case a couple of years ago. For example, a could of years ago, the neighbourhood area of Koramangala in Bangalore had almost 50 eating joints, a third of whom have closed over the last one year.

2013-09-26 14.05.49

Mall hoppers prefer food courts instead, which are usually pathetically planned. Mall planners in India somehow do not build large enough food courts, with thousand of chairs and a breathable exhaust system, that are modular and scalable as and when consumers increase. Instead, they try to lease all counters at one shot thereby not having scope for further expansion in future. What would cost around Rs. 600 for a family of three in the food court would probably cost over 50% more in a fine dine restaurant within the Mall.

Restaurateurs would do well to experiment new concepts first on the High Streets. That is where people frequent. There are no SCAM, errrr CAM expenses (Common Area Maintenance) on High Street Locations and no restrictions to close the restaurant at a stipulated time. The biggest benefit of being on High Streets is that the signage builds familiarity among customers over time. No wonder, there are more successful restaurants in India and the world over on High Streets!

26 March, 2013

Alternate ECommerce–Auction Sites

There was a cover story about Alibaba.com, China’s largest ECommerce company in recent issue of The Economist. Quite a few facts. That it is turning out to be one of the largest ecommerce companies in the world, with sales of over $170 billion, which is Amazon and eBay put together. That it has a financing division, viz., AliFinance which provides micro credit to small firms and consumers; and that it has 6 million vendors registered on its site. What was started in 1999 by the firm’s founder, Mr. Jack Ma, an English Teacher as a B-2-B portal connecting small Chinese manufacturers to overseas buyers has now transformed into an internet behemoth. “EBay may be a shark in the ocean,” Mr Ma once said, “but I am a crocodile in the Yangzi river. If we fight in the ocean, we lose; but if we fight in the river, we win.”Taobao, a consumer-to-consumer portal not unlike eBay, features nearly a billion products and is one of the 20 most-visited websites globally. Tmall, a newish business-to-consumer portal that is a bit like Amazon, helps global brands such as Disney and Levi’s reach China’s middle classes.

Indiaplaza, which was also founded in 1999 back home in India is unfortunately facing its toughest time yet. With over 80% of its 150+ workforce having quit over the past six months, the company which pioneered ecommerce in India has no takers today. With a weak b-2-c model based on product listing by various partners, the company has just not been able to scale up over the last few years, thus allowing late entrants like flipkart, myntra, jabong and coupon sites like snapdeal and groupon to surge ahead. To be fair to Indiaplaza, most of the Ecommerce sites in India are on deathbed, awaiting Angels to come and save them. The top three players, Flipkart, Jabong & Myntra with sales of over USD 600 million collectively are only making losses and there no signs of any profitability in the immediate future. Offline Retailers have had a slow start without much success in this arena. Croma, part of the Tata Group’s Trent Ltd., Crossword, India’s largest book store chain along with Landmark and Shoppers Stop,  India’s largest Department Store chain are the only few large Retailers who have attempted an Ecommerce entry over the past years. With FDI in Retail not included for Ecommerce businesses, the Government’s backing has been minimal in this regard.

AA025042

Even as I was thinking so, I came across an article which mentioned about an auction site named QuiBids (spelt as KweeBids). More out of curiosity, I set-up an account to know how this works. Registration was simple.GBP 0.40 is the value of each bid (for the UK Site) and can be bought online at the store in bundles that the user can choose, which in turn can be used while placing bids or while buying an item on the site after discounts and offers. The joining fee will be refunded in full or part thereof if bids are not placed for the said value. They have listed hundreds of items and all of them are on auction. The products are genuine and the processes are audited by Grant Thornton, one of the top audit companies in the world (I have personally seen the audit assurance report which is published on their website). One can bid an item only 5 minutes before the bid time comes to an end. Which means, users keep track of all those items on bid and are probably hooked on to the site all through, if they want to participate in the bidding process. Each time a bidder places a bid, the time slot for the auction increases by 20, 15 and 10 seconds in that order. If the number of bids the user holds is over, then he/she cannot participate in the bid anymore but the value in their account can be used against purchases. Also, the value of the product is discounted to the extent the bids are placed by users. Which means, if a product is priced at, say GBP 100, and the auction ends at GBP 32, with a discount of GBP 9, then the user can buy the product for GBP 91 (less the value that is already in the account). Shipping is charged depending on the size and weight of the product. All in all, it is a win-win for the company and the user. The company makes a thin margin on sale of such products while the loss on bid money is usually written off against a publicity fee paid by the brand to feature their products. And on top of it, users also buy the product which is at a discount for them but which fetches a margin for the company. In addition to this, users may also buy “bids” for set values, so as to keep on bidding. At the end of the day, a user will only gain from the tremendous discount that he gets out of the product even after buying bids.

