Archive for August, 2011

The Shopping Experience: Electronics

Now that the format of these posts is familiar, dear reader, do allow us to cut to the chase :

 

Impressive : Bose

The sales assistants at the Bose store are good. They are polite, know the products and their features, and encourage you to take a look at the products. Even if you tell them that you are definitely not buying, they are enthusiastic about demonstrating the superior quality of the product through a demo (vital to convincing customers in the audio equipment category). You select a song from their list, they tune the system for maximum sound quality, let you hear the entire song and ensure that you walk away impressed with the equipment and their behaviour.

 

Satisfactory : Sony

We’ve also noticed that the staff at the Sony showrooms tends to be helpful. They patiently took us through all the features of a few laptop models, and simplified details when one of us asked a few doubts in a very confused tone. Point in their favour – they never smirked, even when asked to repeat simple details multiple times, or to simplify them further.

 

While I wouldn’t say that salespeople at all Croma stores are as good, one gentleman at the Kandivili (Mumbai) outlet did impress me. He was especially polite and reassuring to an elderly man nervously buying a laptop, explained all the details to him, helped him fill out the form for a data card and install it, and then gave the old man his personal cell-phone number to call in case there was any further help needed.

 

Not-so-good, a few examples of what we didn’t like:

  • Salespeople at some branded outlets seemed uninterested in actually speaking to consumers. In one outlet that we visited, one person was busy at the cash counter, two were chatting to each other and a fourth was standing outside the shop and speaking to someone on his cell-phone. ‘Sales assistance and us! Naah, we’re mannequins, part of the decor.’
  • Others had limited product knowledge, and did not show any enthusiasm to even try and find out the answer to a question, seemed a bit sulky too; maybe they felt the brand was a powerful enough draw on its own.
  • After-sales service seems to be one key feature that needs improvement. An anecdote from Nafisa below :

We wanted a certain not-in stock part and thought the salesman promised to call when it arrived and took down our contact details, we never heard from them again.

 When the unit needed servicing and I dropped it off at the service centre, no one said a word to me – I mean not a word, I had to ask multiple questions to figure out what was happening and what to do, when they would let me know, etc. They only promised to call when the unit was repaired so I could pick it up. Of course, they didn’t, I finally had to complain at the customer toll free number and even then they didn’t call up. I had to make multiple calls over 2-3 days after the due date, to the service centre before they told me it was ready.

 (S, you will recognise the similarity between the episode below and the one with your bag that you mentioned as a comment after our apparels and accessories post)

 

Grade given by the Escape Velocity team: A few exceptions that surpassed expectations; overall, a B.

 

Next Stop: To wrap up this series on shopping experience for premium branded goods in India, we’ll discuss some reasons for why the sales (and after-sales) service is in the state that it is in.

 

By,

 Escape Velocity Team

 [Disclaimer : This post deals mainly with one aspect of the shopping experience – interactions with the staff. Also, the list of outlets visited for the purpose of observation is not exhaustive.

Outlets mentioned in these posts will differ widely in terms of pricing, degree of premiumness and image; for the purposes of these blog-posts, we are still tackling all these outlets together.]

 

 

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August 30, 2011 at 5:51 am 10 comments

The Shopping Experience: Jewelry

The format we will follow in this post is the same as in the previous posts in this series:

Impressive: Kiah, Tanishq

Kiah:

  • Sophisticated and well-groomed sales and support staff; salesmen in blue shirts and the sales ladies in dark blue saris – look far more professional than those in traditional jewelry outlets
  • The sales staff was very cordial. We asked to see diamond earrings, after they sat us down in the right section, they asked for basic information such as our names and then addressed us by name throughout the conversation; also asked us whether we’d like a glass of water, tea or coffee, not just before we selected a piece but even before they began showing us jewelry (as you read through this post, you’ll see that this is quite unusual!)
  • Our saleslady also asked very politely about our knowledge of diamond quality, when we professed ignorance, she explained grades and colors to us and then told us about the quality of diamonds used in their jewelry pieces; she explained the facts to us in enough detail to keep our attention but did not get too technical.
  • They were also quick in catching on to what type of designs we liked and after showing us a few trays of jewelry, they themselves started sorting the jewelry to our tastes.
  • One of us visited the store with our aunt to look at higher-value diamond sets. After putting aside a couple of sets and inquiring about their prices and details, even when we were about to leave (without a purchase), they were really friendly and took down our name and phone number to stay in touch incase more designs and jewelry of our interest came in. And, not only did they call back when new pieces came in, but when our aunt revisited the store, they remembered her as well as the sets she’d liked earlier, and while showing the new pieces, they also brought out the earlier ones, for her to compare.

