Showing posts with label iPad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label iPad. Show all posts

Monday, February 22, 2016

POS Conversion

I bought my first mobile phone, a Samsung R 220 in 2002 when I used to work at Musicworld in Kolkata. Those days, it set me back by over Rs. 9,500. Colour display, trendy looking and all that. Incoming call was Rs. 2 per minute and outgoing was Rs. 5 per minute on Airtel. It was mainly meant for my family in Chennai to reach me whenever they wished to speak with me. I retained it for about three years, and then moved to Nokia for about 4 years. Then came Blackberry and then my iPhones since 2012 although I first used an iPod in 2006 which my friend gifted me. Over the past four years, have got so engrossed and obsessed with the Apple way of communicating. As I always say, Apple is neither a hardware company nor Software one. It is an ecosystem. It is something like Hinduism, a way of living. Once you get used to the Apple way of life, it is very difficult to move out – you are kind of hooked on. Yes, I know and you know many who have moved on, but so be it. After using an iPod for a decade, iPhones for 4 years and an iPad for 3, I decided to buy a Macbook which I did recently. And boy, what a life this is – so well integrated. However, I use the Microsoft Onedrive to store all my data and access it across devices. Photos, of course are on iCloud. So, I have been engrossed in this system, quite well.

Now that I run two startups (OyeThere.com and SmilingBaby.in), I am in the process of releasing their mobile applications. So, being the consumer guy, I want to experience first hand what the user goes through while using the app. And hence started to look for an Android device. Honestly, I have no experience in using an Android OS and hence had neither positive nor negative thoughts about them. I know so many Android fanatics and these are very intellectual people. I know many who swear by a Macbook yet use Android phones. So, am sure they are quite good. As usual, started reading reviews and searched online. Was impressed with the Lenovo K4 Note. I went to the big four sites online but the confused me more than I already was. My budget was sub-Rs. 10,000 and hence the dichotomy was much higher. Since my spare laptop is a Sony Vaio, I thought let me look for a Sony mobile perhaps they may sync well. Walked in to the showroom at Alwarpet and asked the guy for some details. They were so disinterested to even strike a conversation, forget selling the device. One guy was ignorant and the other couldn’t care less. This was the most premium store for Sony in Chennai and among the top ones in India, probably more than a decade old. Shame on the boys and the guy who has franchised it to have such a poor team of Retail sales staff, I thought to myself and walked away.


Next I went to the guys who pioneered Mobile Retailing in Chennai, Univercell. The brand has changed hands recently and the new team has perhaps washed off their hands off their Retail business. The store was stinking of sock’s odour and the boys were generally fooling around. This was the same store which made historic sales at a store level some 7-8 years back. They neither had what I asked for nor were they keen to continue the conversation. I walked in next in to a store called Studio Cell, a small time local retail chain with just a couple of outlets. The “owner” sits at the shop most of the time – I remember visiting the store 6 years back when I bought a phone for my Dad. He was there then too, and every time I went thereafter. He and his team of four listened to my requirements carefully and suggested a brand new model from a company that revolutionized Mobile telephony in India a decade back. The brand was LYF and was from Reliance Telecom. The sales guy was using a handset which we explored. It was 4.5 inches in size, same as my iPhone 6. Apparently, this is the only 4G handset in India at the moment and the call quality was supposed to be superior. Apart from some similar features with the iPhones, it seemed to be quite a sturdy device. And for Rs. 6,700, it seemed to be a steal, well almost. The sale was over in less than 8 minutes and billing done. Screen guard was another Rs. 300. So, for Rs. 7,000 I had a phone with as many features of a smartphone in the Rs. 10,000-15,000 price bracket. The phone weighed quite light and was a great feeling to one a unique piece which no one has around in town.


So, here is the learning. Customers are always looking for products (and services). Brands spend millions of dollars to build themselves and partner with trusted franchisees and companies, only to be let down at the point of sale. Small & Medium Retailers and Store owners on the other hand sweat it out. The phone that I bought could have got him a 15% margin and perhaps also some volume discounts if he sells more. He is not venture funded with dollars from the silicon valley who fund online companies mindlessly who in turn pass on discounts at the drop of a hat and have no clue how to retain customers who are always looking for the best bargain. He is a common man – a Retailer whose bread and butter comes from each Sale that happens at the store. Therefore, the “conversion” of an onlooker to become a customer and a repeat customer is a challenge these guys are addressing very well. He gives a new meaning to the term “Customer Service” which neither E-Commerce nor Organized Retailers have been able to provide consistently to customers.


