Showing posts with label customer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label customer. Show all posts

04 July, 2018

SS EOSS 2018 is a full house

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

19 October, 2017

Deepavali Retail Sales – Less Fire, more Smoke


The week leading up to Deepavali was perhaps the most exciting times for Retailers. From Apparel to Consumer Durables, Motor cycles to Cars, people would flock to Retail Stores with their savings of the year. The period around Deepavali, which normally comes in the latter half of October or early November and the entire 3rd Quarter of a financial Year would contribute over 50% of Retail Sales for certain categories like Television sets, Refrigerators, Washing Machines etc. This was the trend through the 90s and the new Millennium.

Cut to mid-2000s, the evolution of Mall culture in India has been rapid, with over 1,000 functional shopping centers across the country. For every 3 new malls that open, 1 perishes and the trend is worse in certain cities, which were over-hyped by the Real Estate fraternity. The good part of Malls is that they provide customers 365-day access to regional, domestic and international brands. The footfalls used to be far higher in Malls a decade back than today – in act, today it has halved on an average to say the least. Since the prevalence of E-Commerce over the past 5 years, there has been all round the year discount on Electronics and Apparel which means customers are shopping more online than before, while the overall market growth has been tepid with Organized Retail registering a CAGR of 6-7% over the past few years. After MRP adjustment due to Inflation, there is hardly any positivity on the bottom-line numbers and Retailers have been struggling over the past few years. The Balance sheet has been strained a lot and to keep the monthly and quarterly Sales numbers looking up, Retailers have been offering various incentives to Customers all through the year.


The fight-back from Offline Retailers against Online Retailers has been merely on the price front which E-tailers have been managing all the while thanks to Wall Street funding in billions in the sector in India. That no E-Commerce company has been profitable in a decade (almost) nor have they been sold / acquired at a premium says a story that’s still unfolding.

So I set out this Deepavali to various retail stores to see what’s brewing and how the market is operating. The Offline Retailers are a worried lot. Fewer people are coming to their stores and even fewer are actually shopping. The bill values have halved in 5 years with customers picking lesser number of garments per bill. Consumer Durables retail is even worse with round the year launch of new models, availability across modern retail chains and low prices through the year. The best was saved for electronics, perhaps. I walked in to a retailer of mobile phones and enquired for an iPad. To my shock and surprise, he suggested I buy it online since the prices are far lower than his procurement prices.


Deepavali Retail Sales 2017 has been more smoke than fire, I guess. Local Retailers have taken full page Ads making Vinit Jain & Co. richer by a few hundred crores but the desired result is obvious that it has not translated in to incremental Sales. Smaller Retailers, with less than 3 shops are even more worried due to liquidity, cash crunch and rising debts. I never imagined that Retail would see such a gloomy period, but this is only getting more real. 

19 July, 2017

GST at Cinema Theatres

GST is the most searched term, perhaps in the past 30 days or so. India transitioned to GST on the midnight of 1st July 2017 with a special session of the Parliament, which was attended by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet including members of the Opposition. Much has been spoken about GST so I am not going to delve in any further. But I am presenting my views on how GST in Tamil Film Industry is affecting the trade.


In Tamil Nadu, there was no VAT on cinema tickets prior to GST. However, there was an Entertainment Tax @ 30% on the ticket prices. The DMK Government, when they claimed power in 2001 provided a reprieve to the Tamil cinema Industry for the said Entertainment Tax if the film had a title in Tamil and was provided a U Certificate among a few other clauses. That’s when Sun Pictures was floated (a division of Sun Media Network which runs Sun Tv & 45+ channels in four regional languages). The reprieve was used by most Producers with fancy Tamil titles including the all time highest grosser of Superstar Rajnikanth whose film directed by Shankar was titled “Enthiran” meaning Robot in Tamil.


The ticket prices in Tamil Nadu have been capped at Rs. 120 for Multiplex screens and Rs. 100 for standalone Theatres. The 120-cap was inclusive of 30% ET, which means the actual earning to the Theatre Operator was only Rs. 84. However, due to the largesse by the successive Governments, the theatres were able to earn extra – the ET collection was not passed on to the Customers, rather pocketed in to their kitties – obviously because the Producers knew they could hard bargain with the Exhibitors for a higher Minimum Guarantee & higher Revenue Share as well. This vicious cycle has been going on for a while with 9 out of 10 cinemagoers unaware of the same.