Tanishq:

  • Very welcoming staff
  • All pieces of jewelry clearly state the quality and color of diamonds on the little tags attached to them (haven’t seen this in any other jewelry store) and the sales persons did not try to make up things like “diamonds are super-deluxe quality” neither did they pretended to be making frantic calculations on their calculators when asked for a price to offer the “deal for the day” – this immediately won our confidence.
  • That said, a recent experience at Tanishq was remarkable: I bought a piece of jewelry from there for a gift, but my parents didn’t completely approve of my choice. So I went back to the Tanishq store the next day, armed with not only the jewelry, bill and certificate, but also with a million reasons and arguments for why I wanted to exchange the piece I’d just bought the previous day. As soon as I walked into the store, I was greeted with a warm welcome and I asked to speak with the saleslady who’d helped me the previous day. She promptly came to where I was seated and I told her that I wanted to exchange the jewelry; while I argued in my head about how to form the argument for the return she interrupted my thoughts with “… no problem madam, just select something else you like and we’ll settle the difference in the end.”

Just like that!!! No explanation asked!!! For a big ticket item like this one!

They invested as much time in me as they’d done the previous day, without a frown, knowing that I wasn’t going  to generate any new revenue for them and/or additional commission for the sales assistant. Kudos to their customer service. And for making my purchase experience so smooth and easy.

  • Note: This is the only brand across all categories we covered for our research, where we’ve seen excellent after-sales service, where they not only met but surpassed our expectations.

 

Satisfactory: Orra

  • Staff are polished compared to those at traditional jewelers; Salesmen in neat blue shirts, well-groomed. They were very welcoming and approachable.
  • When asked for price and details of a pair of earring we liked, we weren’t given any clarity on the diamond grades used and instead of just giving us the price, he offered to make a “good deal” for us and then told us the price. While this may be common practice at traditional jewelry stores, in a modern format it felt slightly gimmicky.

 

Unsatisfactory, a few examples of what we didn’t like:

  • Shabby doorman, unshaven sales persons, unshaven owner – typically observed in the more family-run standalone jewelry stores.
  • At one of the leading jewelry chains, the sales staff wasn’t welcoming, didn’t offer us a seat, neither did they ask about what we were looking for, nor did they initiate any conversation with us. Only when we started asking questions about their different jewelry lines and diamond quality, etc. did they share information.
  • At some stores, they only offered water/ tea/ coffee after we had already spent some time looking at jewelry and had set some pieces aside.
  • Also, some sales persons insisted on finding out our budget even before showing us one piece of jewelry. Even when we clearly stated that we didn’t have any budget constraints and pointed at a pair of earrings that we wished to see, the sales persons refused to take it out without knowing our budget …“Phir bhi madam, kitne tak ka dekhna hai”.
  • Also, some sales persons, even without asking for a discount, started offering ‘a special rate, just for you’-type of deals. They made us even more suspicious of the original quoted price.

 

Our verdict: The grade for the performance of staff at stores we were impressed with would be A+, the rest get a B.

Next stop: Electronics.

 

By,

Escape Velocity Team.

 

[Disclaimer: This post deals mainly with one aspect of the shopping experience – interactions with the staff. Also, the list of outlets visited for the purpose of observation is not exhaustive.]

August 24, 2011 at 5:20 am 15 comments

The Shopping Experience: Travails at Health and Glow

This post is by a guest contributor, Anita B.

When Health and Glow (H&G) first made an appearance, I used to be a loyal customer. There was usually one in the neighbourhood, making access easy. The products were also displayed nicely in aisles, making it a vastly different experience from the grocery stores where I used to normally stock up on toiletries and cosmetics.

I still use the store, but only occasionally and only because I am used to shopping at H&G, but the experience is nowhere near as nice as I remember it. For one, the novelty of having products displayed neatly is now gone. Everybody does that. Also, I invariably don’t find at least one item on my shopping list in H&G.

