As you travel across the city, or across cities in India, you can see the much predicted retail boom happening everywhere. There are shopping malls, supermarkets, hypermarkets and big format retail chains everywhere. Not sure how many people actually understand the difference between these terms, but the mantra is big format shopping space, a place where you have to go using a vehicle as it is not very close to your house, you have to pay for parking, have to go around the store collecting items you want to buy in a basket or a trolley and then stand in a seemingly non-moving queue waiting for your bill to be processed. If you are lucky, you will have a flawless bill with all the free / discount items packed with your shopped items, but more often than not this is usually not the case. I am using this post to summarize my retail experience through a series of incidents, which are primarily from retail chains in Bangalore, and I am assuming the experience may not be very different across cities.
Shoppers Stop: I get some 3-4 e-mailers informing me of the annual sale at Shopper’s stop. I am sure company has spent enough money to communicate the sale information to the customers, and the impact is that I do stop by while passing through one of the outlets. I enter Shopper’s stop and see the sale being announced from every corner through various marketing material. I am looking for certain things, but could not make out of this is on sale or not, I ask the nearest available sales person and she says ‘What Sale? There is no sale.” Just in time, I get a SMS on my mobile, from Shoppers Stop announcing the sale and show this to the person and she shows me a blank face. I point to the material shouting sale all over the store and this lady runs to her colleague and says “What are we supposed to do about sale?” Now, to me this is a classic case of wasted time, effort and resources, you spend so much to bring the customer to store, but when the customer lands, she feels almost let down.
Mobile Store: They have some huge stores in prime locations, considering the fact that selling of mobiles usually does not need so much of physical space. I had to buy a mobile phone and I wanted to exchange it with my old one. There were about 12 people wearing the red ‘Mobile Store’ T-shirts, and I assume they were all there representing the company and should be available for any help that the customer may need. There were 3 groups of 2s, who were busy talking with each other and were in no mood to halt their conversation to attend to the only customer entering the store. Probably they thought someone would attend me, which is a fair thought assuming the customer to salesperson ratio. Next there were a couple of ladies who were busy talking on the mobile and were so lost in the conversation that I am sure they did not even notice my entering the store. There were two people who were busy figuring out something on the only computer available on the store. There were two ladies sitting on a counter, looking nowhere and lost in their thoughts. I looked around to see the most approachable face and discover that no one is looking at me, probably in the hope that someone else would look at and attend. I walk up to the guys who are on the computer and say I am looking for buying a new mobile phone. He looks up as if I am an interruption and says “Which one?” I tell him my requirements and ask him to suggest mobiles for the same and he wears a completely confused look. I give up and say the models that I had researched before stepping out to buy and he points me to dummies of those models in a glass window. Finally with no hope of any help or information, I ask him for the buy back price for the old mobile, he makes some frantic calls here and there and says, if you leave the mobile here, I can tell you tomorrow. Now I do not even know where to classify this experience. 12 people on the floor, with absolutely no knowledge of the countable number of products they sell, unable to attend a single customer with absolutely defined requirements. 10% of the number of people with a decent knowledge about the most commonly used product would have helped.
More: Erstwhile Fabmall, and newly christened ‘More’, opened its new outlet near my house and I went there to buy my monthly groceries. By now I do not expect any help from any of the people floating around and fill my trolley with my month’s supply and stand in the queue. The bill amount appears a bit too much to me, but looking at the long queue I pay and come out. I sit in the car and something tells me that I should total the bill, I do that and discover the discrepancy of 300 Rs on a bill of Rs 1500/- , a good 20% amount. I go back to the store with bill in my hand and the guy quietly says Sorry and hands me 300 Rs. I ask for the store manager, but he is expectedly missing at such times, and no one has his cell number.
Westend: I went to pickup some gifts for my new born nephew. I liked something that was in 1-2 year section, but could not find the same thing in new born section. I asked the salesperson around if she could help me find the same item in the 0-3 months section and she plainly said ‘No, not available!’, and just when I turned around, I could find the item and looked at the salesperson and she said ‘If it is available, take it’. Again some 10-12 people on the floor, with no knowledge of what they are selling, what the inventory is and no effort to re-arrange the items meshed up by customers. I spoke to the store manager and got the most customer unfriendly response ‘Please buy whatever you can find, we can not help you with anything’.
Reliance Fresh: There is always an extra item added to the list, in case total number of items exceeds a certain number. If you discover, they say sorry and rectify, if you don’t, they made it. Though I can not say this organized fraud on this small sample, but I am getting inclined to think so and this may be prevailing across stores, especially on weekends where the places are so crowded that most people may not bother to check the bills for small amounts.
Subhiksha: All salesperson are sitting in one corner and chatting away. You ask for something and they take 2-3 minutes to decide which one of them will respond. Finally one person walks up to you, almost making you feel guilty for coming in way of the conversation, only to say he does not know.
Landmark: This up market bookstore plays some jarring music, and this is the reason I do not enjoy going there for exploring books. Once I had to go there to use the gift vouchers I received on my birthday, and I was there right after the store opened and again I was the only customer. The music was too loud for my comfort and I asked them to reduce it and they point blank refused saying there are other customers. I looked around and said where, and they obliged me by reducing it by one level. As soon as I reached the shelves, the music was up by about 5 levels, making it impossible for me to concentrate on books. I gave it one more try but I guess letting employees play music at their levels and their kinds is Landmark’s way of retaining employees. I had no option but to walk out.
M K Ahmed: Now this is a store that I love to shop at. It is not very big, but you find everything there. You can ask any person on the floor for anything and you would have that item in your hands within 2 minutes. They do not advertise any big discounts, but when you see the bill the discounts are very much there. Despite being as busy as any other store, you hardly spend any time in the queue. There is no show off, no jarring music, no lost employees, and no display of discounts that do not show up in the bill. Just plain simple customer service supported by the knowledge of the products being sold.
I seriously hope that as the retail space matures, organizations would look at educating their sales force about the products and the customers. Eventually, when there are stores everywhere, selling the same products at more or less the same price, customer service is what is going to dictate where the customers park themselves.