The above pic was taken around 6.30 pm on a full moon evening from my spare bedroom on my 13th floor house which I use as my makeshift office. You can see the about to be inaugurated Kalaivanar Arangam, a multi purpose hall, the Doordarshan Tv tower, the Chennai Harbour & Port and ofcourse the Bay of Bengal with a full moon... Not bad at all for a 5 MP Camera! Have been using the phone for over 48 hours as I write this post. No major issues found. Ofcourse, it is not anywhere comparable to an iPhone and I don’t expect it either. I have always taken things (including people) as they are and here, I assert that I shall not sulk on this device comparing it to an Apple. As they say, with practice comes perfection and I would probably get used to Android LYF.


After closing the sale and while about to leave, I asked the Store Owner if he sells online to which he said he used to and has stopped because the big boys don’t pay his bills on time. So, I suggested him to take a look at my Hyperlocal Omni-Channel model OyeThere.com We surfed the site for about 10 minutes and seemed to be excited about the way the whole thing works. He has said he will come back with his thoughts to partner with us. He may. He may not. But I am sure, he will remain in business for a long time, coz his fundamentals are strong.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sync-ing customers with Technology

Smartphones have come a long way in India over the years. Until about ten years ago, the most popular phones for business purposes were BlackBerry followed by Nokia Feature Phones for personal uses. Others like Samsung, LG, Motorola, etc. had very limited models and therefore very less sales (penetration) as well. Things started changing with the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007. The iPhone revolutionised the way people used mobile phones with its remarkable technology, style and utilities. As is quite famous about Apple Founder Steve Jobs, the company doesn't conduct much of surveys about user's needs - it rather provides features that users never thought they would need one - the most recent being the finger print scanner for unlocking the iPhone 5S which was the most recent launch in 2013. Samsung Electronics, which is one of the leading Electronics companies in the world has surged past others in less than half a decade to dominate the world's number one position in Smart Phones across the world as well as in India. According to a recent report on NDTV Profit, Sales of Smartphones rose by 84 per cent in the quarter ending June 2014. Local and Foreign companies alike are sacrificing profit margins to build market share in India, which counts 914 million mobile users, according to Government of India data.
Technology Consultancy IDC India projects annual smartphone sales growth of around 40 per cent for the next five years in this price-sensitive nation.


This is a delightful news for Retailers selling mobile phones and accessories. Univercell, Chennai based Retailer of technology products including smart phones, feature phones and related gadgets has grown consistently over the years and is rated No. 1 in terms of their network, Strategic Locations, Innovative Marketing, Friendly service and most importantly, a wide array of products across various brands. The Retailer, recently launched its newest format, rightfully called "Univercell Sync" at the tony Nungambakkam neighbourhood in Central Chennai. The store, spread over about 800 sft is strategically located to enthuse passersby to drop over. While the brand is quite popular in the city, the new "Sync" suffix is sure to attract a lot of people to get inquisitive and enquire the details about the new initiative.

The store layout is interestingly divided as various zones for purposes such as Photography, Music, Work, Accessories and Kids. Gadgets are displayed utility-wise rather than Brand-wise, which is a great way to encourage customers to choose the right gadget according to their uses. Global giants such as Apple, Samsung and LG share the display space with home grown Micromax and Karbon. However, the phones are still displayed price wise within the display areas so buyers can choose within the price range they require.


I was pretty impressed with the Music zone, especially. If CDs killed Music Cassettes fifteen years ago, the iPod killed the CD players a decade ago. Today, most of music is stored and played digitally and handphones have most of them, since people prefer to have a single gadget for making calls, taking photos and for listening to music. The display also includes music gadgets such as speakers, bluetooth devices to stream music, ear phones, head phones and cables to connect. With the touch of a button, its quite easy to connect one's phone to many of the devices and have a live display, which would aid buying the right product quite easily.

I was also quite intrigued with the kid's zone - a special area for interaction with the young ones - kids can hang around and explore various interesting things about the gadgets and the friendly staff are also helpful to teach them a thing or two.


Overall, the store is a notch above the hundreds of retail stores across the city that also "sell" mobile phones. The Univercell Sync stores dont just sell, they rather provide a very unique experience that the next-gen is looking for. Do drop over at the store in the coming days and enjoy a world class experience and share your thoughts.