The biggest problem though, is the service provided in H&G. This is what I have observed:

  1. There are too many salespeople in each store. The aisles are quite narrow in the stores and when they are filled up with so many salespeople, it is difficult to move around.
  2. The salespeople just stand around gossiping the whole time. Possibly because there are usually fewer customers than salespeople and most of them have nothing to keep them occupied.
  3. I can never expect anyone to actually help me purchase a product. For instance, when I asked for a sunscreen for combination skin, SPF 20 and above, waterproof and to be used in a pool, the salespeople were stumped. The only times when I have actually been helped are when I’ve asked for a specific brand. Alternately I browse the aisles myself.
  4. Sometimes even that does not work. I was once told that a specific brand I was looking for was out of stock, only to find it myself on the shelves when I did a little digging around.
  5. The only people eager to assist a customer are the brand-specific salespeople such as the persons handling Olay or Neutrogena products. That said, these people are eager to the point of being aggressive. Without being asked, I have been subjected to a loud and embarrassing analysis of my skin’s pigmentation levels in an effort to get me to buy a night cream.

I shop at H&G not because of its sales force, but in spite of it.

[This post was written 3 months ago but we recently heard from Anita that she had a much better experience when she recently visited the store. The sales service has improved considerably at H&G; perhaps branded retail outlets are realizing the need for better sales staff and service and investing more towards it. – Editor]

By,

Anita B.

Here are the links to our previous posts on the theme of this month: experience of shopping for premium branded goods in India, for high-street apparel and accessories and for premium cosmetics & skincare products.

>> Coming up next: Jewelry

August 19, 2011 at 4:57 am 2 comments

The Shopping Experience: Premium Cosmetics & Skincare

The format we will follow in this post is the same as in the last post : begin by specifically mentioning those stores/brands that we think were good examples, and then give a few instances (without naming the brand) of those that were average or less than satisfactory.

Impressive : Lancome, Mac

Both brands had a lot in common – highly knowledgeable staff that were persuasive without being pushy, and were sensitive to consumer problems and preferences.

Lancome: Allow you to take your time examining products on the shelves, answer your questions and gently nudge you towards discussing your skin, it’s health and your skin care routine. From there it’s just a small step to using the viewer- with-magnification (that’s what I call it) to show you the blemishes / defects on your skin. And that device is effective ! It took every ounce of my self-control to walk away without buying a bushel of products.

(Note : My friend returned a few days later, along with a relative, and bought bucket-loads of stuff; I’m still holding out.)

Mac: Spent time with us, showed what would suit our skin the best; also, taught us how to use some of the products.

 

Satisfactory : Clinique, The Body Shop, Forest Essentials

These stores had knowledgeable staff, but not in the same class as the two mentioned above.

 

Not-so-good, a few examples of what we didn’t like :

  • Overall, little product knowledge. The sales assistant at one store started showing me sunscreens when I asked about moisturisers; at the same store, another sales assistant did not know the difference between various anti-ageing products
  • At another store, the sales assistant had no knowledge of the difference between products from two different ranges that were priced a few thousand rupees apart. After much prodding, she remembered that the expensive one had a different ingredient but she could not explain the benefit of this ingredient to us. Finally she told us that it was more expensive and that was the only difference!
  • At one store, when I picked up a bottle of moisturiser and asked about the price, the sales assistant told me that I should use a product meant for older women only, but then didn’t give me any details as to how it would benefit my skin (even my 5 year old nephew knows enough to say, “big people’s things are for big people only, and small people’s things are different”, but from anyone older, I expect details).
  • Unheeding to client needs/ preferences – either don’t know enough to respond to these or are just too lazy to check

Our verdict : The performance of staff at stores in this category was so varied that we’d hesitate to give an overall grade. Some stores get an A+, the rest get a C-.

[Disclaimer : This post deals mainly with one aspect of the shopping experience – interactions with the staff. Also, the list of outlets visited for the purpose of observation is not exhaustive.

Outlets mentioned in these posts will differ widely in terms of pricing, degree of premiumness and image; for the purposes of these blog-posts, we are still tackling all these outlets together.]

By,

Escape Velocity Team

August 16, 2011 at 5:11 am 7 comments

The Shopping Experience: High Street Apparel and Accessories

[Disclaimer : This post deals mainly with one aspect of the shopping experience – interactions with the staff. Also, the list of outlets visited for the purpose of observation is not exhaustive.
Outlets mentioned in these posts will differ widely in terms of pricing, degree of premiumness and image; for the purposes of these blog-posts, we are still tackling all these outlets together.]

