How I shop

August 9, 2007

From a mailing list on which I find many interesting conversations, comes this quote (it’s good only for a week from here’s the quote about shopkeeping methods, as well…)

An interesting user experience-related issue.

"On a tour of one of his supermarkets, Kishore Biyani notes that shopping carts are getting stuck in the narrow aisles, wheat and lentils have spilled onto the floor, black spots cover the onions and it's difficult to hear above the constant in-store announcements. He grins and congratulates the store manager. Mr. Biyani, 45 years old, has built a large business and a family fortune on the simple premise that, in India, chaos sells. Americans and Europeans might like to shop in pristine and quiet stores where products are carefully arranged. But when Mr. Biyani tried that in Western-style supermarkets he opened in India six years ago, too many customers walked down the wide aisles, past neatly stocked shelves and out the door without buying. Mr. Biyani says he soon figured out what he was doing wrong. Shopping in such a sterile environment didn't appeal to the lower middle-class shoppers he was targeting. They were more comfortable in the tiny, cramped stores -- often filled with haggling customers -- that typify Indian shopping. Most Indians buy their fresh produce from vendors who keep vegetables under burlap sacks." I disagree very strongly with Mr Biyani. Here's how *I* shop. Since I am a housewife ( I don't think working women do this), I go to a kirana shop. The guy started out on his own about 12 years ago, with a couple of brothers added to the strength in the first six months. Three months ago they moved to a building which they had constructed, where two upper floors are for the accomodation and feeding of the various people they bring in from Mewar in Rajasthan where the original extended family comes from (they outgrew the extended family and started to bring in others from the village, and now, from the area.) I have been taken to see the living quarters. Neat and tidy, with three men sharing a bathroom. A communal kitchen cooks simple meals for the men. One of the shop assistants told me he now is regularly able to contribute to his family's kitty back "home". They go home once in about two years, for about a month. That's about the same as I have seen with similar level jobs in the Gulf. The vending model is simple. All goods are fetched by aforementioned young men and the customer can see it only OTC. At one stroke, this eliminates any shoplifting on the part of the customer; and since the young shop assistants are, esentially, immigrants who are being housed and fed, there's not much chance of shoplifting on their side, either. A fairly wide avenue for overheads eliminated at the source. The shop sells everything below the Maximum Retail Price (which I think happens to be one of the biggest frauds perpetrated on a consuming public). A one-kg pack of detergent, for example, costs about five or six rupees less than the MRP. Customers are allowed to look at the expiry dates and mfg dates of products and exchange them. Since I have always gone shopping myself, and never send servants or drivers, I have always been able to return any unsatisfactory goods for exchange or cash. Hence,it is I who can ensure that the quality of what I buy is good. I am still trying to find a name for this shop-consumer relationship..the shop owner and the assistants all know me perfectly well, and I know all of them. We, however, never exchange any social chitchat. But once or twice I have not had enough (or any) cash....I was told I could bring the goods home and take them the money later. No credit cards, no problems. One mark of the success of this shop is that local small shopkeepers also come to shop here. Selling the goods at their shops at MRP gives them enough of a margin....and that says something about how much money I am really saving by shopping here. Of course, the shop is always crowded. My husband has an eatery philosophy...if you see two eateries and one is crowded...go to the crowded one. There is a reason it is crowded. I also solve this problem by going either at 10am or at 3pm...lean times. I Iearlier make, and take along, a shopping list (written in Hindi!) and give it to whoever comes to serve me. Yes, it takes a while, but no longer than it would take me in a supermarket with the checkout fact, if I suddenly think of something else while the amount is being totted up (calculators have only recently been introduced; the original members of the extended family carried the prices in their heads and would total things in a trice) it is brought and added to the pile...I don't have to go anywhere or lose my place in the queue. I do not have an array of lousy magazines or high-calorie candy to distract me and part me from my cash as I wait for checkout. I am not tempted to buy unnecessary stuff as I browse the aisles. (I do buy some stuff sometimes, when the shop assistant mentions some special discounts that might apply...but that would not be candy or carbonated drinks or shoddy knicknacks.) In fact, often, I am able to tell the assistant,for example, "I don't want the 'free bucket' that comes with this detergent" and I get the price knocked down by another 50 rupees. So much for the "free offers" that are given by department stores. When I take my neighbour's kids along, a packet of biscuits or chocolates suffices for them; they are not tempted to browse along the junk food ailsles, or ask me to buy expensive "kiddy" stuff. I do not have to buy industrial quantities of products to qualify for discounts. I think, as a consumer, I am extremely lucky to live in a country where this kind of frugal, efficient retail model exists. This is, for me, the best grocery retail system. My shopping is not "fun" it's not "chaos", real or artificial, either. But it is, all the same, a very good experience.