Retail & Consumers – Followup

My last post citing incidents from experiences across retail stores is the first post out of some 250 odd posts, where no one disagreed with me and people just kept adding their own experiences. Apart from comments at desicritics and on my blog, I also received a lot of e-mails and a few phone calls including one from a customer services head of one of the stores that I had mentioned in the post. Now what I infer from all the feedback and rejoinders to the post is what I am trying to put across in this post.

Billing fraud in retail stores is much bigger than I had imagined. While writing about it, I was not very sure if I am doing the right thing, as it could have been series of co-incidences with me, but the replies to my post confirm that the organized fraud in retail stores can be much bigger than I first thought, or much bigger than what we can manage to ignore. There are two perspectives to this potential fraud. One is from the customers or consumers perspective, who are the ones being cheated. Now as a customer I have no clue if the employee at the counter is cheating or the retail store is also involved in the process. To me as a consumer the employee standing at the counter is nothing but the representative of the retail organization, so from my perspective the retail organization is cheating me. At the same time, if I flip the situation and see it from retailer’s perspective, they could also be at the suffering end from this problem, as the employees pocket the money or the items from the wrong billing and though store may not suffer financially but they do suffer in terms of brand value and customer loss.

Second, area of poor customer service also has ironical viewpoints when observed from customers and retailers perspective. Almost all customers feel that there are far too many people on the shop floor. On top of it, they do not know anything about what they are selling in the store, where is it located and basically are useless from the customer perspective. You would usually find salespersons cuddled together in a corner and often see customers and their queries as an interruption. All our friends in retail think they do not have enough people and quality of people is a big issue.

I can not comment about the quality of people, as that seems to be an issue across the industries. But I am sure retailers need to seriously look at number of people they deploy on the shop floor and also their knowledge of the products. In grocery stores, it should not be very tough. Probably training needs to involve usage of not so common items by staff members, so that they know about what the customer is asking for. Let me take an example, you go and ask for Tofu to any salesperson and they would not know about it, probably because they have never used it themselves, and while it is lying in the shelves they would often mistake it for Paneer or Cheese. As far as the number of people is concerned, I am sure retailers are using some benchmark numbers which may have come from the western world, and hence may not be relevant as such in India. They probably need to work out the no. of people on the shop floor based on total area of the store, the cultural element, expected footfalls and usability of those people to the customers. I am sure customers would prefer less people, who can help them when required and not intrude them when not required. I seriously believe that the retailers who can manage their customer servicing are the ones who are going to survive or thrive.

The only point in time solution that I can think of is to ‘Check your bills properly every time you shop.’ Do not think that since there is a bar code reader and a computer involved, nothing can go wrong. There are those fingers on the machine that have mastered the art of manipulating the system and hence you. Doordarshan’s ads on ‘Jago Grahak Jago’ seem to be just in time.

PS: Can’t help sharing another incident that happened last evening. I went to Nilgiris, and picked up an item which came in two sized, the smaller priced at Rs12/- and the larger one prices at Rs22/-, and picked up the smaller one. I had only 4 items in the basket and since my last post I have been observing the behavior of people at the counters even more keenly. The lady the counter swipes the items on the barcode reader, and when she swipes the above mentioned item the bar code reader correctly picks up the item and shows Rs12/- on the screen. The lady very quickly goes and changes the item code and the screen now shows Rs22/-. I asked her what is she doing, she first gives me a look oh ‘what did I do?’, and then when I tell her what she did, she says Sorry as rudely as possible and then corrects the bill. Then in her frustration, gives me Rs 1.50 less than what she is supposed to return, when I ask for the same, she takes out and gives me as if she is obliging me. I was amazed to see the manipulation done with immense ease.

 

Anuradha Goyal