The store is located at:
New No. 103, Old No. 52,
Nungambakkam High Road,
Chennai.
Landmark: diagonally opp Basics Store.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Embarrassing Customer Moments

What customers rue most about is when a predictable customer service goes awry. Especially, if one has been pampered all the while for quite some time by the same team probably and that one negative experience makes a customer flare up very badly. Case in point is my own experience. I have been privileged to own and use a Mahindra XUV500, a premium SUV from the house of Mahindra & Mahindra, one of the leading automotive companies in India. M&M in short is more popular for their heavy vehicles and trucks but came up with India’s first SUV more than a decade back with the launch of “Scorpio”. Initially built as a five-seater, the marquee vehicle has indeed grown to become one of the most sought after SUVs in the country for its ruggedness and inimitable style albeit a bit old-fashioned. In fact, India’s incoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been using one for so many years and his Victory Sortee a week back at Delhi whilst standing dangerously on its foot board was a very popular photo doing the rounds all over. M&M launched its refined SUV to target the upwardly mobile with its premium SUV by the name XUV500 (read as XUV five double O), or Xtreme Utilty Vehicle with 5x Oomph. The vehicle is a master piece although it had teething issues soon after its launch but were rectified sooner than anticipated. Over time, consumers started appreciating the vehicle and it has gained acceptance among urban and rural users. It has won so many awards for its superb styling and road-handling abilities. I have been using it for about 2 years now and have driven about 30,000kms. In fact, I drove about 2,000 km over a week earlier in May 2014 all across Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. The drive was superb, comfortable and exciting. Interestingly, XUV doesn’t have a Brand Ambassador as such and relies heavily on social media such as Twitter and Facebook and also has a mobile application for Android and iOS. In fact Mr. Anand Mahindra acknowledged and retweeted the selfie picture I had posted on my account.

IMG_4433

M&M has done something which no other Auto Company has done till now – they have created a separate service centre for XUVs and premium models of Scorpio, so as to ensure that they are able to segregate customers and provide a superior experience for some. While the idea itself has been debated heavily within the Automobile Industry – whether it is a good idea to treat customers differently, the staff at M&M say that the profile of XUV customers is a few notches above those using other models and hence deserve a better experience. I have had a great experience all along with them and I have indeed enjoyed visiting the service centres, not for minor issues or major but as and when I have had a significant one which is few in number. M&M also provides a complimentary pick-up and drop of vehicles for its premium customers. During my recent interaction when my vehicle had gone for its 3rd paid-service, I had a very bitter experience with the service guys. They had over charged me, had not informed me the contents of the bill clearly and replaced parts which were in good condition. When I asked for clarifications, the staff was flummoxed and regretted their mistake.

XUV500

What upsets customers is when they feel cheated, especially by a team which has been managing their vehicles and the relationship quite well all along. It takes one small mistake and a goofy moment by one staff member who has been preoccupied with something or the other to lose all the brownie points that have been scored over time. Marketers must focus on consistency of service, be it at the Retail Store or After Sales Service. One negative experience is all people will remember for a long time to come despite best efforts put in by the team for the sake of customers. Its not just the staff of the Brand who get embarrassed but also the customer since they had never expected to be let down by their favorite brand.

Thursday, April 17, 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.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Flagship Stores

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

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

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

Fastrack 2

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

Louis Vuitton
160 New Bond Street
London, England, UK

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

Oakley
1-4 King Street
London, England, UK

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


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

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

Apple
235 Regent Street
London, England, UK


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 20, 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.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

E-Commerce Economics–Questionable?

I have been without a pair of floaters / slippers for over two months now. Just that I’ve not been able to find a Retail Store closeby where I could find a couple of options. And I have another peculiar issue – that my foot size is 11 and I don’t get options so easily across brands. In fact, I ‘ve been buying my shoes from Brand stores located in North India since the body/foot sixe of customers is generally larger there than in the south (and it applies for other forms of retail such as apparel such as shirts, trousers, shorts etc. and even accessories such as caps and belts. In the month of Dec. 2012, I was traveling down siuth towards Coimbatore, Karur, Bangalore and a few others and then was in Bihar for a couple of days before ending the year in Kerala for a vacation with the family. And in the new year, I finally decided that I need to get a pair of footwear immediately. A chance view of an eadvertisement on some news website took me to jabong.com which offered a 70% discount on a particular model of Lee Cooper floaters and thankfully, they had my size as well. Bingo, and I ordered my pair immediately. The entire transaction from browsing to selecting the size to payment confirmation and then finally the payment gateway took me all of 6 minutes flat. And yes, this happened not on my laptop but on my iPadmini what with its fast processing speed and convenience to hold. I was quite pleasantly surprised that jabong.com had its web page optimised to the tablet – given that the size of the ipadmini is considerably smaller than the regular iPad. Within a few minutes, I received an SMS confirming my order and that the folks there were working hard to get the product to me as soon as they could. This was at 9.45pm.

