Saturday, March 23, 2019

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From the shelf to the shopping cart

By N Jayalakshmi | March 11, 2019

The path to purchase is strewn with many factors - brand loyalty, pricing, brand visibility, in store experience…etc. Point Of Purchase steps into the shoes of a shopper to decode the journey in a first person narrative.

They call it retail therapy. And make no mistake – it definitely is therapeutic. At least to me. Forget the shrink -- the sheer availability of choices is so empowering, that it can beat any blues! Mind you, I’m talking here only about all those sprawling supermarkets that you see coming up in every major town and city today. I’m told that in trade circles they call them Modern Trade (MT). So on a weekend when I decided to enjoy some ‘me time’ and go on a ‘feel good’ binge, my pick was (surprise, surprise), an MT outlet to do some grocery shopping.

But hang on, the choice shouldn’t really be surprising, because like I just said, shopping today in the right environment is more than just an act of buying products. It is about experiencing a sense of liberation because of the choices available, a feeling of belonging to a community, a journey into sensory delights, a celebration of the good things in life and finally a delightful trip in self-indulgence! But the key question here is: what is that right environment? So let me try and decode the various aspects of my retail journey to address this question.

1. I'm a brand loyalist, but hey… what's that new one there?

Let me state at the onset that I have my brand preference. And I’m generally inclined towards the locally grown or desi brands. It further helps if the brand in question is perceived to be an ethical one (well it’s all only about perception today, right? After all we live in an age when ‘truth’ is like an ever shifting mirage). So I’ve always been one of those very decisive shoppers. I know what brand I want. Until that day. For the first time, my brand loyalty got a big shake-up when I looked at those arrays of labels. What did it was the product packaging and labelling, particularly of a certain brand. It somehow resonated well – it talked about a sensible lifestyle choice and it talked about eco-responsibility. Now I am enough of a sceptic not to get taken in by all this brand talk. But there was something persuasive about the way the brand made its presence there – the whole communication was so simple, direct and bang on. But here’s a thought – if every brand out there on the shelves decides to spruce up its communication script, what does the confused shopper do? That’s where other factors play their part I suppose.

2. What looks good sells good

It’s hard not to get drawn to something that looks good. It’s basic human nature. So there I was, strolling around and my eyes completely captivated by this cosy-looking corner with a distinct name that brought to mind memories of childhood, grandma and summer vacations. The counter stocked pickles and an assortment of traditional sauces and other ingredients. Decked up to convey a rustic, village feel, the space seemed like an invitation to try a delectable spread of delicacies. So what was it that drew the eyes and the feet – the distinct visual presentation? The unique imagery and recall? Perhaps a mix of both? I got to admit, what looks good and feels good certainly loosens the purse strings!

3. But first, show me what it does....

I keep coming across the term ‘experiential’. But on the day when my attention was caught by this product that said ‘compact vacuum cleaner’, I realized that no talk about experiential makes sense, if the retail store does not have the bandwidth to offer a real product experience to the consumer. Obviously a product like that (a mini vacuum cleaner) drew a lot of shopper interest. And I wasn’t the only one who first wanted to see how it worked. But with the power socket not working and the staff being totally clueless about it, a whole bunch of us were disappointed. It of course saved us from buying the product!

4. "Excuse me please..."

And that reminds me – the role of shopping staff. In India particularly, no amount of technology intervention can stop us from seeking out human assistance. It’s in our genes. Perhaps the millennials are different. But the role of staff can never be discounted even in the swankiest, most high-tech retail environment. So it is disappointing when you come across store staff members who are misinformed, ignorant, uncommunicative, rude, inefficient or all of the above! Hypermarkets in metro cities attract a lot of expat shoppers. The need for sales staff to thus be fluent in English, communicative and have clear knowledge about the store layout and product categories is crucial. In a way, they are also the cultural ambassadors. But I must also say that I had a very pleasant encounter with the counter girl at the cosmetics section. She patiently helped me with the right choice of lipstick without hard selling any particular brand.

5. Thank god for technology!

But having said all that about human interaction, I must admit that I’m also a big lover of technology, or rather of what technology does to make our lives smoother. For it was with a big sigh of relief that I noticed the self -check out kiosks at the store. With the queues at all the cash counters extending right up to the store aisles, these kiosks were a true blessing! And that was not at all. The store also had interactive kiosks where one could get a full view of the store layout and the product categories and brands in stock. It was user friendly and smart. Such a pity that very few shoppers really used it.

6. Oh I can spend the whole day here!

Well, all good things must end. And so must my retail indulgence. So having checked out, did I head to the exit right away? No. The warm aromas wafting from the store café were too tempting not to succumb to. So it looked like my retail indulgence had not really ended yet! Lugging my new purchases I made straight for the café to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and a plate of lip-smacking snacks.

And then it occurred to me that retail therapy did do its work. But only because the store space today has emerged to be more than just a transactional space. It is becoming a space that stokes the social, personal and material aspirations. And the possibilities are limitless, even in a grocery selling supermarket space. Today it is a store café; tomorrow it could be a live kitchen -- a platform for aspiring master chefs, a gallery to showcase talent, a place that brings together families and communities…. there really is an endless scope. So are the brands, the retailers and everyone else on the eco system stepping up fast enough to meet the evolving shopper needs?

 

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