Retail Stores – A re-look after 3 years

About 3 years back, I wrote about retail chains in India based on my personal experience. I was just thinking of taking stock of how things are after 3 years. I was hoping that the situation would have improved at least a bit, as my feedback was taken very seriously by the retail chains that I had mentioned.  Yesterday in a span of few hours I got all answers when I went shopping.
My first stop was SPAR, the happening supermarket in the heart of Hyderabad. I like them for the variety of food items that they have including some that are not so usually found around my house. I reached the billing counter with a bulging trolley. There were two items in my trolley that has free items with them. After the billing, I asked for the free items and the guy just ignored me. I raised my voice by one notch and he said the items are inside the package. The opened the packaging and showed him that it is not and he has to provide it to me. He said ok and then went on to do his work. He asked me if I have a membership card, I asked does the Lifestyle card work here and he said No. I said Ok, only to realize later it should work. When I questioned him, he said anyway the billing has been done, now nothing can be done. I asked for the manager and he called the boy from the next Till and said he is the manager. When I asked him about the loyalty card and the free items, he swiped my card in the machine and said it will be done and called someone else to give the free items. Now the card did not have a magnetic strip so it could not have been swiped, when questioned, he noted the bill no and said he will do it later. When I did not give up, he opened some screens, did some clicks and said it is done, when I insisted to show, he said come after 3 days. I still had not got my free items, and its only after raising the voice by another few notches that I reluctantly got them. The look on the face was as if I am stealing them of their treasure. I asked for the manager and they said the manager is not there. I asked for manager’s number and they refused to give. I asked the security guard who looked at them and said I do not know if there is any manager or not. Though I am describing this in detail, this is a common problem I have seen across malls that there is no responsible person whom you can raise your concern too, no telephone no and no e-mail Id.
Next, I went to Landmark and a sale was going on where you buy 3 books for a price of 2. Obviously a promotion by the store to drive volumes at the cost of margins. Now I saw at least 3 different sets of strangers coming together to buy books and get the free book and then divide the bargain amongst themselves.
I was hungry by now and went to Baker’s Inn next door that had these big Pizza pictures pasted all over. The guy at the counter was on phone and definitely not interested in being interrupted by any customer. Before I could finish the word Pizza, he said “nahi hai”. He did not offer me any alternative, did not even bother to look if I can buy anything else. He does not loose anything, it is the business owner who looses a customer forever.
Now, apart from agony over all the wasted energy, I think retail in India has a big risk of failing if the operations are not managed properly and people are not trained and managed properly. Large format retail stores have an army of people, who do not know much about the products around them and are hardly useful. Electronic surveillance can take care of the pilferage by customers, but this army can fool the cameras so easily. They breach the customer trust every time they cheat them with small things like holding back free items hurts both customer and the business. Instead of having 20 people on the floor, is may be good to replace a few of them with someone who is responsible for the store and is accountable for customer complaints.  There should be some channel for the customers to be able to lodge their complaints if the issue is not resolved at the store.
You will also have to figure out the potential losses that you are suffering because of employee indifference. In a large store, if a product is available but the customer can not locate it and the employees are too busy either on phone or chatting amongst themselves, they cause a direct loss to the business. It may be very difficult to quantify such losses, but my guess is that it may not be something the businesses can afford to ignore.
Next, the promotions will have to be designed based on the local ethos. While the above-mentioned promotion will work very well in a western world where people are more individualistic, it may not work in India, where people can come together only for a bargain.
There may be a need to check the use of mobile phones in customer services departments because by nature the person on phone takes priority over the person in front of you.
It’s time that the retail stores focus on operations as much as they are on expanding.
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