When I woke up the next morning, there was an SMS as well as an email that the product had already been shipped – and they shared a tracking number as well. Around 11am, I received an SMS that the product had reached Chennai (from Delhi where their main warehouse is located) and that it was on its way to my home. Around 1.15pm, the product was at my doorstep, neatly packed in its original box with an outer covering that was branded “jabong”. I was indeed delighted to get the product and wear it – was happy like a kid who received a new toy. From shopping to receiving the product it took less than 18 hours which I felt was simply superb. Impeccable Customer Service.

ecommerce customer

After a while, I was thinking about the economics of the entire business model. The product was at a 70% discount, so I would guess the e-tailer had a 5-10% margin if at all, had a warehouse to stock the product(s), a team that was working overnight to process the order, pack and ship it immediately and a shipping agency that delivered the product free of cost at my doorstep! No to mention the operational costs of running an e-commerce company. Well, was this worth the effort? Ecommerce specialists (and there are tons of them out there) call it the cost of acquisition – that a customer who once shops on their website would get used to the idea of shopping online and would indeed come back to them and buy once again in future. Atleast that’s what most of them in India have been doing for the past few years. But that isn’t the case. Various studies have shown that e-commerce loyalty is negligible in India (as is mostly the case outside too) and most customers who shop online are seeking better price and convenience of shopping rather than looking for a full range of products. Another recent experience confirmed this too. On 12-12-12, a book was released to commemorate the birthday of Tamil Film superstar Rajnikanth. The name of the book is “Rajnikanth – the Definitive Biography” by noted journalist and author Naman Ramachandran. I was wanting to get my hand on this book for quite some time, just that I was hoping there would be a kindle version so I could read it on one of my devices. But that doesn’t seem to be launched yet. So, I decided to buy the hard copy paper back which was priced at Rs. 699/- at Landmark, the retail venture of the Tata Group in India. Landmark is a specialty Retailer and mainly sells books and stationery, music, toys etc., among other things.  There wasn’t any discount on the book – given the fact that many hard core fans such as me would buy it whatever crazy price.

ecommerce methodology

While I was browsing the internet on Sunday evening at home, again on my ipadmini, I was curious to check out the price of this book online. To my surprise, the same book was being offered at a 30% discount across various online retailers. And I chose to buy from flipkart.com which claims to be the largest etailer in India in terms of number of billings/shipments and turnover. I bought the book immediately, my second ecommerce transaction on a hand held device within a span of two days. In this case, the shipment wasn’t as quick as in my previous example. The order was processed on Monday noon and the book arrived at my home on Tuesday. I had proposed COD (Cash on Delivery) – and hence the product would be paid for only after delivery. The delivery boy was kind enough to call me on my mobile while I was at work since there wasn’t anyone at home, After sorting out the same, the book was handed over to someone at home. And pronto – I get an SMS in a while from Flipkart – that the book was delivered to a family member. Technology used to its best, I felt.

Again, there wasn’t any logic for Flipkart to sell it so cheap – if they would lose 30% margin for a transaction (and most items on their site are on discount), then where do they make money? Assuming that their Gross Margins is around 40%, this is a ridiculous business format, to say the least. Over the months, PEs and Investors have shunned away from encouraging E-Commerce businesses in India. A prominent Indian etailer which was also one of the earliest to pioneer the concept of online shopping seems to have run out of cash and hasn’t paid salary to its 100+ staff for over two months. Half a dozen of them have either shut down or been bought over by their peers and competitors during 2012. And many more will go out of business in 2013. I am neither a prophet or a pioneer to predict what would happen to the fate of such businesses but when an etailer is operating at –15% or more (negative) margin, then isn’t it logical to say so?

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Apple–Smart Product or Smarter Retailer?

 

iPhone 4S

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

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

iPod Touch

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

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

Imagine Apple Store

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

When Retailers and Brands collaborate!