The prose above may not be fully convincing, so do log on to www.quibids.com to explore.

Auctioneer

According to their website,

“QuiBids was started in July 2009 as an attempt to improve the Internet auction model by making it more exciting, safer, and more reliable. We're based out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and our goal as a business is simple: To provide an exciting online auction model with better deals for the consumer than any other website in existence."

You can win all sorts of popular products at incredibly low prices. Look at our homepage to see what products are up for auction right now, and if one catches your eye, buy some bids for a low price! When you place a bid, we add a maximum of 10-20 seconds to the timer - to give someone else the chance to bid if they're interested. This is similar to the "Going Once...Twice...SOLD" approach of auctions.

If no one else bids and the timer reaches zero, you’ve won a sweet deal on QuiBids! If you don't win the auction, you never have to go away empty handed. Any time after you've placed your first bid in an auction, you can choose to buy the product for a discount using the Buy Now feature. This will help limit your losses so you don’t have to leave all your bids on the table. You’ll never have to pay more than the Value Price for any products on QuiBids.

I have never come across such an exciting business model which I can comfortably say is an alternate Ecommerce model. There is hardly any publicity that I see for this company or for this form of Ecommerce and yet there are hundreds of dedicated users who are constantly bidding to win their favorite products at rock bottom prices. I guess the typical profile of the customer would be in their 20s and this is almost like a contest for them! Internet penetration is quite important for the success of this model and I presume the success of this model in western countries, which is not so the case in India where most of the internet consumption still happens at workplace with curious onlookers peeping into each others’ desktops and laptops. With Wifi (at home) using the iPad and other tablets and 3G on mobiles such as the iPhones by Apple and Blackberry gaining popularity coupled with the deeper penetration of Android smartphones starting at $ 100 (Rs. 5,500), chances are more young ones in India will appreciate and participate in such promotions in times to come.

Indian Ecommerce players need to reinvent themselves to stay ahead in the game. Afterall, everyone remembers who is the biggest of ‘em all, and not really the one who started. Such is life.

22 March, 2013

Free Wifi will be a crowd puller for Retailers

IMG_0492

I was at the Starbucks (SBUX) outlet in South Mumbai a few days ago. SBUX, in a JV with the Tata Group  opened their first outlet in India in South Mumbai a couple of months ago. We had a long day ahead and decided to start our first meeting at this location for the sheer purpose of convenience. And ofcourse, some good coffee. Not awesome coffee, atleast for me. For which I would go back to Café Coffee Day, India’s largest café chain with over 1,400 outlets across the country which in my opinion still brews the best coffee in town despite lapses in service levels here and there once in a while. I was pleasantly surprised that the SBUX outlet offers complimentary wifi to those who wish to have a sip or grab a bite and spend time around at their cafe. Ofcourse, for me it wasn’t the reason why I chose my meeting venue there. But then, anything complimentary is welcome in this mean world, I say. So there I was, connecting all my three devices – the laptop, the iPadmini and the iPhone on wifi sponsored by Tata Communications (I felt it was a great marketing opportunity for them although they didn’t seem to use it as well as they could). I was online for over half an hour, finished my emails for the morning and was all ready to step out for my next meeting. The staff at SBUX, as friendly as they were, cheered every customer who walked in or walked out with a customary welcome or thank you respectively. Even as I was walking out, I wondered how happy I was as a customer using complimentary wifi at the café. I have a USB Data Card for my laptop, 3G for my iPadmini and iPhone. But then, its sheer convenience and speed to use wifi.

