Saturday, April 15, 2006

Why I shop where I shop

I read an interesting article on consumer spending and shopper habits. According to a study conducted by Yuwa Hedrick-Wong of Wiley titled ‘'Holding Up Half of the Sky',

“By 2014, women consumers in Asia will control more than half a trillion dollars of discretionary spending power. Of this, $335 billion will be from affluent Asia. The emerging countries in Asia will account for the rest, $181 billion.”

"If a society wants robust growth, women must contribute fully to the economy and lead full social lives," declares Wong in the intro. "No company can hope to be successful in Asia's consumer markets without a deep understanding of the women consumers of Asia." For, they not only have a rising share of consumer power, but also decide more "how, when and what to spend."

The significant trends highlighted by the author are that as a larger number of women are working professionals, time has become a scarce resource for them. To utilize their limited time, women want shopping to be fast, convenient and without any fuss.

I absolutely agree with Yuwa'’s findings. I don'’t want the botheration of too many frills and convoluted store configurations. Armed with my list, I want to be done with my shopping as efficiently as possible. It is only another job after all.

I refuse to go to Spencers in Inorbit Mall in Malad on the weekends for this particular reason. There are too many people, the check-out lines are too long, cashiers are usually out of change, items on the Sunday promotion catalog are moved from their regular spots and its near impossible to find someone to tell you where they are now. In short, very inefficient, very time-consuming and leaving a bad taste in the mouth kind of experience.

Spar in Juhu wins on its product selections but loses rather badly on its checkout service. There is no counter space to put your purchases on, no specific lines to stand in and no standard procedures to follow, for employees as well as for customers. I always feel a bit lost and ill at ease because I am never sure what their system is. Stores must make customers feel comfortable in their stores, especially for food retailers where it'’s important to build a base of loyal, returning customers. Plus there is absolutely no parking, always a major deterrant for me to visit a store.

Nature'’s Basket in Lokhandwala has an identity problem, I feel. The product mix is very confusing. Are they only selling fresh fruit and vegetables, as deciphered from the name, logo and pictures on store windows, or are they a complete grocery store? Well, Nature'’s Basket is a bit of both. They sell the basic fruits and vegetables, and not very good ones at that, and also exotic vegetables like baby corn, broccoli, asparagus etc. Their other products are an odd mixture of imported cereals, chips, crisps, pasta sauce, jams and organic stuff from Pondicherry. My problem with Nature'’s Basket is that it does not allow me to do my complete grocery shopping by not stocking basics like pulses, rice, spices, cleaning products. It is a secondary store where I might be able to pick up a couple of things but not everything that I need. That'’s no use to me.

Laxmi General Store is where I currently do most of my shopping from. It'’s technically a kirana store and is part of the unorganized retail sector, but boy is it good or what. The store is constantly changing to find the right mix of product placement and promotion. Till date, I have not been able to think of a single thing that Laxmi does not stock. He seems to have everything under the sun, from notebooks to sewing thread and buttons, wrapping paper, international phone cards, toiletries, cleaning products, plastics besides a huge stock of basic food items. The aisles are narrow, but that's because over 90% of their business is via home delivery, which by the way is quick and efficient. Interestingly, this is one kirana store that places customer service very high on his list. It'’s the convenience of this store that has made me stop going to stores like Spencer’s and Spar, very ironic since I loved the organization of the retail system of the US when I lived there.

Now onto a store that scores high on my list, Fruits and Veggies in Lokhandwala market, near HDFC Bank. This is a gem of a store, stocking primarily fresh fruits and veggies and few bakery items like methi puff pastries (my favorite!), wheat bread and rolls. They have the entire range of exotic veggies, fruits and sprouts. I can count of finding what I want and walking out of the store in 5 minutes flat.

If organized food retailers don'’t understand how to read their primary customers, the local kirana store that has years of experience is going to end up taking a sizable chunk of the market.

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