Showing posts with label Shoppers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shoppers. Show all posts

21 June, 2018

Is Consumer Loyalty Dead?

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

24 July, 2014

Online Dining

I have enjoyed my pizzas better at the restaurant that at home, all along. It is more to do with the fun of dining – you plan a trip to the pizzeria, a walk or a short drive usually, or even at a Mall after finishing retail therapy. I fondly remember the bottomless Coke and unlimited Pizzas at Pizza Corner in Chennai in the late 90s during my most cherished college days with my gang of friends. Have ever since been a fan of pizzas and the love has only been growing. Frankly, I like pizzas from different places, be it Dominos or Pizza Hut, California Pizza Kitchen or standalone indie restaurants. One of my most favourite of course has been from “Italia”, the fine dine restaurant at The Park, Bangalore. For me, Pizza is an all time snack. I am usually game for a pizza at any time of the day (or evening) although I avoid a heavy dinner of pizzas. In fact, the love of pizza is more because of the yummy accompaniments, the cheese garlic bread and an array of toppings, especially the gherkins and olives. Am not a big fan of coloured flavoured colas and would rather prefer a strong coffee if not a lemon ice tea to drown the heavy food.

What I like best is food to be served hot and fresh from the kitchen. Haven’t been a big fan of home delivery or takeaways since I feel that the freshness is somehow lost, especially the international fare such as pastas, pizzas etc. although Indian food is still doable – we have an option to reheat the curries and biryanis at home once again which can’t be done with pizzas and pastas. Have avoided ordering pizzas at home for a long time now since I have had not-so-great experiences in the past, but that was probably because I used to live in Bangalore where the ambient temperature outside is not conducive to serve hot food by road.

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This Football season, I decided to order pizzas at home. No, I don’t follow the game but why not enjoy the delicious offers provided by F&B Retailers! So, first it was Dominos followed by Pizza Hut. On the first occasion, the pizza arrived pretty late, almost 45 minutes since I ordered. I was very disappointed with all the promises made by the company on various media, but gave a benefit of doubt to the delivery boy – he must have had a lot of orders to fulfil and mine was probably the last one. So, I didn’t make an issue about it and just left it there. Yes, I would give them a try once again in future and I hope they live up to expectations.

On the next occasion, the pizzas were served hot and were in a consumable condition even after 20-30 minutes of being delivered at home. What was surprising was it was a Sunday and was the day of the “Final” match between the two teams. And yet, the pizzas were sent on time, well ahead of the promised time. They have a future customer for sure!

In both occasions, I used the mobile applications of both these companies. The UI for Dominos is a bit confusing while the one for Pizza Hut seemed much better. In fact, I had to switch over to the website while ordering for Dominos since that seemed to be a better option. The UI is perhaps not designed by retail experts and with consumer feedback, it lacks the sensibilities that customers look for, especially people of the older age and for women, both of these segments may not be very mobile savvy. Also, one of my friends quipped on his Facebook post recently how the delivery boys call a number of times to take directions. The Pizza companies can take a cue from Uber, the taxi service guys who have a GPS enabled map on their cell phones that help the drivers reach their destination without even calling once.

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Mobile App Zomato also integrates Home Delivery along with providing reviews about restaurants and they are growing rapidly not just in India, but also internationally. Overall, I guess online dining, or rather online ordering is a great way to reach out to customers. It is also non-intrusive in a way. There is no need to call a number and go through the menu being repeated often – the menu is just there on the mobile app or on the website and helps users to choose what they want quickly and easily. Once customers are used to it, they would rather prefer this option instead of calling on the phone, whenever they desire to order food home. So, go ahead and try ordering on your phone next time. And yes, do take a minute to share your feedback. Happy Dining…

17 April, 2014

Digital Retail is still nascent

Croma, which is a part of the TATA Group has been my preferred store for shopping all things electronic over the past few years. They customer service is friendly, well-stocked and well maintained and operated stores. The staff also double up as digital experts, mostly guiding customers on why they need to buy a gadget, rather than what they need to. The apple Assistant at one of the Croma Stores I frequent is more like a good friend and advisor now – I reach out to him regarding queries about the phone, the software, the enhancements and a whole lot. Croma’s main competitors in the organized Retail space include EZone from the Future Group and Reliance Digital, a part of Reliance Retail. Then there are the local biggies, such as Viveks, Shahs, VGp, etc in Chennai and ofcourse the most infamous Ritchie Street off Mount Road which is the hub for electronic products in the city. Croma has fared much better than the others while it faces stiff competition from Reliance which is expanding rapidly off late.

Tata photo

I visited the Croma Store on Mount Road a month back, to enquire about a revolutionary device – a a USB Stick which provided 3G & Wi-Fi services on the go. The device just needs a plug point – AC or DC; which means you can use it as a wi+fi device using the cigarette lighter slot in your car and can provide its service upto 5 gadgets including laptops, tablets, phones, iPods, etc. The device has been around for sometime and the staff say that it is seeing brisk sales every other day that it gets sold out within a few days of stocks coming in to the store. So, the store that I went to didn’t have the stocks and they apologised for the same, and said that I could pay the advance for the device and that they would call once the device reaches the store. Somehow, I wasn’t comfortable with that idea, since I wanted the device then and there.

I set out looking for the Tata DOCOMO Store that exclusively sells these devices and offers other solutions and services of the same nature. Even they didn’t have the stock at the time I went. However, the staff was quick to note down my details and said he would call me the next day as soon as he received the stocks. And he did promptly call me the next day. Within just four hours, the device was working!