 

Croma iPad

Its not so usual that you see Electronic Retailers promoting one particular brand at their stores. It means there is a larger strategic relationship between the two beyond just selling a few pieces of a particular model. Most retailers though, refrain from such tactics to avoid the wrath of other players in the respective segments. It is not just the advertising cost that gets shared between the two, but they both look at building an everlasting relationship to build a category, as the one undertaken between Apple and Croma, the electronic megastore from the house of Tatas. One could own an iPad 2 at just over Rs. 2,400 a month (USD 45), on an EMI basis for 12 months, thanks to credit offered by ICICI and HDFC Banks. Croma has built up their electronic retail format over the past years, thanks to its aggressive expansion mainly among metro cities where consumers shop around not just for exciting deals but where the staff are well trained, an inviting store ambience that allows you to browse at ease without too much intrusion by the staff and ofcourse, the TATA Guarantee. The Salt to Steel Major has built its retail portfolio through TRENT – the company that operates formats such as the Westside Department stores, Zara exclusive stores and Star Bazaar Hypermarkets. Incidentally, Apple which has a strategic tie-up with Reliance and allows it to operate the exclusive Apple stores has not undertaken such an aggressive promotion with Reliance Digital, the electronics format of Reliance Retail. Instead, they seem to be promoting rival Samsung with its Galaxy Tab, seen as a major contender for the No. 1 space in the tablet market.

Reliance Digital

Retailers who focus on mobile phones and accessories such as The Mobile Store, UniverCell, Sangeetha, etc. seem to play a similar strategy, just that they promote those brands which they distribute themselves. For example, Sangeetha has been promoting the latest from Nokia, the Lumia 800 pretty aggressively. At a similar EMI of Rs. 2,400 pm one can easily own the latest windows-based smartphone which was meant to revive the fortunes for Nokia, though the initial launch results have proved it to be unlikely. Nokia somewhere lost the steam – that’s the chorus that most observers and industry watchers seem to say. A once trusted phone for the smarter class lost its popularity to the Blackberry and Android based smartphones and ofcourse to the iPhone (although negligibly) due to the price disparity. Nokia continues to be a leader in the entry segment, phones below Rs. 5,000 but sees enormous competition from local brands like Micromax, Karbonn and Lava while Samsung and LG have also been stepping up the gas in these segments. 

Lumia Sangeetha

There a few advantages when Retailers promote a particular brand;

  • Brand Leadership

When a Retailer courts itself with a particular brand and also aggressively promotes its products, it looks like they have leadership specific to the said brand. This brings in positive recall in the minds of potential customers who would like to buy that particular brand in future and the retailer becomes the obvious choice.

  • Continuity of customer cycle

When customers of a brand want to upgrade / replace their existing products, they flock to the preferred retailers due to a previous positive experience. This is category agnostic and hence would prevail for most products, so to say.

  • Better Prices

Being the preferred partner (to a Brand), the Retailer also commands a special price to the new launches. Not only do they get the products first (than the other retailers), they would also be able to command a special price – directly from the brand as well as through special associations with Banks who provide 0% interest on EMIs

There are also a few drawbacks;

  • Popularity among other brands

When Retailers strike a special note with a specific brand and keep promoting them aggressively, potential customers could perceive that the Retailer doesn’t maintain other leading brands. This, in a way distracts customers and diverts them to other Retailers.

  • Relationship with other brands

When other brands know that a Retailer promotes a particular brand, they may turn away to other multi-brand retailers who provide equal importance to other brands. Although this is uncommon, it could be seen as a potential threat, especially for future launches.

Nevertheless, it is nice to see Retailers and Brands collaborate to promote each other. The Retailer attracts walk-ins into the store and the Brand sees higher conversion. In the US, UK and European markets, there has been a strong swing towards e-commerce over the last few years where customers are shopping online for mobiles and electronics. This is bound to happen in India soon. Until then atleast, let such collaborations prosper!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Borders–A book in itself to read for Indian Retailers!

To keep up with time is one of the biggest challenges, whether it is for individuals or for organizations. For Retailers, the challenge is two pronged; while keeping up with its tradition and background, it is equally important to keep pace, if not be ahead of its own time. A classic example is this regard is the recent announcement of liquidation of Borders, one of the most respected and well known book retailers in the world. Actually, Borders was a book store in Ann Arbor selling used books when it was started by brothers Tom & Louis Borders in 1971. Two years later, they moved to a larger location, thus pioneering the big box retail concept for book stores along with Barnes & Noble, another book retailer that is much known for its large format outlets. While the smaller, stand-alone book retailers were carrying around 20,000 – 30,000 titles, the two big retailers offered between 100,000 – 200,000 titles as well as other interesting adds-on such as comfortable seating and attractive lighting, not to forget the air-conditioned environments with coffee shops! Unfortunately, none of it has come to the rescue of Borders which would be liquidating its 399 stores soon, mainly due to its $40 million debt to creditors more than the total value of its assets. Barnes & Noble on the other hand has $900 million in assets alone and its Sales seems to be growing, especially online. B&N also has its own e-book reader – the Nook, up and against Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, which was among the Top 10 Gadgets of 2010 on Time. 

