Why customer 'trials' are critical

Am in Cochin till the weekend. My every retail encounter in Kerala leaves me bemused at how Retail-illiterate the state of Kerala is. But then I am reminded of how the Barack Obama type wealth redistribution, anti-industry policy that has been practice here, in the garb of social justice, has left Kerala business-bankrupt.

Take my encounter at Varkey's, a leading supermarket chain in Cochin. I picked up a business magazine at the store and was browsing through the same, when one of the store personnel came up to me, and told me that, reading in the store wasn't allowed. I put the magazine back and decided not to buy despite the fact that it contained reports I was interested in.

The assumption that retailers make, I guess, is that, if one were to read through a magazine, one wouldn't buy. I wonder why not make the opposite assumption? If the customer were to browse through a magazine, the probability of purchase becomes that much higher. At least that's the assumption that a book store like Landmark at the Forum Mall in Bangalore makes. They even provide the reader with enough of facilities to sit around, in the store, and read. They know, that's a sure sign of a probable sale.

'Trialability' is many a times critical to consumers deciding on a purchase. 'Trials' must be encouraged than discouraged. The Kerala Retailer behaviour is similar to the Music Industry's stupidity regarding online music downloads. Its long-standing argument was that, Internet downloading was responsible for a slump in CD sales, with album sales falling 5% in the year 2002. But surveys showed otherwise. Music fans who downloaded songs from the Internet went on to actually buy more albums. Market research company Music Programming Ltd (MPL) said 87% of its respondents who downloaded music admitted they bought albums after hearing tracks through the Internet. An MPL spokesperson said: "Downloading is actually a 'try before you buy' tool for a significant amount of people".

I wonder if the retailers in Kerala would ever get the importance of consumer 'trials'? My guess is they won't. Not until the state's bogus social justice policies are abandoned to welcome competition ridden capitalism. And that seems an eternity away.


Hummingbird said…
It is not only Kerala which is retail illiterate but T.Nadu too from which I hail.

I have had innumerable experiences in Madras wherein the seller (not necessarily departmental store) but ordinary shop owners (of any product) including flower vendors on the road side, who resort to such behaviour. You touch it, then its yours - you have to buy it. Otherwise all hell will break loose (including superior quality Madras Tamil!). By nature, I don't do window shopping - but go for shopping, only when I want to buy something.

My experience in Bombay (where we are currently living) has been in general pleasant. Any shop I go, even if for safety sake (out of Madras experience) I say upfront that I just want to see, still the owner/employee will always say "no problem". They will go on to display the product. I guess its part of their business culture.

May be the business culture in both T Nadu and Kerala is poor and that could be one answer for your experience in Varkeys.

Another reason could be these days (may be since past many years) the content quality in the magazines has gone down and so the person from Varkeys might have thought that if you read the one which you liked, then you may not buy it at all. In the case of books, as they are normally expected to have more pages than a magazine, maybe that fear won't be there.

One thing which strikes me is the trust which the average shop keeper in Bombay displays vis-a-vis a Madras shopkeeper (or Cochin shopkeeper). I guess by nature we (TN/Kerala) are insecure and suspicious. And, so we want to make maximum profit out of minimum transactions.

As part of some official work, I had been to Varkeys (visited some locations in Cochin & Trichur). I had consulted a few Keralite friends/colleagues and uniformly they said - "Ha! Varkeys. Its good". But with your experience being not so good, it gives me a feeling may be by Kerala standards (in comparison with local small stores) Varkeys is good, but not by outside standards. Further, to my knowledge (atleast 18 months back) there is no serious competition to Varkeys in Kerala (of its size) though Spencers etc had started opening shops. Lack of serious competition leads to not so great quality service.

I had read an interesting write-up by Praveen Aggarwal and Rajiv Vaidyanathan in Mint ("Why we feel obligated to return favours", Mint, 25.02.2008) (Link - http://www.livemint.com/articles/2008/02/25002733/Why-we-feel-obligated-to-retur.html). May be this can also explain why we tend to buy when we are allowed to feel/see/use the product.

I am neither a professional marketing person nor an expert in human psychology. I am also not an academic. Hence, it is possible, all the reasons which I have given may be wrong, in which case, kindly ignore these comments.

Warm regards.

- Dilip R.V. Kumar
Hummingbird said…
Further to my above comment, I should add that amongst other shops, Varkeys looked good to me, with variety of products and reasonably priced too (matched with the positive response which my Keralite friends had given).

I think they had understood local needs/sensibilities (eg. separate non-veg section) and were providing that. That could be one reason for the almost uniform positive feedback from Keralites.

Is it that your experience was an unfortunate yet stray incident? Thinking further, may be if there is another experience in another location shop of Varkeys, we can conclude that this is their Company policy. I guess, till then, we can give them the benefit of doubt with the hope the competition will make sure that companies in general become more customer friendly in their approach.


- Dilip R.V. Kumar.
Ray Titus said…

Though you may not be a Marketing person or an expert in Human Psychology, you are pretty insightful :)

Interesting to note the TN-Kerala similarities.
The 'obligatory urge' too is fascinating to study and may explain the magazine purchase behaviour.
Also, I admit my experience at Varkey's may be an exception not the rule.

Thank you for your comments. Most appreciate it.

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