Croma

So, why did the guy at Croma not do what the guy at the DoCoMo store did? Since, the sales targets were different to each one of them, simple. For a mass retailer, which attracts hundreds of customers to their stores, the kind of focused service is always on the back seat. For the guy at the exclusive store, his key targets are selling the USB sticks and converting buyers into users and users into big spenders. It’s a known fact that “data usage” is indeed going to be a money spinner in times to come for Telecom companies, with SMS being replaced by the likes of whatsApp and ISD calls being replaced by the likes of Viber, Line, etc.

I would have expected Croma, which is also a Tata Company to work closely with another division of the group (DoCoMo is a Telecom company operated by Tata Teleservics). It is challenging, since they are different companies with different cultures. Also, the supply chain mechanism could be different. The big learning was as consumers, we need to visit the right kind of stores to get our things done. While it is simpler to buy online, it takes much more time to get the sim-card activated which required personal identification at a retail store, and hence only elongates the process.

08 February, 2014

Smartphones & Dumbphones

In the early 2000s, there was only one mobile phone brand that was popular in India. It was none other than Nokia. It was considered the “Maruti” of mobile phones, with one model priced at a gap of a Thousand odd Rupees. Customers could choose from an array of models starting from a few thousands to a lot of thousands! Mid-2005, came the BlackBerry. A BB was the ultimate corporate tool that every executive carried; or rather wished he could carry. Over time, the company reduced the entry level prices and it was accessible to small time traders, entrepreneurs, businessmen and their ilk. The Late Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple Inc. unveiled the iPhone to the public on January 9, 2007, at the Macworld 2007 convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The two initial models, a 4 GB model priced at US$ 499 and an 8 GB model at US$ 599, went on sale in the United States on June 29, 2007, at 6:00 pm local time, while hundreds of customers lined up outside the stores nationwide. The passionate reaction to the launch of the iPhone resulted in sections of the media dubbing it the 'Jesus phone'.The fit and finish and the premium pricing meant that it excluded the masses. It was seen as a toy for the rich and famous. Soon, Apple realized that they had to be a useful product for millions of people worldwide and hence subsequent models such as the 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, 5 & 5S were released. The latest in the line is of course the hugely popular iPhone 5S which was launched on 20 Sep. 2013. It is also the most sold model for the company.

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Between the rise and fall of Nokia, Blackberry and Apple, several other brands have come (and a few have gone) with their range of smartphones. The commonality of the former three is that they used their own hardware and software whereas all other devices manufactured by brands run on the Android software which is developed and owned by Google. One of the reasons why Blackberry and Apple were appreciated by their customers was that their products were unique. While the most complained thing about the Android devices is no matter how the phone looks (or feels like), the interface is just the same of the Android. The world has most number of Android phones, but that’s probably due to cheaper price points of these phones as well.

Apple has been playing hide and seek in India for the past couple of years. While the market seems promising, its China that’s a bigger opportunity currently for the company. Despite so many efforts by its Senior Management to focus on India, the California HQ team has been reluctant to do so, for reasons best known to them. This has been clearly visible in the Sales and Marketing Strategy, Distribution network and Pricing. Clearly, India doesn’t seem to be among the favourites yet. However, last week, Apple announced that it would commence manufacturing of the now discontinued iPhone4 model to play catch up with the Android device manufactures such as Samsung, LG, Sony, Micromax and others to compete aggressively in the Indian Market.

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I was astonished to see a huge advertisement for this now obsolete model at Delhi Airport’s Terminal 1D recently. Why would a user want to buy an expensive smartphone, which is now obsolete in the developed markets, at a price point where there are several other options! As many say, Steve would have never allowed it to happen. If you have read his Auto-Bio like me, you would know what I am saying. The business team is trying to play catch up in a market which is flooded with cheaper, imported as well as locally manufactured phones.The iPhone4 which I owned two years back was an excellent phone, but was only relevant then. Some of the new features that the competing Android devices currently provide are no match for the older Operating system of apple that this model runs on. Will this bring pot loads of money to the company? Probably no. Will this bring a distribution strength to Apple in India? Yes. Retailers like Croma, EZone, Reliance, Univercell, etc. would be happy to stock these phones and offer them at prices sub-20,000 with buy-back schemes and EMIs on Credit Cards. This is a wait and watch game. Apple has to do a lot more to upgrade users from dumbphones to its range of smartphones. It would not happen any soon. It would not happen with any one model. The entire infrastructure has to be focused on the supply chain-pricing-marketing model. While most Apple users do not downgrade (their models) at any cost, its mostly the users of other platforms who move to Apple. Price alone would not be enough to convert them to buyers and loyalists. Apple needs to do a lot more.

21 November, 2013

Brewing Cheer with Beer!

I recently happened to meet Rahul Singh, Founder and CEO of “The Beer Café”, an upcoming chain in Delhi NCR, based out of Gurgaon. Rahul comes across as an affable person, having spent over 20 years in the Indian Retail Industry. Before turning entrepreneur, Rahul was working for Reebok as Executive Director and was responsible for sourcing apparel for domestic as well as export markets. An electrifying guy, Rahul seems to have a natural flair for entrepreneurship. It was a chance meeting to discuss a business proposition but turned out to be a very engaging 90 minutes one on one. Prior to The Beer Café, Rahul  was responsible for creating the first ever indoor Golf centre along with F&B and Entertainment at Gurgaon, at the upscale Ambience Mall.

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I couldn’t resist but to ask Rahul how many months did he take to come up with the idea of a Beer only place. He was quick to retort saying that it took him just two months! I loved the way he simplified his method of narrowing down the concept. According to Rahul, there are three broad categories in the F&B Business – Fine Dine, Quick Service and Fast Food. He chose the Fast Food model. Within that, there were two options – to focus on food or beverage and he chose the latter. And within Beverages (read Coffee Café chains like Café Coffee Day, Barista, Costa Coffee, Gloria Jeans and Starbucks which have more than 2,000 cafes in India), he chose cold beverages and that’s how the idea of Beer Café was born. Simple idea that relies on classy execution.

