The big retail fight Fiptee percent off!!!! Booms the sound system in the hypermarket. It’s packed on a Saturday evening. People jostle for the right-sized, right-feeling vegetables and snort at bad ones. The in-house cakewala is offering a one-on-one with free bites to anyone who seems to have the time to stop. Almost every piece of apparel seems to be on a massive discount, but the pricing still doesn’t seem right compared to the quality of material on display. The lines at the weighing counters are long and frustration mounts at those with a truckload of items to weigh. The trolley traffic resembles the traffic on the roads of the city. We wanted to buy some Sugar Free which couldn’t be seen anywhere. Should be there, surely? Didn’t seem like it. So we looked around for some help. As not entirely unexpected, there was no store executive in sight. Are they ever present, my wife mutters. Hypermarkets are not known to be the friendliest of places. We go round and round till we almost turn turtle. We finally checked up with a store guy who had come to stock up the aisles and promptly got directed to the sugar section, which didn’t have Sugar Free, of course. So we just dropped the idea. Let’s pick up some pulses, I said. Wife says, no way. The pricing of such items is better in DMart according to her. She goes on to tell me that the pricing factor in unbranded eatables is good at Total and that fresh produce is good at Hyper City. Oh, so do we need to go all over town to get stuff? She says, not really, you just need to plan it better, especially since all of them are quite near each other. Talk of cannibalization. Not a single store who has got all the things right. Each store becomes known for certain specific advantages, and becomes the store identity. Sugar, sorry food for thought. Anyway, back to the store grime. Filled up carts queue up at the billing counters. The billing counter seems designed to create queues, maybe to give us Indians the familiar feeling of standing in lines everywhere. And then there are people with the Sodexo coupons which strains the patience levels even more. And then there are arguments at the billing counter which prompts some in the queue to blurt out their exasperation. And then there are items whose bar codes just do not get recognized by the machines. The guy at the billing counter swipes the item from right to left, vice versa and all possible angles after which starts typing it out in the system with a resigned look on his face. We sputter out of the store and the security guy demands the receipt, which we’ve got used to over time and is not an irritant any more. What he checks is best known to himself. Maybe its right to think that he’s more of a psychologist who looks at our appearance and decides that we’re not the pilferers. Turn out in some shabby clothing and unkempt look and he’s sure to rummage through your bag and match things with the bill. Got out, finally! A big thank you to whoever invented the travellator. There’s nothing more pleasing that walking a marathon and then letting a driverless machine give some rest to you, however short the travel may be. Okay, travellator ecstasy is now over and we land up at KFC. Good old place! Nice to see some sort of customer service. However, in spite of whatever planning you do on spending, you end up shelling out 30% more. Without any regrets as well. There’s no resistance. The card comes out in an auto-pilot mode, the payment is done and you resolve to stick to the budget next time, with a bit of luck maybe. Do stores of a particular brand stay consistent to its image or does each store become a separate brand in itself catering to the specific needs of its immediate catchment? Most of the brands follow the consistency model. However in case of a hyper/supermarket, could it be better, going by increasing competition, to create a store-specific image? The increasing diversity in population and the tendency of cities to have different demographic clusters could lead to such a scenario. Let’s get back on track. The online cacophony begins with the Billion Day sale. Almost a replica of the Republic Day sale of Big Bazaar. All hands on a connected device. Ready, steady, click! The invitation pricing of some items mentioned in the ToI front page leads all of us to turn into online Usain Bolts. Some items could rather have been given away free. The noise gets louder, the online queues get longer and frustration mounts. And we were deriding the hypermarket. Shame on us! The pricing of online items become dynamic? We heard reports of prices increasing. It becomes a desperate measure to get something in our carts and successfully bill it. The urge to part away with money for any item, worthwhile or not, is just irresistible. Get any deep discounted item and sell it on olx, eh? The initial euphoria turns sour quickly. No one to shout at or speak to either. Payments not going through, products not available, pricing gone out of the window, chaos, pandemonium (of the silent variety) and we are reminded of the sour grapes story. We shut the laptop down, maybe with a bang, and head out of home, careful not to tap the mobile app. Was it the ease of sale that brought about this rush? Was it because it was an online portal? One tends to believe that if such pricing was put out by any brick and mortar store, the response would have been quite the same. So, in a way, the Billion Day sale allowed a peek into the real potential of sales in India. A chain of stores can get almost the entire town to spend on products and maybe at better service levels. With the Big Billion debacle, it is clear that there is no substitute to a good store experience. The expectations from the next such sale would also get reset to a lower level. The brick and mortar stores, especially the large format multi-product ones need a bit of re-invention and put in some investments into ensuring that customers are attended to, the staff are trained to handle multiple things and not work in silos (“don’t know saar, I’m not in this department), take customer feedback properly, put up a very visible grievance cell (online and offline), and generally evolve as a brand which is portrayed in some of the PSU Bank television advertisements. The time is now, when the online platforms have lost some of its sheen and people begin to appreciate the store down the road.