Wall Street firm Credit Suisse estimates that B&N would take more than 50% of Borders’ business due to it store closure, although in the short-term, Borders would see higher turnover because of its liquidation sales. The most concerned due to the closure of Borders stores seems to be its loyal customers, who feel they will miss the neighbourhood stores where they have been shopping for long. Much has been debated about the Borders story, online and offline by Retail enthusiasts, strategists, customers, et al. Some say that Borders couldn’t keep pace with the Technology shift – while people were moving from hard copy books to digital, the Book Retailer was still grapping with its plans.Though it did start offering digitised versions for sale, it was a tad too slow, a little late for its times.

Thirukkural – an ancient tamil script

Back home, the story is a bit different. In India, reading habits are very different than those in the West. In a country where English as a medium of teaching is restricted to the metro cities and probably a fewer towns, regional writing (and thereby reading) is big. This leads to optimum merchandising by the book stores who often struggle with the right quantities / titles that they should carry. Large Retailers in India such as Odyssey, Crossword, Landmark, Time-Out (from Reliance Retail), etc. have focussed mostly on English titles – tried and tested with the markets that they operate in. With regards to size – almost every size has been experimented, I would say. From small 900 sqft outlets (mostly a shop-inside-a-shop or simply, shop-in-shop) to 20,000 sqft so-called flagship stores, Book Retailers in India have them all in their kitty. Books still contribute not more than 60% of their sales and about 70% of store usage. The rest of its sales and space allotment is through various other categories such as Greeting Cards, Music & Movies’ CDs, DVDs, Game consoles such as X-Box, PSP, and in some cases even perfumes and cosmetics, not to mention coffee shops such as Cafe Coffee Day in some of their stores. With a very small quantity of e-book readers being sold in the market today, digital reading is not yet as big as it is in Western countries. Experts have differentiated opinions about the growth of such devices; with cheaper imports from China and Taiwan flooding the markets, one would obviously find a higher off-take over the months to come. But having a digital reader is just the first step; the user has to subscribe reading materials online or have to buy books to read them on their readers. For which e-commerce has to be enabled and empowered. For which the user should be convinced about the safety of using their e-wallets. Well, yes long way to go.

DSC00075Crossword Book store with a Cafe Coffee day

Having said that, are Indian consumers ready to go digital? Not yet.

Satya Rao, a Mumbai resident and an automotive consultant to a large US Conglomerate who has been an avid reader of books since his childhood across various categories says he would still walk into a Retail store to buy books, although he uses his iPad for various purposes other than reading online. Manish Malhotra, a Retail professional for over 15 years and a book-freak browses online these days to zero in on a relevant subset of books which he would later explore at a book store. Anjali, a HR professional working for an IT giant that makes life easier for Retailers worldwide by providing processes and solutions however feels the store visits are more about the exposure to a large range which is limited online. Raman Kalia, a marketing professional who has built an airline and an airport over the past 8 years feels being amongst books has a charm which cannot be replicated by online book retailers / websites since one is generally limited to what they know while browsing online while a physical book store opens up even more.

I personally remember (and so would many erstwhile Madrasis, a book store by the name “Seetharaman & Co.” – a one-stop shop which would house all forms of educational reading materials. The store was vertically graded and students from all across Madras would visit the store. It was quite rare that the Retailers (who was actually a distributor) would run out of stock. And if the store didn’t have what the customer wanted, it would be made available within a certain time frame. During the late 90s, a relatively larger, modern book store opened at Nungambakkam high road in Chennai. The store, which was located in the basement of a commercial complex was a haven for all kinds of books and was one of the first of its kind which allowed enthusiasts to read books endlessly, without compelling them to buy. Founder Hemu Ramiah later sold her stake in the book store to TATA’s Retail arm and the book store is none other than Landmark - A small neighbourhood book store that grew nationally to become one of the biggest and most respected Retailer of its kind in India over the years. M Madhu, the former Head of Merchandising of Landmark is reported to have recently moved on to head Amazon’s India operations – after all, who would know better than him how to entice readers by providing what they want.