Rahul wants his chain to be the CCD of beer and conversations. Alcohol frees up the mind and the soul and today, one has fewer choices to consume a pint of beer, either at a restaurant or at a Pub (home parties are a limited choice though). So, he wanted to set-up Beer Cafes in convenient locations where people could drop by with their friends or colleagues at work for a quick chat or a relaxed conversation.

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The Beer Café now has over 11 locations within Delhi/NCR and would have about 30 operational outlets within the next three months! With VC funding coming in, Rahul hopes to grow the café network substantially over the next couple of months. His only gripe: Real estate costs of First World with consumer spends of Third World. Every Retailer would agree to this quote. Operating Costs, especially store rentals are extremely high and staff attrition is another big challenge. Rahul is now looking for an able COO to run the business, so he could take a bigger role in managing Strategy and Expansion.

The café is very appealing, with bright lights and a friendly attitude of staff. On a weekday evening when I passed by at the Beer Café at the Ambience Mall at Gurgaon, there were many who were having a good time seemingly. And many more would be in times to come.

22 October, 2013

Luxury at a Discount!

It’s a misnomer that Luxury Brands do not discount. Of course, they do. Just that they don’t do it so loudly and obviously as other premium and streetwear brands. Except for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Mont Blanc, to name a few, most other premium brands promote discount sales, albeit succinctly. In most cases, they are not at their own stores but at cozy 5 Star Hotels, where the Brands hire banquet halls and quietly carry on with their business. Even then, they need to communicate what’s on offer and choose smartly created advertisements and place them on national dailies. The purpose of hosting these so called “Exhibition cum Sales” is to ward off the junta crowd, most of them being on-lookers. The moment the venue is a Star Hotel, window shoppers would think twice to drop over. It doesn’t look nice, quite obviously to take a public transport to such a venue. Secondly, shoppers still feel intrigued to browse and shop in star hotels, traditionally where luxury products are being sold world over, with India not being an exception.

The other genuine reason is also that we do not have high quality luxury retail spaces in India except for the DLF Emporio Mall in Delhi, the Palladium in Mumbai and the UB City in Bangalore. While there is a small hub by the name Bergamo in Chennai (at Khader Nawaz Khan Road), the RPG Group is coming up with a luxury destination in Kolkata. Apart from these, there are hardly any retail spaces that fit in to the luxury brands’ portfolio. And that’s precisely the reason such Brands choose 5 Star Hotels as venues.

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Over the weekend, one such event was hosted at The Westin, Chennai. Prada shoes for Rs. 25,000, Fendi belts for Rs. 15,000, Gucci Wallets for Rs. 18,000 and much more. Yes, these are apparently discounted prices. At 11.30am, on the only day  of sale (being a Sunday), the room was full of discerning customers. Though there were hardly a few pieces in each line, most of them were being bought by those who had dropped in. Many of these brands are not available at Retail Stores in Chennai and shoppers have to travel either to Delhi or Mumbai or probably outside of India to get one for themselves. The smart sales team were even wooing visitors with catalogues, taking orders thereby fulfilling sales orders. The display of items was not as what one would expect in a Retail Store for such products, but perhaps suited well for the “Exhibition” theme.

I tried on the Prada loafers, size 11, but felt it was too tight. As is always the case, the prices were not mentioned on the items, be it wallets or shoes and many people who are price conscious would rather not dare ask for prices, unless they were sure to buy!

India needs varied Retail spaces. What we have now are either too large malls that cater to the middle class or star hotels that house Luxury Brands. We do not have suitable spaces for luxury brands. Malls chains like Phoenix Market City are cordoning off certain areas within the mall for luxury brands. Express Avenue, the only Mall of over a million square feet in the hart of Chennai has created a nice mix of brands. Its so secluded that regular shoppers don’t even pass by that side.

In the meanwhile, keep looking for advertisements in newspapers like the one above. You may be able to get a good deal on your favourite luxury brand in town!

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.

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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.

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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!

13 May, 2013

Shaswat Goenka–Hearlding new frontiers at Spencers Retail

 

Shaswat Goenka

After dabbling with various sectors in the Rs 14,000-crore RP-Sanjiv Goenka group for about a year, Shashwat Goenka, 23, son of group chairman Sanjiv Goenka, has taken charge of Spencer's, the retail chain, from April 1. In an interview with Namrata Acharya & Ishita Ayan Dutt of Business Standard, he talks about his personal mandate and the road map for the Rs 1,400 crore business. Edited excerpts:

What goal have you set for Spencer's?
I assumed the role of sector head from April 1. What is most important at this point in time is profitability; that's where we are all trying to go. That will be the focus for the coming year and the year after. Spencer's is aiming to deliver Ebitda (operating earnings) breakeven at a company level in the third quarter of 2013-14 and be Ebitda-positive on a full year basis in 2014-15. That's the overarching short-term goal.

Spencer's has missed its breakeven deadline quite a few times. What makes you think you would be able to achieve it?
Well, each time we have done better. We have achieved breakeven at store-level but company level is what we want to achieve.

How do you plan to get there?
We want to increase our footprint. We will go up to two million sq ft from 900,000 sq ft currently and will expand in the north, east and south over the next four to five years.
We will achieve it over the next few years. The other important thing, obviously, would be operational efficiency.
In terms of offering, we would look at increasing international foods and regional foods. Value-added fresh is one of the areas we would like to explore.

Doesn't the fresh segment have one of the lowest margins?
We have very good margins in the food business compared to our competitors. Margins in apparel are obviously much higher but our margins in foods are good.