The format we will follow is to begin by specifically mentioning those stores/brands that we think were good examples, and then give a few instances (without naming the brand) of those that were average or less than satisfactory.

Classy : Burberry

The sales executives at the Burberry store at Palladium were best-in-class, that’s the reason we choose to call them sales ‘execs’ and not sales ‘assistants’. In terms of presentation, they fit the brand to a ‘T’, poised, stylish and genteel. They were welcoming, knowledgeable about the collection, informative and yet un-intrusive. They encouraged us to look around, were available for assistance if needed, but let us take our time looking at stuff. When asked about a particular type of bag, they were enthusiastic about showing all available models that fit the requirements and described their attributes.

 

Satisfactory : Zara, Vero Moda and Promod

Promod: The salesperson was aware of what merchandise they had, and readily helped people find the right size etc.

Vero Moda: Though there was only one sales assistant on the floor, she was very efficient and helped multiple people in the store. When asked for help, she promptly found the size that one of our team was looking for and was confident about the fit.

Zara:  Though the sales assistants here seemed really busy, rushing about the store folding things, stacking them etc, they were willing to help when approached. They knew the sizes that were available, and walked over to the racks to help find clothes in the required size.

One comment though, we might have felt less hesitant about approaching them for help if they didn’t appear so harried and rushing around.

[Since this survey is not exhaustive, not mentioning a brand in the two sections above need not mean that we were not happy with the salespeople there, we may not have visited the outlet]

Not-so-good, a few examples of what we didn’t like :

  • In one store with 4 sales assistants, 3 of them were gossiping at the cash counter, while the fourth was busy combing out her damp hair in the mirror !
  • In two stores, the sales assistants did not bother to even say ‘hello’ or offer to help, even when we rifled through merchandise trying to find something – non-intrusive is fine, but this is taking it a bit far. One of these intently stared at the computer at the cash counter and furiously tapped keys every so often, whether checking monthly sales or playing a game on it.
  • Often noticed a slight reluctance by sales people to actually approach the racks / shelves, almost as if they were afraid that the area was infected with a contagious disease ! Many seemed satisfied to just point in the general direction of the right rack and tell you that whatever sizes were in stock were on the rack.
  • However, we noticed in one of the shops that even the salesperson that didn’t show much initiative in helping us was very enthusiastic about helping someone who had tried on some clothes and needed to find a better fit – she rushed to the racks, picked out clothes, took them over to changing room, waited there while woman changed, examined the outfit on her, gave her opinion, discussed it and then rushed off to find some accessories to match.

Our hypothesis : Even lackadaisical sales staff are enthusiastic about helping potential customers that seem further along the process towards a purchase, and hence contributing to their sales incentive. Hence the inertia to serve a customer until they display strong signs of intention-to-buy such as trying on outfits.

  • Another anecdote related to the process of trying on clothes illustrates a different point – store policy often doesn’t take into account how women like to shop, especially in India. Women often shop in groups or pairs, in order to have someone you trust give their opinion of how a particular outfit looks on you; it’s important to allow this pair to interact in or near the trial rooms.

Two of our friends visited one of these outlets; one entered a trial room to try on some clothes. The store prevented the second from standing outside the stall, so the first had to come right out of the trial room and into the store area to show her friend how she looked in the outfit – we’ve all been through this scenario, we may not like it, but we’re used to it, so far, so good.

Now one of the ladies decides to try on a back-zipped dress and needs help zipping it up. But the store won’t allow her friend to enter the trial room stall and zip it up. As per policy, their staff would provide the help needed; which would also be ok, except that the person manning the trial room was a guy !! Especially in India, this scenario just makes no sense at all.

 

So those are our observations, folks. Overall, we agree with some of Nafisa’s points. The sales experience and interactions at many of these stores could do with improvement.

Grade given by the Escape Velocity team : A few exceptions that surpassed expectations; overall, a B +.

 

Next stop: Cosmetics & Skincare

 

By,

Nafisa De Figueiredo and the Escape Velocity Team

August 11, 2011 at 6:25 am 11 comments

The experience of shopping for premium branded goods in India

A question for you, dear reader: Have you ever shopped at a top-line apparel or accessories store in India and felt that the exclusive store experience was far from satisfactory?