I have been extensively travelling since Aug. 2012, ever since I joined Royal Enfield where I am responsible for Dealer Development and expansion of other key pet projects for the company. I book my hotels myself, mostly on my Make My Trip Mobile App for the iPhone or on their website although the former is quicker and handy. While most of the hotels provide complimentary wifi in their rooms, only a few work seamlessly. It is usually patchy and the front office staff are usually unable to resolve the connectivity issue blaming it either on the service provider or sometimes on my device! (Yes, at a Delhi hotel, the staff claimed my iPadmini was faulty). These days I look for reviews on sites like Trip Advisor while choosing a hotel that provides complimentary wifi. And most reviews are correct and genuine, as I have experienced.

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That set me thinking, what if other Retailers provide Wifi to their customers. Would it bring additional walk-ins? Would it increase the stickiness? Would shoppers be showrooming – a term used for browsing the store for products and buying them simultaneously online, thereby increasing ECommerce? If so, would it help Retailers like Shoppers Stop and Landmark Book Stores which have a strong offline/online connect? I guess there are no immediate answers. Large Department Stores in the West have a café within their store so bored husbands and boyfriends could have a cup of coffee or a mug of beer while their wives/girlfriends are shopping. These days, my friends who live in the West tell me that Wifi is almost free everywhere around, which prompts them to choose a location for their need – be it a restaurant, a café , a book store or any other format of Retail. In India, unlike in the West internet bandwidth is minimal and the speed is not all that great. Cost wise too, it isn’t worthy for most Retailers to offer it free especially for those shoppers who just pass by and not really spend at their stores. Bangalore International Airport, where I worked many years ago was the first airport in India to offer free wifi for one hour to passengers passing through the airport. And most airports in India follow the trend albeit for a shorter duration. Atleast, large Indian Retailers should try this concept. With increased penetration of smartphones and tablets, there is abundance usage of data these days. Lousy 3G speeds by most Indian mobile networks mean an alternative connectivity which is what wifi is all about. Facebook and Twitter updates by the minute are not uncommon for those who are hooked on to their devices.

It’s just a matter of time that free wifi would become the thing of the day. Even now, I am sitting at another airport lounge while transiting from one city to another. And yes, this article would be published using the free wifi. Stickiness, I would say that I visit the lounge as often as I could, and just because of the complimentary boring food. If only the Lounge was more exciting with various marketing promotions other than the TV which is blaring music and bollywood gossip from one leading Indian channel just because they probably provide free Televisions!

03 March, 2013

Flagship Stores

Fastrack 1After the successful launch of 137 stores across the country, Fastrack, the leading youth fashion accessories brand (a division of Titan Industries, part of the $85 billion Tata Group), today announced the launch of their flagship store at CMH Road, Bangalore. The success story of the Fastrack stores has been unprecedented. Since the launch of its first store in 2009, the retail channel has grown to 137 stores across 68 cities in all metros, mini metros and several smaller towns like Manipal and Nasik receiving tremendous response from its young consumers. The brand is looking at increasing the number to 250 by the end of 2014. Fastrack’s current stores occupy between 500 sq. ft and 800 sq. ft. The flagship store is spread across 1000 sq. ft. The space unfolds through a series of installations and events. A physical grid of white pipes forms the basis for a grid, from which various display systems are suspended. This meshwork of grids hides away services and lighting, and supports various display systems. The store also does not rely on conventional materials apart from a basic vitrified tiled floor, to address issues of uniformity during rollouts across various cities in India. Walls are plastered with a precise mix of cement and form a neutral backdrop to the installations.

Even though there is order in the apparent chaos, there is an underlying sense of exploring a bazaar. This format will be adapted to a multitude of retail formats, including stand alone stores and kiosks. At cursory glance this seems a daunting task, but the entire design is modular and flexible. On the launch, Ronnie Talati, Business Head & Vice President, Fastrack said, “Fastrack is an irreverent brand with in your face, tongue-in-cheek communication; always known to generate a stir, the brand has created a legion of dedicated followers and fans. Fastrack has now managed to translate the irreverence of the brand into a physical space with the launch of this new retail identity”.

Each category has a space of its own and is designed with installations unique to that category. The watches are displayed inside bird cages, the belts are casually worn around a mannequin and the theme is carried forward to poles covered in leather and studs. The bags are suspended in rope using carabiners. Wallets are meant to be pickpocketed from the back of denim jeans and lie hanging out halfway from the pockets, eye wear is displayed on bright yellow bananas. There are old beaten up trunks, floating tables, mirrors, reconditioned refrigerators, urinals and water closets used as display devices, and various objects strewn through the space. Even the transaction desk is centered in the middle of the store becoming an intrinsic part of the experience. Even the signage does not take itself too seriously, and is a riot of blinking color changing lights, set to a DMX controller, representative of lighting from the high streets of Broadway, NY. The small open space in front of the store houses a bike rack and a folding bench.