Any new formats for Spencer's on the anvil?
We haven't thought of any. We want to grow in hypermarkets.

Is the rationalisation process for Spencer's over?
Last year was the rationalising and consolidation process. We have exited Pune. In the past two years, we have closed 65 stores. Now, we want to start growing and in the hypermarkets.
Earlier, we had hyper, super, daily and express stores. Now, we have hyper and dailies and a few of the old express stores are still functioning.

Why did you exit Pune?
We wanted to become stronger where we are. So, we wanted to focus on the north, south and east. After we get that strong, we will revisit the west.

Why do you think the response from foreign retailers has been muted, after FDI (foreign direct investment) has been cleared?
I think people are interested. They just want to figure it all out before they come in.

Do you see foreign retailers as a threat to Spencer's?
Walmart and its likes coming in will help us. We can learn a lot from them. Back-end infrastructure will improve. There are basic infrastructure issues in India, like roads. Also, cold chains or dairy chains, for instance, are not very well developed.

A lot of options were being explored at the back-end by retailers. Any progress on that front?
We are open to FDI at the back-end but we haven't been approached by anyone.

Spencer's was exploring the IPO (public share offer) option. When is it likely?
That's something we definitely want to do but right now, the focus is on profitability.

Would you look at getting into the cash and carry format?
We have not looked at it. We want to be profitable and then explore other things.

20 February, 2013

For better conversions, provide solutions!

A couple of days back, I had a meeting in the city (Chennai, where I live three days a week when I ain’t travelling!). The host was willing to meet anywhere and after a lot of careful thought, I fixed it at Ispahani Centre at Nungambakkam, assuming it would take me an hour from the Royal Enfield factory/office in Thiruvottiyur to drive down to. As planned , I reached on time and we met at a café and spoke for an hour about business prospects. The location is not actually a Mall but a kind of community centre that was built almost 15 years ago, one of its kind to come up in the city. Many Retailers and brands such as Mr. Kishore Biyani’s The Future Group, Gaitonde, Florsheim, to name a few, put up a shop or two here and vacated sooner than later for various reasons – some for lack of relevant footfalls and some for high cost of operating. Whereas Café Coffee Day, India’s largest coffee retail chain has been operating here for over 14 years now; ditto for Marrybrown, a concept similar to KFC that serves Burgers and the like with specialty fried chicken on the menu. I finished the meeting on time in an hour and was heading out when I noticed another iconic brand which has quietly been operating here for well over 10 years. It used to be perceived as one of the most expensive brands till until recently they have started making products that are affordable even to the aspiring middle class lot like me. Their “sound” is probably one of the best although there are many more premium sound systems in the world. And the brand I am referring to is non other than “Bose”.

How many of you there knew that the name of the brand is also the surname of an Indian! Yes, indeed. Bose Corporation was founded in 1964 by Dr. Amar G. Bose, professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His graduate research at MIT led to the development of new, patented technologies, and at MIT's encouragement, he founded his own company based on those patents. Bose Corporation established itself by introducing the 901® Direct/Reflecting® speaker system in 1968. With this introduction, Bose achieved international acclaim by setting a new industry standard for lifelike sound reproduction. The list of major technologies emerging from Bose continues to grow. Award-winning products such as Lifestyle® home theatre systems and the Wave® Radio/CD have reshaped conventional thinking about the relationship between an audio system’s size and complexity, and the quality of sound it produces. To know more about the company and its products, click here.

Bose Soundlink Air

Coming back to the incident, I walked in to the store to find about about the Bose Soundlink™ Air which they have been advertising quite a bit these days. This product seems to connect using wifi with any apple device such as an iPod, iPhone or an iPad. So, I got into the topic directly with the sales staff who came across to be affable and knowledgeable about what he was speaking – a rarity these days especially in the Electronics Retail business. He explained about the product, gave a demo with my own iPhone 5 and was patient to showcase other models as well. At the end of it, I was a bit disappointed as the product was not a complete package. It didn’t have built in Bluetooth™ to connect other devices and the Bass effect was minimal. I explored a couple of other models but none of them suited my requirements. And so, I thanked him for his efforts and efficient demonstrations and started to move out when I noticed the headphones display. I already use a noise-cancellation Apple earphone on my iPod which I have been using continuously over the past few months. It’s a welcome relief since the  external noise, especially that of an aircraft is almost unheard while in use. Ofcourse, it has its own disadvantage. One that it gets less white as the days pass by and the other is that since it locks itself inside the ear, at times it aches a bit.

The guy at the Bose store explained that the Brand has a special technology by which all mechanical sounds – any noise produced by an electronic / mechanical machine will be cut off once the head phones are switched on. I played “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd from the demo iPod which they had and… Whoa! This was one of the best inventions that I had discovered. At Rs. 22,000 (USD 420), it wasn’t cheap either but I was too tempted to buy. After all, I have been longing for a great headphone for quite some years now. In my office job, I need to travel 3-4 days a week, usually 2 or 3 flights for over 2 hours each and road journeys of over 300-500km a day. And what better than hearing some soothing music all along.

Bose QC

The entire conversation with the guy at the Bose store lasted for over 30 minutes or so and he never once prodded me to “buy” their product directly – subtle inferences such as “When do you plan to buy this Sir?” “Take your time to decide because it is a worthy investment” “Apple devices are best heard on a Bose” to name a few. I was willing to wait and ask my wife to bring it along from London when she returns in sometime but the thought of owning a piece of marvel, a piece of history was too much for me to hold on to. Bingo – in the next few moments, I was having one on my hand for demo – billing done in less than 4 minutes flat. I have always been an impulsive shopper when it comes to technology albeit after a lot of thought and research & this wasn’t any different.