On June 30th 2017, the TN Government passed a mandate where the local body tax was applicable at 30%, which was over and above the GST. Cinema Exhibitors got in to a huddle on the 1st of July and decided to protest the TN Government’s decision and shut down the screens for four days from 3rd – 6th July 2017 incurring a loss of over Rs. 400 crores to the Industry. TN Government decided to put the levy on hold and allowed the Theatres to operate as per old norms.


Now here is the catch; GST had just replaced the Entertainment Tax and was 2% lower. Which means, the ticket prices should have gone down or remained as they were. But the smart industry guys have played their cards well by adding 28% GST on to the Maximum Ticket Price of Rs. 120 which is against the spirit of GST implementation. Interestingly, neither the Central nor State Government have taken cognizance of this issue and cinema goers have been forced to shell out more from their pockets. With the already sky-high costs of Pepsi, Coke, Popcorn and other Food & Beverages inside the theatres, regular visitors have been dissuaded leading to a 30% drop in tickets sold. If this trend continues, more footfalls will reduce and would have a deep impact on the film exhibition industry. A few star-studded movies are in the pipeline, which will decide if this move by Cinemas to pass on the GST to customers will have a significant impact. With burgeoning OTT Apps & ever increasing movies screened illegally on websites, the fate of the film industry is facing a Damocles Sword.

07 May, 2017

K for Kleptomaniacs


People who steal at retail stores are otherwise known as Kleptomaniacs. Store Pilferage, as it is also known accounts for about 10% loss on Turnover each year across Organized Retail in India. Worldwide, the numbers vary but is perhaps the highest only in India. From shaving razors to condoms to shoe laces to mobile phones, people steal anything and everything from retail store shelves. For Retailers who make a paltry margin on Sales, they lose their whatever little profits they make because of such losses. It is estimated that in 6 out of 10 such cases, the store employees are involved in store thefts.

Kleptomania is a disorder among several people in the world. It is the urge to steal a product especially from a Retail store. There are various reasons why people do so. Here are some key points;

Ego Trip: Customers steal at Retail Stores mostly to satisfy their Ego trips. They may even steal items that are not required for them or someone they may know.

Bet with Friends: This happens most often, especially among the younger lot when they place bets among friends to bring a prized catch from a Retail store.

Need Vs. Want: Many times, the person who is stealing may have a genuine need for such a product and may not have the means to acquire them lawfully.

Compulsive Urge” At times, for kleptomaniacs, it’s just about stealing something from somewhere which may have less or no value at all.


So what should Retailers do about it?

Worldwide, Retailers are fighting a losing battle against Kleptomaniacs. For each case that gets caught, there are liberals and human rights activists who fight for the Kleptomaniac’s justice. Things are worse for juvenile offenders. In most cases, the Retailers simply ask the person who steal to just pay the amount of the products and leave the place. A few of them take law unto their own hands and provide third-degree treatment by getting physical and abusing them. In a few more cases, the local police is called and the person is handed over. Sadly, there is no specific law in India against kleptomaniacs. This keeps the Retailers worried all the time about what action must be taken against them.

Quick Fixes;

CCTv: Retailers may install CCTv cameras across the store. However, this is just a deterrant. A mere signage that the store has CCTv cameras or even dummy cameras usually deter potential customers who want to steal to recede.

Watchful Eyes: The store staff must be watchful all the time and keep looking for those who may have come to steal the products

Strict Policy: A display of the policy against Kleptomaniacs may again deter them to avoid stealing, such as causing public embarrassment through photos.

06 May, 2017

J for Jacking up Prices

Worldwide, it’s a common practice for Retailers to increase the “Selling Price” of products and then offer a huge discount to Customers. This works well in most countries where there is no MRP regime – Maximum Retail Price. MRP is fixed in certain countries like India and even has an Act passed by the Parliament. According to the MRP Act in India, any product that has been packed and sealed must carry an MRP – a price that’s the maximum fixed for that product. The manufacturer or the seller is free to fix the price but there are a lot of governance issues around this. For example, a product that has to be sealed must go through certain formalities with various Government Departments. Although prices keep fluctuating from time to time, especially for essential items such as Grocery, the Retailers can keep changing the price but after prior information to the concerned Government Authorities.