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Fastrack is among those handful of brands to set-up a Flagship Store for themselves. Almost every Retail brand worth its pound would like to set-up its Flagship Store in a prime location in the region / country although only a few actually do so. And even more fewer maintain such stores well enough to call them their Flagship. Some of the other examples of Flagship Stores of iconic brands include;

Louis Vuitton
160 New Bond Street
London, England, UK

  • It features a two-story wall of trunks – to showcase the Louis Vuitton tradition of working in leather – and a glass and LED staircase.
  • The 15,000 square-foot store is designed to reflect the 21st century mood of London and bring together innovation, heritage and fashion.
  • Features a library which showcases the best of British contemporary Art Books and commissions.
  • The store’s second floor is a luxurious private client suite, which can only be accessed by invitation.

Oakley
1-4 King Street
London, England, UK

  • 4,000 pairs of the legendary Frogskin sunglasses have been used to create a chandelier in the store.
  • The store features a 12-foot tall, 800-pound metallic angel with a 25-foot carbon fiber wingspan.
  • The Oakley Custom Lab, where customers can design their own sunglasses and goggles.
  • An onsite etching machine is available for custom engraving. 
  • A 3D experience that showcases the company's innovation. 
  • The store includes a complete O Lab that utilizes lasers and impact rings to educate customers on Oakley sunglasses.


Macy's
151 West. 34th St.
New York, NY
Flagship Features

  • World's largest department store
  • 1,000,000 square-foot, nine-floor building
  • A registered New York City landmark
  • Shoe department occupies two entire floors
  • Bridal suite with a walkway platform
  • Owned and operated by Macy's since 1902

Apple
235 Regent Street
London, England, UK


  • Apple's largest store with an estimated rent of £1.5 million a year.
  • Events and workshops are held daily in the two-story shop.

Apple - Oxford StreetNokia
5 East 57th Street
New York, NY
Flagship Features

  • Second of 18 flagship locations planned for global expansion
  • High-tech decor, and cutting edge product demos and kiosks
  • Completely interactive, with an exhaustive range of products, accessories, 3rd party devices, and mobile technology
  • Fully functional multimedia environments for testing all products
  • Staff members are all graduates of Nokia Academy

Tiffany's
Fifth Avenue and 57th Street
Manhattan, NY
Flagship Features

  • 124,000 square-foot legendary retail location since 1940
  • U.S. National Register of Historic Places
  • Made famous in the film, "Breakfast at Tiffany's"
  • Polished granite exterior, doormen, Alpine marble, and breathtaking chandeliers
  • Private selling salons with platinum ceilings
  • Fifth floor entertaining and exhibition area
  • Houses Tiffany & Co. Archives

Flagship Stores add a strategic advantage to the Brand as compared to normal stores. Potential customers visit these locations to know and explore the brand in detail, to appreciate the beauty and background of the brand and most importantly, to also buy – conversions are usually higher at these stores than the usual retail lot. In some cases, the Brand showcases certain products exclusively in the store after which they are sent to the rest of the Retail network. This practice is usually condemned by the trade, especially when Franchises are involved although the gap between the time to launch at the Flagship Store and other stores is too narrow these days, usually under a fortnight. Overall, it is extremely important for Brands to have a Flagship Store. Usually, it is quite easy to put up one, the challenge is to showcase and maintain them in the long term.

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.

IKEA 1

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!

04 July, 2012

Malls and Anchors – the inseparable cousins!

A year after Borders Group collapsed, a survey by Colliers International shows that one-third of 205 bookstores shut down by the company are still vacant, according to the Wall Street Journal. Stores that replaced Borders in U.S. malls and shopping centers are leasing at rates an average of 30% lower than Borders paid. In at least one case, tenants demanded rent decreases to make up for Borders' absence. Bizarre, as it may sound, that’s the real power of anchor tenants. Anchors are those Retailers who attract the most number of shoppers walking into a mall. They could be of different formats such as Hypermarkets, Supermarkets, Specialty Retailers, Book Stores, Leisure Stores, Factory Outlets. Cinemas and Multiplexes and even Cafes and Restaurants.