What hit me was the way the guy at the Bose store handled the Sale. He didn’t sell the product, not even the experience, but just like how a real staff of Apple provides you a solution – that’s what he did. I was walking back with a gleaming smile on my face, happy about my purchase. And that set me thinking.. If only retail staff were to stop selling and start providing solutions to customers… As the flute music of Pandit Haripraad Chaurasia reverberates on my ears through a Bose Quiet Comfort 3 as I write this column. Bliss.

18 September, 2012

The Retail FDI brouhaha!

 

Best Price Ludhiana

Popular Media is in full force discussing the pros and cons of opening up FDI in multi-brand Retail, announced by the Manmohan Singh led Union Government of India on 14 Sep. 2012. Finally, it happened. Rather, it had to. On 9 Jan 2012, the same Government allowed 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail, acting as a precursor and paving the way for the current policy decision. The UPA Alliance which leads a multi-party coalition Government has finally had the spine to push this through, alienating some of its own partners putting its Government in jeopardy. With the current policy in place, it means that multi-national Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Tesco and their likes can invest in India on their own as well as in Joint Ventures with Indian partners or Business Houses. But, there is a catch. FDI in Retail has been made a State Subject which means that each State has to provide an approval for each partnership that is proposed and to be allowed to be operated within its precincts. This is a bit absurd, to say the least. The policy states that over 30% of input must be locally sourced, which in my opinion is a very good thing for Indian traders and businessmen.

(Suggested Reading: Starbucks in India)

So, lets see what’s in store for consumers with multi-brand FDI in Retail;

Pricing

By allowing FDI in Multi-brand Retail, the end consumer is expected to get better pricing for most products. In case of Agri-products, even the Farmers are expected to command a better pricing since they would be dealing directly with the Retailers. Since these Retailers purchase large quantities of products from FMCG companies directly, they would be able to get better margins and would thereby pass them on to Consumers. This is largely in case of Grocery Retailing. It would be similar in Electronics Retail too. Fashion Retailers who run a chain of stores would be able to procure their merchandise at better rates from manufacturers and would again pass on the benefits to their customers. This is one important area where everyone gains!

Assortment

At the moment, products manufactured / produced in one part of the country are not available in many other places. This is mainly because of Supply Chain Constraints. Multinational Retailers don’t just bring big bucks, but also the knowledge and know-how of how to do things better. This, would be an important part of the proposed Retail expansion of Organized Retail, with traders getting more scope for their products. Customers will get a wider variety and range than before which will throw open new options and opportunities for consumption.

DSC00026

Generate Employment

Retail trade as a whole employs about 8% of the population in the country, directly and indirectly. These people are paid a fixed amount as compensation and do not benefit with other Government schemes such as Pension Fund, Provident fund, Employee State Insurance, Gratuity, etc. Modern Retail already provides most of these benefits to its staff. With more and more Organized Retail Stores opening up, it is expected to generate higher employment across the country.

(Suggested Reading: Retail Staffing)

Credit availability

One of the popular qualms is that the neighborhood Kirana provides free credit which the Organized players may not be able to and would hence lose out on. This is incorrect. Spending through credit/debit cards has grown over 6 times in the past decade within Modern Retail. Customers are happy to swipe their cards even for smaller transactions, more for ease than anything. Retailers like Shoppers Stop and Big Bazaar have co-branded cards, thus exciting customers with higher reward points for purchases.

Recreational Spaces

Modern Retail is not just about shopping in a comfortable environment but also includes a lot of fun and entertainment for families. These large stores have F&B facilities, gaming zones, etc. where children can unwind while parents are shopping. It is also an excuse for families to go window-shopping and end up buying something or the other!

And here is why a few segments of the people are against it;

Kiranas would shut-shop

The oft-heard uproar is that Kiranas would shut-shop due to the emergence of big-box multi-national Retailers. This is untrue. Kiranas have their basics right, starting with Location, Pricing, Assortment, Credit to Customers, to name a few. Large Retailers take time to crack even some of these points. Having present in India for over a decade, Domestic Retailers such as Foodworld, Spencers, Reliance Fresh, More, etc.  haven’t got their act correct, I would say. If they have a good location, then their pricing is (obviously) not so competitive and even if they attempt to, then they are in the Red. Merchandising is one of the most difficult paradigms of the Retail business coupled with severe Supply Chain constraints in the Indian scenario. Given these, it would be almost impossible for large Retailers to succeed, whether they are of Indian origin or International.

(Suggested Reading: Store Opening )

Secondly, most of the Kirana stores (Mom-and-Pop-Stores) are first generation entrepreneurs in their 40s and 50s who started off their own little corner stores during the 80s and  90s after Liberalization. Some of them include women, who run petty shops in neighborhoods to support their family, sometimes as a main source of income and at times as alternate, additional income. Their children, most of whom are undergoing good education are moving out of the family businesses. Many youngsters aspire to become Diploma holders, Engineers, MBAs, etc. across a wide range of subjects and are hence not looking forward to continue the family’s traditional Kirana business. As it is, many shop owners are not looking at continuing their petty businesses for the coming generations. So I wonder why this hue and cry.

shopping trolley 1

Many Kiranas have already embraced modern Retail. For example, Metro AG which set shop ten years ago in Bangalore now has half a dozen stores spread across the country. Most of its customers are traders and merchants who buy from Metro and sell to end-users (customers). Wal-Mart set up a JV with the Bharti Group a few years back and runs Cash & Carry Stores in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Its main focus is on Kiranas and Retailers to whom they sell stuff in tonnes! Even in big cities like Mumbai and Chennai, it is quite common to see Retailers shop at the likes of Reliance Mart and Big Bazaar, given the substantial savings.