Photo Courtesy: The Hindu

So, what’s in store for Indian Book Retailers? Does the store size and titles that they carry will have an impact on the consumer’s requirements? Does providing amenities such as wide aisles, relaxed seating within air-conditioned precincts and a cafe here and there would be a strong hook to increase footfalls to the store? Do loyalty programs such as Crossword Reward programs or Landmark Fellowship to retain existing customers and increase their spends visit after visit? Well, while there are not too many clear answers for such questions, what’s sure is that Book Retailing is here to stay in India for quite some time to come. Reading is a habit, and is best to build such a habit from childhood. Many retailers have weekend activities targeting children – idea is to first bring them to the store; they would grow up reading themselves. On Digital – as mentioned before, India has its own constraints of e-commerce, starting from points of access to payment gateways. While things have improved a lot over the years, online security (or rather insecurity) is a looming factor that needs to be addressed by Retailers.

Online shopping or not, the charm of book stores would remain. For some its the romance of books and book-shelves, and for many its the enlightenment that they perceive they would get while browsing, buying and reading books. And for many, its just a customary visit every week to pick up magazines. Whichever way, Book stores are here to stay – just that the Retailers have to pull their act better, and yes NOW.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Passenger dwell time is precious!

The lady at the check-in counter of Jet Airways, India’s premier airline told me that I just need to show the Boarding Card at the Lounge – they would scan and identify the passenger, rather than providing a Lounge Voucher separately. I was wondering if they were saving paper (Go Green, Save Environment, or one of those fundoo stuff). But actually, it was a smart way of using technology by using a scanner. QR Codes seem to be the rage all over and I now have mine for various purposes – try one of these below. Will write more about the utility of QR Codes to Retailers soon.

The Shriram on Twitter The Shriram on LinkedIn

As I was walking towards the Security Gates, I was remembering something that my friend Patrick Graf, Head of Retail Marketing & Services at Zurich Airport used to tell me often about one of the best practices followed at his airport – of how Shopping Vouchers were given to passengers at the time of Checking-In. It was indeed a smart way of engaging passengers and guiding them to the Retail / F&B areas rather than pushing them into those Lounges – if they have dwell time (in airport parlance, its the idle time, rather productive time available with passengers before boarding their plane), then we might as well use them at the numerous shops and restaurants. In fact, these are the guys who travel frequently collect air miles, are on the top levels of airline loyalty programs (such as a Platinum Member or Gold) and have very little time to shop for themselves or their loved ones.

I saw just that today at the Carnation Lounge in Mumbai Airport – a 200 sqm facility with over 100 covers and the place was full between 18.30 – 20.30 (I had reached the airport early for a meeting which was cancelled by the other party). Apart from my professional commitments, my favourite past time is to observe consumers (and potential ones too) and was just doing that. There were atleast 7 people that I spotted in the lounge who were fiddling with their iPads; almost everyone of them had a BlackBerry and a Laptop; over a third of them were in formal business suits; and there was a glass of beer or some other form of alcohol at over a fourth of all tables. And they were munching the complimentary buffet sponsored by the airline while continuing their work – most professional / official I would guess.

View of the Carnation Lounge – click on the photo to reach the author

Now, Retailers who have set-up shop (I am using this airport terminal just as an example) in the airside hope some of these influential passengers would pass by – not that those who don’t have Lounge vouchers are not influential – but these are probably a ready bait. With a little more working together between the Airport (Retail team), Airlines and Retailers, the dwell time could be utilised quite efficiently. Here are a few observations and ideas;

  • Collaborate - It might be worthwhile for the stakeholders to first agree to a plan; the Lounges do get crowded at times and its productivity is somewhat lost when some Pax do not move from their seats – by offering a special promotion exclusively to them, its not just an opportunity to entice them but also to free up space in the Lounges
  • Communicate – what’s seen is what is believed. If there is a partnership between airlines and retailers (at the airport), it should be mentioned loudly – probably at the entrance using a Standee or on the tables using Tent Cards and even on the PA system (though sparingly)
  • Co-Promote – I guess Retailers should promote the offers provided to a particular airlines (or a few of them if it is so) at their outlets – pax flying a certain airline may just walk-in to know more about the offer! And Airlines should promote the Retailers especially at the Check-In counters, not to mention on their websites, emailers, e-ticket borders and of course, behind the boarding cards