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While planning and zoning a Mall, the developers provide a lot of importance to the placement of Anchors. As the name suggests, they literally hold the ship (the mall) on their shoulders. They usually have a road-facing presence, mostly on the ground and upper floors and on either sides of the Mall if the Mall has two entrances or more. Anchors are also the first to be signed up by the Mall Developers because it is easier to attract smaller tenants basis the power of footfall attraction of the Anchors.

Let us look at some of the most common Mall tenants;

Hypermarkets

Retailers such as Big Bazaar, Hypercity, Spar, etc. qualify under this category. Hypermarkets are usually located in the lower ground as this is an area that is otherwise difficult to lease. Hypers however have the ability to pull footfalls due to their pricing and promotion strategies. Due to their low cost of operation, Hypermarkets command a very low rental structure, which is usually expected to be maintained at 6-8% of their Turnover. Malls usually provide a separate entry / exit for Hypers if they are in the lower basement with large escalators and elevators and pathways for customers with trolleys to move comfortably and safely. To have established Hypers in the Mall is a sure shot way to ensure continued heavy footfalls through the week.

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Department Stores

Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Reliance Trends, Westside to name a few have been the Mall developers first choice to sign up in their premises. Inorbit Mall at Malad, a suburban area in Mumbai was one of the first malls to have two Department stores within. Needless to say, it attracts one of the highest footfalls for any Mall in India. Department Stores are good tenants, from a return per sft point of view to the Mall Developers. They peg their rentals at 10-15% of their Turnover and can hence pay a slight premium compared to Hypers. Also, they attract a superior set of customers which benefits the Mall overall. Premium customers also means more amenities, such as large car-parking areas, valet parking services, premium architecture, more elevators and escalators, etc.

Specialty Retailers

Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Aldo, Zara Calvin Klein, Mont Blanc, Apple, Electronic and Consumer Durables Retailers such as Croma and Ezone, home improvement retailers such as Home Stop, Home Town, Home Centre etc. are considered Specialty Retailers who stock premium merchandise. These Retailers are extremely choosy in terms of their choice of location, sometimes no more than 2 or 3 per city. Specialty Retailers pay premium charges for high-profile locations within the Mall, usually road-facing two-tier stores or atrium-facing outlets. Since they are available sparingly, customers flock to their stores and hence the brands maintain their exclusivity.

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Books and Leisure

Crossword, Odyssey, Landmark, to name a few are chains of books and leisure stores commonly found in Malls in India. They usually do not occupy the ground floors – mainly due to compelling rents. Instead, they prefer higher floors and have a strong pull of customers who are more of impulse shoppers. Their rent-to-sales ratio is no more than 20% and also operate with heavy staffing, mainly due to pilferage issues. E-Commerce has threatened the existence of many book stores and it’s a common sight these days to either see many of them empty even during peak hours and weekends or a few of them shutting their shutters for want of business.

Factory Outlets

Suburban Malls, usually located outside the city have tenants such as Mega Mart, Brand Factory, Loot, Coupon, etc. who are deep discounters. These stores sell merchandise that belong to the previous seasons and hence at a discount. India has over 500 million people under the age of 30, and hence there is a huge opportunity to sell to a third of customers in this bracket who are aspirational, yet price-sensitive customers. They pay not more than 12-15% of their sales as rent and hence maintain a lean-mean operation. Most of their stores are non-air-conditioned and staff strength is minimal.

Cafes, Restaurants and Foodcourts

Café Coffee Day, India’s leading café chain with over 1,300 cafes across the country is among the trusted tenants to double up as anchors. Being a youth brand, it attracts the right target group for malls. Restaurant & Bar chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Geoffrey's, TGIF, Hard Rock Café, etc. are sure-shot crowd pullers mainly due to their limited presence in the cities. Also many boutique restaurants, usually high-end also are considered as anchors in some way. They are unique in their offering and are usually entrepreneur driven, which means superior service, great food and a superb ambience, consistently and all through the year. Cafes and Restaurants can stretch upto 25% of their Turnover as Rents, to gain maximum visibility.

