Wish people could discuss this over coffee – after all, A lot can happen over Coffee!
04 August, 2019
Wish people could discuss this over coffee – after all, A lot can happen over Coffee!
19 August, 2018
22 March, 2013
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.
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!
27 November, 2011
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.
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)
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!
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.
31 August, 2011
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
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;
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.
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.
Image Courtesy: shopping.indiatimes.com
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?
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!
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.
01 August, 2011
To keep up with time is one of the biggest challenges, whether it is for individuals or for organizations. For Retailers, the challenge is two pronged; while keeping up with its tradition and background, it is equally important to keep pace, if not be ahead of its own time. A classic example is this regard is the recent announcement of liquidation of Borders, one of the most respected and well known book retailers in the world. Actually, Borders was a book store in Ann Arbor selling used books when it was started by brothers Tom & Louis Borders in 1971. Two years later, they moved to a larger location, thus pioneering the big box retail concept for book stores along with Barnes & Noble, another book retailer that is much known for its large format outlets. While the smaller, stand-alone book retailers were carrying around 20,000 – 30,000 titles, the two big retailers offered between 100,000 – 200,000 titles as well as other interesting adds-on such as comfortable seating and attractive lighting, not to forget the air-conditioned environments with coffee shops! Unfortunately, none of it has come to the rescue of Borders which would be liquidating its 399 stores soon, mainly due to its $40 million debt to creditors more than the total value of its assets. Barnes & Noble on the other hand has $900 million in assets alone and its Sales seems to be growing, especially online. B&N also has its own e-book reader – the Nook, up and against Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, which was among the Top 10 Gadgets of 2010 on Time.
Wall Street firm Credit Suisse estimates that B&N would take more than 50% of Borders’ business due to it store closure, although in the short-term, Borders would see higher turnover because of its liquidation sales. The most concerned due to the closure of Borders stores seems to be its loyal customers, who feel they will miss the neighbourhood stores where they have been shopping for long. Much has been debated about the Borders story, online and offline by Retail enthusiasts, strategists, customers, et al. Some say that Borders couldn’t keep pace with the Technology shift – while people were moving from hard copy books to digital, the Book Retailer was still grapping with its plans.Though it did start offering digitised versions for sale, it was a tad too slow, a little late for its times.
Back home, the story is a bit different. In India, reading habits are very different than those in the West. In a country where English as a medium of teaching is restricted to the metro cities and probably a fewer towns, regional writing (and thereby reading) is big. This leads to optimum merchandising by the book stores who often struggle with the right quantities / titles that they should carry. Large Retailers in India such as Odyssey, Crossword, Landmark, Time-Out (from Reliance Retail), etc. have focussed mostly on English titles – tried and tested with the markets that they operate in. With regards to size – almost every size has been experimented, I would say. From small 900 sqft outlets (mostly a shop-inside-a-shop or simply, shop-in-shop) to 20,000 sqft so-called flagship stores, Book Retailers in India have them all in their kitty. Books still contribute not more than 60% of their sales and about 70% of store usage. The rest of its sales and space allotment is through various other categories such as Greeting Cards, Music & Movies’ CDs, DVDs, Game consoles such as X-Box, PSP, and in some cases even perfumes and cosmetics, not to mention coffee shops such as Cafe Coffee Day in some of their stores. With a very small quantity of e-book readers being sold in the market today, digital reading is not yet as big as it is in Western countries. Experts have differentiated opinions about the growth of such devices; with cheaper imports from China and Taiwan flooding the markets, one would obviously find a higher off-take over the months to come. But having a digital reader is just the first step; the user has to subscribe reading materials online or have to buy books to read them on their readers. For which e-commerce has to be enabled and empowered. For which the user should be convinced about the safety of using their e-wallets. Well, yes long way to go.
Having said that, are Indian consumers ready to go digital? Not yet.
Satya Rao, a Mumbai resident and an automotive consultant to a large US Conglomerate who has been an avid reader of books since his childhood across various categories says he would still walk into a Retail store to buy books, although he uses his iPad for various purposes other than reading online. Manish Malhotra, a Retail professional for over 15 years and a book-freak browses online these days to zero in on a relevant subset of books which he would later explore at a book store. Anjali, a HR professional working for an IT giant that makes life easier for Retailers worldwide by providing processes and solutions however feels the store visits are more about the exposure to a large range which is limited online. Raman Kalia, a marketing professional who has built an airline and an airport over the past 8 years feels being amongst books has a charm which cannot be replicated by online book retailers / websites since one is generally limited to what they know while browsing online while a physical book store opens up even more.
I personally remember (and so would many erstwhile Madrasis, a book store by the name “Seetharaman & Co.” – a one-stop shop which would house all forms of educational reading materials. The store was vertically graded and students from all across Madras would visit the store. It was quite rare that the Retailers (who was actually a distributor) would run out of stock. And if the store didn’t have what the customer wanted, it would be made available within a certain time frame. During the late 90s, a relatively larger, modern book store opened at Nungambakkam high road in Chennai. The store, which was located in the basement of a commercial complex was a haven for all kinds of books and was one of the first of its kind which allowed enthusiasts to read books endlessly, without compelling them to buy. Founder Hemu Ramiah later sold her stake in the book store to TATA’s Retail arm and the book store is none other than Landmark - A small neighbourhood book store that grew nationally to become one of the biggest and most respected Retailer of its kind in India over the years. M Madhu, the former Head of Merchandising of Landmark is reported to have recently moved on to head Amazon’s India operations – after all, who would know better than him how to entice readers by providing what they want.
So, what’s in store for Indian Book Retailers? Does the store size and titles that they carry will have an impact on the consumer’s requirements? Does providing amenities such as wide aisles, relaxed seating within air-conditioned precincts and a cafe here and there would be a strong hook to increase footfalls to the store? Do loyalty programs such as Crossword Reward programs or Landmark Fellowship to retain existing customers and increase their spends visit after visit? Well, while there are not too many clear answers for such questions, what’s sure is that Book Retailing is here to stay in India for quite some time to come. Reading is a habit, and is best to build such a habit from childhood. Many retailers have weekend activities targeting children – idea is to first bring them to the store; they would grow up reading themselves. On Digital – as mentioned before, India has its own constraints of e-commerce, starting from points of access to payment gateways. While things have improved a lot over the years, online security (or rather insecurity) is a looming factor that needs to be addressed by Retailers.
Online shopping or not, the charm of book stores would remain. For some its the romance of books and book-shelves, and for many its the enlightenment that they perceive they would get while browsing, buying and reading books. And for many, its just a customary visit every week to pick up magazines. Whichever way, Book stores are here to stay – just that the Retailers have to pull their act better, and yes NOW.
06 September, 2010
Monday - 22 Jan. ‘24 is a very important day in my professional life. I complete eight months today in my role as Executive Vice President a...
After spending the last 26 years in retail, I have decided to hang up my boots for good. I have been preparing for this day for the past few...
12 December is celebrated annually as Retail Employees Day, an occasion to thank the frontend staff who have taken up Retail as their pref...
The world is split into two for the last week or so, ever since India’s self-made billionaire and tech mogul Mr. Narayana Murthy (NRN) said ...