I have seen airports where the Lounges are located quite far-away and in spite of it, I have found myself waiting outside for a few of them inside to vacate so I can find a seat for myself. This is not particular to India, probably all across the world. There is a learning that we could take from some of the best practices followed at places like Zurich Airport and implement them in our own ways. After all, passengers’ Dwell time is too precious to be let off sipping a complimentary soup or reading the morning newspaper / evening tabloid at the Lounges – intelligence lies in enticing them to walk across the commercials areas – so they could also get a taste of Retail and F&B too. Now, I am gonna work on such a promotion starting shortly Watch out. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Driving footfalls…


It has been the talk of the town for sometime now, the new BlackBerry Playbook, the tablet from Research In Motion.There are thousands of reviews online and I am not going to delve into it for now. I got my hands on it three weeks back (even before it was launched in India) when a friend of mine who had brought it from the US showed it to me. Pretty engaging stuff, with its plusses and drawbacks. But what interested me to analyse and write this column was an email which I received a weeks back from EZone, India’s largest electronics store from The Future Group. There were actually two, one for a pre-booking and another stating that the wait was over and the Playbook™ is Finally Here. Am sure the mailer would have gone to hundreds, or maybe thousands of email accounts and would have pulled quite a few to the store over the past few days. I myself visited a few stores of EZone and Croma (TRENT Enterprises, part of the TATA Group) over the past few days and the results were amazing! Of the six different stores that I went to in Bangalore, two didn’t have stocks – I was informed by the sales executive that the “Catchment” for that store was not expected to explore Tablets! Another store had just the Playbook and an iPad, there were no other Tablets from any other Brand. And at one of the largest showrooms of one of the Retailers, there were crowds across the store in every section and surprisingly, there was no staff to attend the curious seekers at the area that stocked “Tablets” although there were atleast 6 different brands which were available.  Shoppers explored themselves (none of them were functional since WiFi was not connected) and moved on – one could imagine how many “Tablets” they would have sold today!

DSC00029

Elsewhere in the world, in the US, you can collect boatloads of kicks™ in the kicks Reward Program and unlock awesome exclusive deals at your favourite stores. Walk into Target, Best Buy, Macy's, American Eagle, Sports Authority, Crate&Barrel, West Elm, Wet Seal and the largest Simon malls. Open the Shopkick™ app on your iPhone or Android phone in the entrance area, and wait for a few seconds. That's it! Your Shopkick app will reward you instantly. It's fun. You can get rewards at all 1,300 Best Buy and Best Buy Mobile stores in the United States, and at all Crate&Barrel and West Elm stores! And in many major cities you will find more stores with walk-in rewards, like Target, Macy's, American Eagle, Sports Authority Wet Seal and Simon Malls. Shopkick is adding more stores in more cities every month. Cool rewards like iTunes gift cards, Restaurant vouchers, Best Buy/Target/Macy's/American Eagle/Sports Authority gift cards, Facebook Credits, movie tickets, or if you go all out, True Religion jeans, a Coach handbag, or a 3D 55" Sony Bravia HDTV. And if you want to change the world, donate your kicks to 30 different causes! And all this, just to woo shoppers to walk into a Retail Store!

Look at the contrast. In one country, there are not enough sales staff to manage shoppers and potential customers who walk into the store. And in another scenario where shoppers are “paid” to just visit the stores! According to the Shopkick program, as you walk into the stores, there are specific sections where you get higher kicks™ and one can keep accumulating them. There are also certain products, which by mere scanning fetches additional kicks. I did try to download the Android app in my phone, but I got a message that the app was not applicable in my country!

What makes me wonder, is how Retailers need to woo shoppers to walk-in to their stores and convert them into buyers. While the first part is not so difficult in India – with less than 10% of the Retail Industry being organized, and there is no dearth of footfalls walking into Retail formats, it is indeed important for Retailers to focus on;
  • Merchandise Availability – This would be a game changer between those who remain in the business and those who don’t…
  • Customer Service – the Retailer might have the products, but if they are not showcased well to potential buyers, then the conversion is not bound to happen; and not just this time, even the next time too!
Sales are happening despite these, but its just a matter of time for shoppers to move to alternative avenues for shopping. An ASSOCHAM Report suggests that the expected market size of online shopping in India is about USD 2 Billion pa. Forget shoppers walking off to neighbouring stores, they may be shopping on their mobile phones and tablets sitting at the favourite Coffee Day outlets! And then, I would be writing a column on that trend, from a cafe indeed!