Kiranas are a tough lot and represent the well-entrenched Indian Entrepreneurship and cannot be unseated so easily. Long Live Kiranas!

(Suggested Reading: David Vs. Goliath)

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!

29 June, 2012

Another New store Opening?!?

Retailers in India seem to be continuing their efforts to open new stores, despite a slowing economy, higher import values, a falling rupee, increasing inflation and a weak consumer sentiment. This has been evident in the Retail Sales over the last two Quarters of this calendar year especially in high-value items such as A/Cs, Refrigerators, LCD TVs, automobiles including two-wheelers and four-wheelers. On one side, Retailers are offering huge discounts to lure customers – in India, Q1 & Q4 (for Financial Year starting April onwards) are essentially the most difficult times for clearing inventories and it is relatively easier in Q2 & Q3 due to the impending Festival and Marriage seasons. The above mentioned macro-economic factors haven’t helped them either. And Product ECommerce (excluding Ticketing services which account for over USD 8.5 Billion) which is estimated at over USD 2 Billion (approx. Rs. 11,500 Crores) is the biggest competition today for many Brick & Mortar Retailers, at least in the metros and mini-metros where Consumers have a reasonably quick and safe internet connectivity. And on the other side, large stores are being inaugurated in the hope that consumers would still like to visit and shop. We truly live in two contrasting worlds, to say the least. India's largest retailer, Future Group, which runs Central Malls, Pantaloon Fashions – a Department store chain, Big Bazaar Hypermarkets and FoodBazaar supermarkets among various other formats and models has scaled back its expansion from 2.5 million to 2 million square feet this fiscal year due to an economy growing at its weakest in nine years. The growth rate was 5.3 percent on an annual basis in the March quarter.

Viveks

To drive footfalls to the store, continuously and consistently is one of the key challenges for Retailers anywhere in the world. That the population in India is huge is a bonus factor. However, conversions are miniscule. In the apparel and lifestyle formats, conversions range from 8-15% (those who buy as against those who enter the stores) while in consumer durables and brown goods, it is even lower. For Malls, which are destinations and are expected to attract significant footfalls, the conversions range from 3-5% and maybe lower in some cases (on a lower base of footfalls, usually). Given this fact, Retailers are in a frenzy opening newer stores within existing cities as well as in newer cities. One such example is Viveks, one of the oldest Consumer Durable Retailers in South India which was also the first one to start an EMI option in the early 90s when the Indian Economy was just opening up. It is rather surprising that the Retailer chose to remain a regional player, unlike its later counterparts such as EZone (part of Future Group) and Croma (from the house of Tatas) who quickly increased scale and went national with their presence. EZone is having operational challenges but that is not because of expansion but rather due to internal issues. To add to the woes of Consumer Durable Retailers, Hypermarket Chains such as Hypercity, Big Bazaar, Star Bazaar, etc. also stock Electronic Goods.

Challenges for Consumer Durable Retailers

Footfalls

To expect continuous footfalls all through the week is rather not practical. Instead, Retailers focus on weekend shopping festivals, usually for short durations. This is the time when Shoppers visit Retail stores and chances of conversion are higher!

Service

Superior Customer Service is something everyone talks about but is not generally followed all the time. And Customer Service is not just a gentle staff doing some smooth-talking and smart selling. It includes all the moments of truth – from hygiene factors such as lighting, A/c, Parking, etc. as well as product knowledge and friendly staff.

Differentiation

Multiple Retailers sell the same Brands and products. So why should a customer actually shop with one Retailer and not with another? Honestly, there is no clear answer. Consumers do not buy products, they buy Brands. And this includes the Retailer’s Brand Value as well, on which they should be focusing on.

Ecommerce

Showrooming – a prevalent concept in the West where shoppers visit Retail stores to check out products and prices but ended up ordering on Amazon.com or other ECommerce portals is brewing in India too. So, the difficulty of touch-and feel is negated. Another challenge is paying by Cash which is also something that ECommerce players have started over the recent months. Lastly, the convenience of getting the product on hand immediately – something that ECommerce players are finding it difficult to deliver but are successfully meeting customers’ requirements within 2-3 days in general.

With so many challenges, I wonder at times whether Retailing is worth the effort at all. For some, it’s a question of growth, for many it’s a matter of survival. With the opening of FDI in Retail sooner than later, the Big boys with boat loads of cash are going to lap up market share easily and faster. Interesting times ahead.

24 May, 2012

The Dangerous Minimum Guarantee Model in Retail Expansion

Aggressive store expansion means two things – heavy capital expenditure and lots of people to manage the stores. Every brand worth its salt wants to boast an extensive Retail store network across the length and breadth of the country no matter what the store level EBITDA is. While there are various ways to expand its network, some of the commonly used ones by Retailers are Franchising (more on that in my next column) and CoCo – Company Owned Company Operated model. While Franchising could mean faster expansion, there are chances that the Retailer may lose control on the quality of customer experience among other things. The CoCo model is very expensive to scale-up unless backed by a solid VC / PE Firm. One of the other means to raise funds for expansion is through the Capital Market – recently Specialty Restaurants that runs the Mainland China, Oh! Calcutta, Sigree and other restaurants debuted their IPO, the first of its kind in the F&B Industry in India (while Jubilant Foods which runs Dominos Pizza in India is also listed, it is not in the Restaurant business but into Casual Dining). Retailers like Café Coffee Day, Dominos, Foodworld, Spencers, Zara, Tommy Hilfiger and many others have invested heavily on their own in terms of store expansion across the country, while others like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Madura Garments, Reebok, Adidas, Benetton, Nilgiris, etc. have taken the Franchisee model.