Our loyal reader, Nafisa, definitely thinks so. She feels that salespersons at these stores often fail to carry through on the expectations from the brand. The manner in which they fell short of her expectations:

  • At the very basic level, lack of adequate knowledge of the product. Unaware or unable to explain the USP, don’t know of competition or how their product is different / better
  • Lack of interest in the overall category which could be  crucial to the brand experience
  • At a service level – lots of aggravation for customer and rarely do they respect customer’s time. No different from cheap brands and stand-alone store
  • A level of disinterest relating to customer concerns
  • Laze / lack of earnestness– no follow up with potential or existing customers. No follow – up or feedback loop when the brand has a website with the requisite options especially for the purpose

Why we think this is important:

In all interactions and transactions in a store, the organisation is presenting itself – or part of itself – to people with whom it either has a relationship or is trying to build one. If it is to be successful, it has to be consistent and clear in what it says and does in all these relationships; in addition, the impression transmitted from all touch points with the consumer must be consistent too, i.e. in-store interactions must match what the brand promises through other media such as TV and print ads, PR etc. In-store experience is a significant component of how people sense the brand and contributes to their perception of it, especially in the premium segment, where part of the reason for the purchase is the image that is being sold, the identity or idea which the consumer buys for himself / herself through the purchase.

Nafisa’s rant on this significant issue prompted us to run this as a theme for a series of blog posts. We’ve been doing some ground-work for this series – visiting retail outlets and making observations, speaking to a few people from the industry to get their opinion on the topic etc. We haven’t restricted our work to apparel and accessories either; we’ve looked at premium brands in a few other categories too. So do keep visiting our blog regularly to know more. Also, we’d love to hear from you about your point of view on the topic, so do write in with your comments, the more detailed, the better.

By,

Nafisa De Figueiredo and the Escape Velocity Team

August 9, 2011 at 5:52 am 22 comments

Crowdsourcing

The dictionary definition of Crowdsourcing: the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.

Its advantages are numerous – access to a larger talent pool, lower cost barriers, new, innovative, out-of-the box ideas and content generation, consumer engagement opportunity and the chance to really understand what the consumer wants. Of course this has been facilitated by technological advances and the Internet.

Crowdsourcing is a recent phenomenon in India. Here are a few examples of successful crowdsourcing initiatives:

LAYS – Frito Lays ran a campaign called “Give Us You Dillicious Flavorduring the past year, asking consumers to suggest flavors for their potato wafers. They ran a nationwide contest and gathered over 1.35 million entries! Four flavors were shortlisted, then piloted across India for two months; this was when a promotion with the theme “Bachega Sirf Tastiest” (Survival of the tastiest) was run to seek consumer votes to decide which flavor continues to stay in the market (and who takes home the Rs.50 lakh prize and 1% sales revenue). The second phase of the campaign garnered over 4 million votes.

Traditional media, including TV, was used for supporting and driving consumers to the digital platform. Lays used Web 2.0 applications like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter extensively for its campaigns.

MAGGI – From a lonesome hostel-living student’s sustenance to a child’s evening snack to a trekkers reprieve from hunger, Nestle’s Maggi Noodles has, over time, been a part of everyone’s life. Maggi asked its loyalists to send in their favorite Maggi stories and their favorite Maggi recipes.

The latest Maggi ads are a series of short stories, showcasing consumers’ memories of Maggi. For instance, friends remember splitting Maggi after measuring it with a ruler; scouts members remember eating Maggi at a camp; while another person remembers serving Maggi when people were stuck in the Mumbai floods (Click here to view montage). The ad concludes with consumers being invited to share their own Maggi story, through which they can get a chance to feature on the Maggi packs or ads. The campaign generated over 30,000 stories, some of which were used to generate further ads based on these stories.

Maggi has launched 3 flavors basis the campaign – Trilling Curry, Tricky Tomato and Romantic Capsica.

BINGO – Another example of this is the ITC Bingo Mad Angles online campaign to create print and TV ads for it through an application. Users created 309 print ads and 69 video ads in just a month.

Active engagement is what crowdsourcing is all about. It enables companies to turn brand enthusiasts to loyalists and eventually advocates. It puts the customers first, makes them king and serves them what they really want, how they want it, as they want it. A win-win situation for both.

By,

Roshni Jhaveri

August 3, 2011 at 5:49 am Leave a comment


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