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Multiplexes

The boom began around 2006 when the country’s first chain of cinemas PVR began rapid expansion in Delhi and surrounding National Capital Region (NCR) and later followed by the Northern, Western and Southern Markets. And then came others such as INOX, Big Cinemas, Fame Cinemas, Fun Cinemas and the most recent being the world’s largest exhibitor, Cinepolis. The movie screening business is considered to be one of the most lucrative ones in India, given the fact that India produces over 2,000 movies every year across several genres in over 15 languages. Although it is a high investment business, the returns are equally exciting.

Going back to the opening statement, sadly there is not a single retailer in India who commands the respect and power as the one that Borders does. Not yet. Developers and Retailers are always at logger heads due to high rentals charged and low / sometimes poor maintenance of the Malls. Mall Developers and Retailers are constantly in a love-hate relationship. Both need each other and cannot do without one another. Yet, there are very few successful stories of collaboration between the two, maybe countable with both hands. Thanks to the ongoing opening up of FDI in Retail and with more and more International Retailers coming in, this is one area that would only get better. And hopefully, I would get a chance to chronicle a few of them.

04 May, 2012

Apple–Smart Product or Smarter Retailer?

 

iPhone 4S

After a lot of careful consideration over the past few months, including reading various literature online and discussion with friends and users of the iPhone, I finally decided to take the plunge. Yes. Now I own an iPhone 4S 32 GB. So, what? Actually. It is just another phone, in my opinion. It is indeed a true case study of how an ordinary product can be made an extraordinary success with simple, yet effective Marketing. One must learn from Apple in this regard. Much has been written about the technical specifications, uniqueness and superiority of the iOS of the iPhone, the Siri and various other features and hence I wouldn’t delve into it. Nor am I a technology expert to rip through comparisons with an Android phone (from Samsung or HTC ) or a BlackBerry or a Windows Phone. Oh yeah, by the way there is Nokia too. Apple iPhone 4S, for me lacks some basic stuff – such as a favourite tune as an alarm; select many / select all in the email box to delete and many such small features. Wonder how the Apple engineers skipped these and a bigger wonder that Apple Marketers kept them low-key, promoting various other features. It is a good smartphone but can be a lot better. Will leave it there.

10 days ago, I ordered my iPhone online – through www.indiaplaza.com where I work. Not just because of a particular loyalty – but also because of the Price. The phone is about Rs. 2,000 (USD 40) cheaper while buying online, compared to the ones sold at an Apple Store or other Electronic Retail chains such as Croma (from the house of Tatas), Ezone (part of the Future Group), Reliance Digital, etc. Two months ago, I bought an iPod Touch (also from www.indiaplaza.com) and the price online was a lot cheaper – I got a 10% discount while the company was celebrating the birthday of Apple founder Steve Jobs. In my view, the iPods, iPhones and iPads should also be sold through Department store chains such as Shoppers Stop and Lifestyle too. After all, it is indeed a lifestyle product as promoted by Apple and not just merely a gadget. The Apple stores are more a novelty than being electronic stores. They are a lot more engaging, inviting and most importantly (well stocked). And I am referring this from an Indian context.

iPod Touch

I visited the Apple Store twice in a span of two months to buy accessories for my iPod and iPhone. Every time, the staff have delighted me. They speak little, but with a lot of sense. I have already bought Rs. 10,000 (USD 200) worth accessories from the Apple Store and I believe it is only because of the wonderful staff interaction that I have had each time. On the first instance, I wanted to buy a case and screen guard for my iPod and the staff showed me gladly all the varieties that they had – without indicating any obligation on me to buy. I walked up to two nearby stores that also sold mobile accessories to check out what they have – at one store, the staff was busy canoodling with his girlfriend (I guess) on the phone and had least interest or respect for the customer who came to spend money. At another store, they had stocks for every damn model but an iPod. The staff felt sorry but couldn’t offer anymore. I came back to the Apple store and ended up buying from there. I repeated my visit a month later – this time to buy a screen guard and a case for the iPhone. I visited various other electronic retail stores who didn’t stock them, and were more interested in selling larger items such as LCDs, Washing Machines and Refrigerators. Even Croma, which is known to stock a wide range of accessories wasn’t carrying anything specific for the iPhone.