Reebok Store 1

There is another alternate model – One of the easiest ways that a few Retail Brands have taken to, which is known as the “Minimum Guarantee” model where in a Second Party is appointed to manage the store(s) on behalf of the company while the Retailer itself invests on the business. Let me explain this in detail. Assume that the store fit-out costs for a 1,000 sft store is Rs. 40 Lakhs plus stocks to the tune of Rs. 50 Lakhs, then the Retailer invests Rs. 90 Lakhs to set up the store and also bears the Security Deposit to the landlord (6 – 10 months’ monthly rent).  Once the project work is completed, the store is handed over to a second party, also known as a Managing Partner or a Managing Franchisee who is responsible for the day-today upkeep of the store. All direct and operating costs such as manpower, electricity, rent and incidental costs are taken up by the Retailer and the Partner is also paid a lump-sum ranging from a few thousands to a couple of lakhs – just to operate the store everyday. The logic is, if there were to be an Area Manager to micro-manage the store (and a cluster of them in each city / region), then the costs would be substantially high. And hence the Managing Franchisee model. The partner also has sales based incentives, that is if the store achieves a set target, then he receives a further commission, usually as a percentage to sales. In many cases, the Partner leases his own property to the Retailer, which means the Rental income comes back to him! In a few cases, either the same partner operates through kith and kin or through friends and relatives who become partners! And then, there are incentives for introducing new partners and locations in other cities. This is indeed a vicious cycle.

In the name of faster expansion and quick growth, many Retail Brands have resorted to this practice. While there is nothing wrong in this approach, the Managing Partner usually gets the cake and eats it too. Without any investment, he has a full time job, a respectable retail profession and a handsome income too. While it is not clear whether the practice has been globally prevalent and if yes, from when – it is quite popular in the Indian Retail scenario over the past decade. While Retailers like Madura Garments have stuck to the tested Franchise model of “Buy and Sell” merchandise (that is the Franchise has to purchase all the merchandise with a small percentage of returns back to the company), others like Reebok, according to press and media releases in the recent past have opted the Management Partner model.

DSC00153 (2)

There is no correct or wrong way to expansion. As long as the means are ethical and law-abiding, there is no problem. But concerns arise when there is maniacal expansion with sometime, ulterior motives of helping / supporting some known people to become Management Partners. At the end of it, the Customer decides on the success or otherwise of the brand. And that’s what matters.

07 April, 2012

Music can convert more customers!

salon style

I asked him, “are there people in your store who have had a love-failure"??” and obviously he was confused. He called for his supervisor and I repeated my question. Both of them gave me a warm smile and declined that there wasn’t anything of that sort. So, why play such boring music of love-songs at a Hair Salon post noon?!? I quipped. He was quick to change the music and I told him that it wasn’t for me but for his employees too. This incident happened recently at a hair salon when I was out for my monthly activity. I have been a firm believer that “air play” or the music that you play at your retail store, irrespective of its format has an impact on the customers and their tendency to shop/consume more. And there is no standard laundry list of what kind of songs to be played across formats – these are learned over time and are specific to the history (of customer behaviour) and the geography (of the store’s location).

A salon must be playing peppy songs  most often. As it is, a hair cut or a similar activity is a reasonably boring one (and I specifically refer it only to men) while women seem to focus more on the job being done. The staff must be happy and cheerful all the time – after all, they promise to change the way one looks and this is an important thing that most Senior Managements at Retail companies give a miss. While they focus on clean and hygienic environments (which is a must in a salon), things such as mood-lighting and sound (read: music) is often ignored, though not intentionally. It could be different for various services within a Salon. For Ex., the music to be played while a hair-cut is being undertaken could be significantly different than when, say a body massage is being given. I was a month ago, outing at a Kerala Ayurvedic Massage centre, its more of a therapy than just a massage, I would say and to my surprise, there was no music! The whole place was smelling of essential oils, which seem to be suffocating at some stage. I did share my feedback with their front-office and they gave a lame reason – that the speaker wasn’t working. Hope these things get corrected.

Salon 1

For my new born child, I was looking for a cradle and visited many stores that stocked “Baby Products” in Chennai. Not one was  playing music! They could easily be selling music CDs and DVDs for kids of various age – though these are low-margin, low-value items, they increase the basket size without much effort. Mom and Me, the baby products and maternity store operated by Mahindra Retail was playing a DVD on their LCD screen which was located 15 feet above the ground. One had to look up all the way to see what was going on. Ofcourse, it was better to play something than nothing, I felt.

Saravana Stores, a regional Retailer based out of Chennai which has one of the highest footfalls into their million square feet stores recently was playing “Jam” by Michael Jackson, while most of their customers wouldn’t have even known the pop icon. India’s largest Hypermarket Retailer Big Bazaar had sometime ago tied up with a Radio station with national presence but which plays regional songs. Makes sense. Retailers need to talk the same language as the customer and create the mood for consuming more. Cafes and eateries such as Café Coffee Day, Gloria Jeans, Pizza hut, etc. typically play the latest hits while a fine-dine restaurant plays mellow music, usually instrumental such as a piano or piped instrument. Pubs and Bars, as always play music that is so loud that patrons have to speak at the top of their voice to be heard. Grocery stores may choose to play local music but not something that is very jazzy! Department Stores and Malls too play soft music most often. The moments of truth, irrespective of the retailer’s origin or market remains the same.

The power of air play is huge. Few Retailers have realised and used it well. Hope to see many more use them smartly – afterall, good music can aid in higher conversions!

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...

Shoes on Sale 5

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

Shoes on Sale 3

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!