A packed product could mean a premium shirt from Louis Philippe or 1 kg of Rice or Atta and everything in between. This applies for Cars, Bikes, Consumer Durables, Alcohol, Packaged Drinking Water and almost everything that can be packed and sold. However, there are exceptions for Fruits & Vegetables, Meat, Flowers, etc. which are not covered under the MRP guidelines. Therefore it is quite common to see Organized Retailers playing around with the F&V category which is not only demand & supply dependent, but also on various other external factors such as a Traders strike or a Truckers strike.

Small Retailers, especially the semi organized ones do not follow the MRP guidelines strictly. I had an experience just yesterday at a premium Toy Shop in Chennai. Being summer time with holidays for kids, I visited the shop to pick some board games and toys for my kids. There were items which were pegged at high discounts – 30% - 50%. But most of these items didn’t have an MRP. It seemed most of these items were being imported by the Retailer directly from the Manufacturer or an International source. And therefore had the liberty to adjust the prices. Interestingly, the law allows Retailers to do so. The prices can be arbitrarily changed for most products (except alcohol which is governed by the State in TN) by the Retailers and hence the practice of “jacking up prices” is quite common during such times.


While there was no real discount to the customer, it was a sort of a “made-up” discount that the Customer is expected to perceive as a value offering. With the increasing availability of products, customers are quite aware of such malpractices and have taken the Retailer/Seller to the courts. One such recent example was how a consumer in Hyderabad won a case against INOX multiplex for selling Drinking Water above Market Prices although with a different price printed on it. The Court was of the view that the same product cannot be at different prices in different locations and the Customer won hands down.

So how does the Retailer manage to still offer huge discounts (especially to match online prices) and still be profitable? Indeed, it’s a tough call. With markets still in a limbo, it has been a challenge for Retailers to survive but they come up with various tactics such as product diversification or even a new format. Some have pulled down their shutters but the show goes on. 

05 May, 2017

Inventory Management

For any retailer, Inventory Management is about maintaining the right level of stocks at the right place at the right time. If this is achieved, then the Sales can increase by atleast 30-50%. Sadly, it isn’t so easy. The “Fill Rates” as they are called refers to the amount of stock level that’s maintained at the Retail stores. It varies according to formats, location, pricing strategy, etc. In Grocery Retail, a fill rate of 80% is considered to be healthy while in fashion, it is ideal to have 90% and above. It may not even be relevant in Gold Jewelry while in Consumer Durables, it is normally about the breadth of brands and models one carries.


I set-out earlier this week to buy some general merchandise for our new office. As always, I prepared a list and walked in to one of the oldest Grocery stores in the neighborhood. The first thing I asked – a dustbin, wasn’t available. Really? And then I asked for another thing, which wasn’t available. And then another thing and the same answer. This sends a very negative imagery about the store to the potential customer. In Retail, it is estimated that over 70% of customers always purchase more items than they had originally come to buy provided a wider range of items are available and also the Retailer maintains a level of excitement at the store. In just a few minutes, I knew how the store was being managed since products of the same category were kept for display in two locations inside the store! Really felt bad for the store and the Retailer Brand that there is scant focus on merchandising & visual merchandising. But the god thing was I also picked up something which caught my attention at the cash till, which I had not written in my list. Smart placement, I would say.


Soon, I reached out to another store closeby for purchasing the rest of the items – now this is the last thing that a customer wants to do – store hopping for essentials. And trust me, while e-commerce has chipped in to some extent in offering a wider range, even they haven’t been able to crack the Hyperlocal delivery where such products are delivered in the fastest instance. At this store, I picked up the stuff I was looking for, thankfully got what I wanted and bingo! Picked up a few more things which I hadn’t planned to purchase. Again, because it was displayed near the Cash tills.

Inventory Management at a Retail Store has been automated for well over 2 decades now, from running simple software solutions to implementing complicated ERP solutions from top IT Companies. Sadly, even then, the fill rates in India in the Grocery store business continues to be less than 60%, sending Customer Experience to very low levels. I would also say, Indian Customers have been very nice to Retailers by being lenient loyal to such retail stores, shopping frequently at the same store even though the Retailer provides a poor experience. When I try to analyze, it’s partly tech-related but more importantly, the attitude of the front-end staff make all the difference. If only they displayed the products that have arrived from the Warehouse and also send out feedback of what’s not available! Wishful thinking.

I reiterate that Retailers can improve not only their Sales but also their margins by managing Inventory better. But it is a discipline to be followed daily.

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