Back at my favourite Apple store  at the Forum Mall (Bangalore)m Simran, the sales assistant was not just being polite and interactive but was also non-obtrusive. She allowed me to have a look at things, touch and feel them and never got perturbed by the questions that I enquired regarding the various options. She was happy to answer as many and even offered a few ideas such as a “Matt-finish” scratch guard that would not leave traces of oil from the face and which is easy to wipe off. She suggested a case that not just matched with the phone but was sleek and had a good form factor. Amongst other things, she also showed a few headphones and a couple of JBL speakers. And eventually, I ended up buying a noise-cancellation Apple ear phone worth a 100 dollars (Rs. 4,800) which was completely unplanned! All in a span of a few minutes. Now, that’s what I call “engaging customers” smartly. She knew my preferences for music, realised I had an iPod Touch and an iPhone and that I could, most importantly – appreciate and enjoy the stuff that they make and sell. Hats off to their level of knowledge and customer service. Next on my list: JBL Speakers for the iPod.

Imagine Apple Store

I have been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab for the past one year and a BlackBerry for over 3 years. Its been just over two weeks since I have been using the iPhone. Happy with it. But would go back to my BlackBerry any day. I am just that. But all said and done, Apple is not just a product maker but also a smart Retailer. With its unique offering of products, they seemed to have mastered the art of letting customers engage with their products. Single Brand Retailers have a lot to learn from them. Of how not to sell, but to make customers buy the products. And appreciate them all their life. Kudos Apple.

29 March, 2012

Instead, they drive away footfalls!

Shoes on Sale 2

I was recently in Chennai and happened to see an advertisement in the newspaper from a leading footwear Retailer announcing End of Season Sale and massive discounts. Someone within my friends circle had even mentioned about it on Facebook. Excited I was like many others, landed up at the store on a Saturday evening. To my utter disappointment, the store was in complete disarray. The owner was standing in one corner with a long face and the sole salesman was running pillar to post, literally. There were atleast 20 customers within the store – a few on the lower level and mostly women on the upper floor. I will not mention the name of the Retailer who is well renowned in Chennai and I only assume that this incident was an aberration than norm. Hope it gets better sooner than later. How I wish...

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Some key learning that I took out of this episode;

  • End of Season Sale is not just a season to liquidate stocks. It is also an opportunity to attract newer customers from across the town
  • To mention “Upto 40% Off” in the advertisement and finally offering unknown brands at such a discount or lower is a wasted effort
  • Women are slow shoppers – they spend on an average 2-3 times the amount of time than men while shopping and also try 3-4 times more footwear than men
  • It didn’t make any sense to stock women’s products on the upper level – while most customers did walk up, it would have been a better idea to stock them downstairs and allow them more space to move around
  • There were just two boys running around helping customers in each floor. Knowing fully well the additional footfalls that are expected due to the newspaper advertisement, it would have made sense that there were more helpers in the store to assist customers
  • There is a tendency to believe that discount-seekers are of a lower profile than normal customers and hence it is ok to serve them less! Bad Idea! There were more cars parked outside the store than two-wheelers. And most of them who paid for the product used a debit or credit card
  • Worst of all is to stock the products badly – in carton boxes and allowing customers to search for their sizes

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At the end of it, I found nothing interesting that were on Sale; instead I walked out of the store rather disappointed. disgusted more on the owners’ interest levels and attitude than the fact that not much was available to buy! Will I visit the shop again? Yes. I guess it was more of a one-off case and would allow the Retailer to correct themselves!

19 February, 2012

Phoenix Market City–Everything for Everyone!

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Yet another mall opened its doors recently in Bangalore – this time in the far eastern limits of Bangalore, near Whitefield. After a successful launch at Pune and Mumbai, the Mumbai-based Phoenix Mall Management has launched their prestigious project in Bangalore. This is the largest mall in town with an estimated 1.80 million square feet of space – a multi-development concept and one of its kind in the city that also includes a half a million square feet of office space, a 5 Star hotel with 236 rooms, a service apartment with 174 rooms and a multiplex spread over 55,000 sq ft. The external beauty lies in the fact that it is horizontally spread than vertically – all of four floors and a lower ground which connects directly to the most spacious parking lot which is well spread and brightly lit. The construction architecture is minimalistic with no jazz – focus is on the Retail Stores than crazy designs and confusing walkways. This mall also launched for the first time in Bangalore, marquee brands such as Zara, the Spanish fast-fashion retail chain in a JV with the Tatas (Also Read: Starbucks India – a TATA Alliance), Calvin Klein, Gant and California Pizza Kitchen. The main anchors include Big Bazaar, India’s largest Grocery and Homewear Hypermarket chain, MAX Hypermarkets, Reliance Trends, Reliance Digital and Reliance Time-Out. Regular Mall names such as Benetton, Tommy, Fab-India, Titan, Louis Philippe, Arrow are present while a few such as Café Coffee Day, Barista are conspicuously missing!