26 February, 2012

eCommerce in India -



I was recently interviewed by Mr. Pawan Gupta who manages the E-Business India Forum on LinkedIn. Here are the excerpts;

Pawan: Indiaplaza has been one of the oldest & successful online stores in India with 10 million products. What is IndiaPlaza.com all about? 
Shriram: Indiaplaza.com is the only e-commerce portal that offers a reasonable breadth, width and depth of products across several product categories at very low prices. There are various e-comemrce portals today in India that are category specific, but Indiaplaza.com is the only horizontal portal that offers a choice and range to e-shoppers to choose from. So while someone has purchased a mobile phone for themselves, they could also consider buying a bottle of perfume for their loved ones or toys for their children. From household appliances to daily use cosmetics, it is all available at Indiaplaza.com under one roof. Within the next six months, the range is expected to double, while also improving our customer service to world-class levels. And most importantly, Indiaplaza.com is the only place where shoppers earn loyalty points for their purchases.


Pawan: What are the challenges in the SBU you are heading at Indiaplaza.com and how do you plan to deal with them?
Shriram: Our business model is unique while compared to that of others. We do not follow a warehouse model, thereby saving millions of dollars to the investors, while at the same time offering and serving our customers to the best of our abilities. Selling Lifestyle products to customers online is easier said than done. While for generic categories such as perfumes, cosmetics, baby wear and toys it is easier to sell without a trial – without a “touch and feel”, it is indeed challenging to sell footwear and formal wear shirts to men or gowns and dresses to women. However, we are building a portfolio of products which are reasonably standardized and therefore customers can buy without bothering about size and (mis)fits. Further, Indiaplaza.com allows a no questions asked return policy, thereby allowing shoppers to buy their preferred products without any concerns. Over the next six months, the Lifestyle selection at Indiaplaza.com would boast of a full range of products that fulfill the entire wardrobe requirements – from shampoo to deodorants, from customized collars and cuffs on shirts to awesome footwear!

Pawan: What is your view on e-Business growth in India?
Shriram: Indiaplaza.com (formerly fabmart.com) has been operating in this space since 1999, when there were only 3 million online users. According to various estimates, that number is now hovering around 100 million users, of which over 10% of them are active e-commerce patrons. The coming years are going to be rather interesting. With the internet moving away from traditional desktops to laptops, tablets, mobile phones and smart phones, there would be more opportunities for shoppers to consume online. Shopping on the internet is not just about saving a few bucks, but also about saving precious time and the effort associated with it. Imagine the time spent driving a few kilometers to reach the nearby Mall or Shopping Centre, parking your vehicle, reaching out to the store – only to find out that what you wanted wasn’t available and end up buying what was! Shopping online will serve this need. Even if the product is not available, the shopper can leave a “Notify Me” message to the e-tailer. Once the product is made available, the potential customer is informed. While this is possible in the real world as well, the shopper has to undertake two visits for the same purpose, spending precious time, money and fuel. While ordering online, the customer also gets the product delivered at their doorstep free of cost from Indiaplaza.com for most items – all with a few clicks while having some free time.
I also believe that e-shopping will become a family activity sooner than later. For example, if a family plans to buy an LCD Tv or a Washing Machine, the whole family can spend a few minutes at sites like Indiaplaza.com and choose their preferred model. For mundane day-today activities such as buying grocery and household items too, internet would become the preferred way to shop. I wish this interview is played back after 4-5 years!

Pawan: What are Interesting challenges you see in e-Business growth in India? And what do you foresee the key drivers for e-Business growth in India in years to come?
Shriram: The biggest challenge (read competition) to e-commerce players is, well, the offline retailers. The effort lies in moving the customers from physical shopping to online shopping. Even in Metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore, e-shopping is restricted only to a few categories. This will grow exponentially due to the obvious reasons of word-of-mouth and convenience (due to lack of time). Things would be more interesting in the Tier II and III cities. Organized Retail penetration is restricted with one or two shopping centres and not many retailers have their stores established there. Even if they do, they may not carry their entire range of products – across sizes and colours 24/7, 365. Many Retail Brands haven’t taken up the E-Commerce opportunity too seriously today. While they are happy to sell their products outright to e-commerce companies, they are not too keen to walk the path. One possible reason for this could be that such an act may threaten (seemingly) their franchisee stores or their own stores. But this would change sooner than later. Well, there wouldn’t be an option I guess.
Many years back, I was part of the team that set-up (Organized) Travel Retail in India at Bangalore International Airport (BIAL). At that time, most brands were reluctant to enter this segment.  Today, between Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad – these four airports manage a Rs. 1,000 Crore Turnover! While some brands realized the potential early, many missed the bus. I see the same thing happening to online retail. It is in the interest of the brands that they jump this bus sooner than later!

Pawan: What is your advice to budding Indian Entrepreneurs for building successful online businesses?
Shriram: First and foremost, one needs a great idea in the online ecommerce space. To sell a category / a range of products is not an idea for Gods’ sake. In a competitive environment such as the one that we are going through, there needs to be a distinguishing plan – one that stands apart from the others. And many of them confuse it with providing superior service. Hey! Customer Service is a given, that cannot be a differentiator! Today’s customers – online or offline are particular about the way they are served. While they are reasonable enough to give us (The Retailer / etailer) a second or even a third chance, there has to be something that the portal offers which is far difficult to replicate. Most players believe in large scale advertising, gaining quick traction and grabbing eyeballs through a heavy ATL Marketing Program – but this exists only till the cash in the coffers dry up. Thereafter, one needs to have a strong play to perform and to outperform the others in the game. To be an entrepreneur is a dream that many people share but one shouldn’t confuse passion and business. They are two different things. While it is good to follow your dreams, it is equally important to build a robust business plan – one that talks about profitability and value creation for investors and stakeholders and not just popular advertising…


A Firefly finally takes off

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...