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The best thing about the mall is that it has everything – for the first time, multiple entrances – from the main entry gate, from the sides (Drop-off area), and from the basement parking area. The Ground Floor (entry level) is rather wide and broad – spacious enough to make it appear like a premium mall. Tommy, Gant and Zara welcome visitors with their bright signages and show-windows. Once inside, the shopper gets to see the wide expanse through well thought out and planned cut-off areas – from one floor, there is ample visibility to other floors.

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The anchors are also well spread. Big Bazaar is closer to the Parking Area so it would be easier for customers to take their shopping trolleys to their vehicles; however one needs to walk almost half a mile to the main road if they don’t have a personal transportation – an area that must have been given thought to. Max Hypermarkets welcome you once the shopper enters from the lower basement. Pantaloon Fashion store is placed in the upper floor while Reliance Digital (the Electronics Store) is in the lower basement too. There is a small gifts shop – all of 400 sq ft which is packed with curious onlookers for all the fancy cheap Chinese imports that the store has. The Foodcourt is as always, on the top floor nearer to the Cinema Halls while the Gloria Jeans coffee shop is sadly placed beneath an escalator with sparsely spread out seats – some wooden and some sofa seating in some random manner! Obviously, the café doesn’t commensurate its great coffee with its ambience. The other coffee shop, Costa is placed on the top floor – some logic I guess!

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I walked for over an hour, before understanding the layouts and placements, familiarizing myself – I scored lesser marks in my own purview although I wonder if shoppers would get to know it even after as many as 3-4 visits. Zoning, which I know personally had taken many months with inputs from some fabulous international consultants is to say the least, sad. Maintenance costs would be sky high I guess – air-conditioning such a wide area with two dozen security guards for over 14 hours a day is not going to be cheap or easy. The escalators – onward and downward are placed next to each other thereby not diverting traffic in various directions. Signages- although we don’t read as much – are scarce.

Overall, this Mall has tried to become everything to everyone – a premium mall in one-fourth of its space and a normal neigbourhood shopping centre with the rest. While Big Bazaar and Max are expected to draw a different set of clientele than, say a Zara or Gant, they are placed far behind – from a real estate point of view, this probably makes sense. But just that. Most people who intend to shop at a Hypermarket would be passing through premium retail stores – not only would they find it out of place but also a bit weird. Also, the Hypermarkets, whose predominant customer base are those who depend on autos and two-wheelers would find it taxing to come and shop here. And btw, Big Bazaar has its store close by – within a 3 km distance to be precise. Other than being a show piece, I wonder if they have any other reason to be here. And for the customers of premium Branded Retail stores – the car parking areas are just too far away. Wonder if that would put them off. Except if they have specifically come to shop at, say the iconic Calvin Klein.

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Firstly, does Bangalore need such a large Mall? With congested roads and consistently heavy traffic not just at the CBD but almost everywhere in the city, what we need are a number of neighbourhood malls – within a 4-5 sq km radius and within a 15-20 minute drive. And this everything under one roof doesn’t work as much. Bangalore, or most Indian cities do not attract a huge tourist population such as Dubai or Singapore. Nor are our prices globally competitive, rather more expensive. The semi-urban crowd that comes to the larger metros and cities rather stick to traditional shopping areas (Read: Downtown shopping centres, predominantly the semi-organized retail stores). The Mall also needs to attract 3-4 times what the best Mall in town attracts today – to support the single-digit conversions at its stores. For a Mall that is located so far off, it is anybody’s guess if the Mall or its tenants would do well in the first few years. Maybe over 3-4 years, the location would attract some traction.

Needless to say, the group has invested significantly and so have the Retailers. Here’s wishing them good luck in times to come.

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