A few weeks back I invested a princely sum of money to buy my Airmax 2010 Nike shoes from the flagship store in San Francisco. Last week, just before traveling again, I washed my shoes and was aghast to see a big hole on the inside lining of my brand new shoes. I photographed it and sent the complaint to the marketing folks at Nike India – got ‘Shunya’ (zero) response. This made me madder. Armed with the receipt and with war in mind, I stormed into the New York store determined to make a fuss and noise. This was the ‘Indian’ consumer psyche kicking in – ready to fight and draw blood to set right what should not have gone wrong!

The ‘returns’ counter had a very pleasant girl who greeted me and asked me my problem. When I snarlingly showed her the hole, she shrugged, said ‘oops’, and asked if I wanted my money back? Her reaction took less than 7 seconds. I melted. Yet the Indian consumer was still kicking. "Yeah - gimme my money back", I grumbled. She did and then pulled out her trump card – she gave me a 20% discount on any purchase bought within the hour in that store. Well, you guessed it – I bought the same pair of shoes (new color), pocketed enough dollars for a great dinner, walked out feeling like a prince and started doing social marketing for Nike!

Can you ever imagine this happening in India?

Just another day in paradise...

Just another day in paradise…

Why does Retail Service in all the stores we visit in India – be a boutique or a super mall suck so much?

I believe:

The staff at the retail counters doesn’t use the goods they sell and have no information about the product.

The folks in Nike USA are athletes. They know everything about running or the sport that interests you. The guys at the Nike store in Mumbai have fat paunches. They wear Nike shoes but I’m sure only as ‘store wear’. The Nike guy in SFO asked me what kind of running stride I had. I had never heard of this before. The guys in Mumbai did not understand the difference between running and jogging.

The brand owners have to make these sales folks use the product and ‘get into’ the brand they sell.

- The Brand owner hasn’t educated the sales folks about the philosophy of what their service standards globally are.

The Tommy Hilfiger stores in India are pathetic! The store sales folks never smile – they look like they are recovering from an epidemic or something – neither offer fashion advise nor bother checking if your size is available beyond what’s upfront. When I walk into a Tommy store in the USA – the experience is absolutely the opposite. The problem is that I expect the same experience irrespective of which Tommy store I visit!

Big brand owners must learn from the original software exporters of India who sent young engineers abroad on assignments and then ‘contracted’ them legally to work with the firm when they came back.  The big retail brands should send a few key Sales and Service folks to their International flagship stores or even as just consumers walking the high streets of New York or LA. The investment will be well worth it.

- The orientation should be ‘service’ and not ‘sales’ because sales precede great service automatically sooner or later.

The Apple store in San Francisco gives you free lessons on how to use and juice Twitter or begin blogging. It’s an open classroom – just come, sit, learn and go. Nowhere do you get the feeling that someone is going to sell you something. In India, within a few minutes of walking into any store, someone will ask you what you want. When I answer – ‘nothing’, I get glared at! Why the hell did you ask me in the first place?

The Oberoi and Taj groups in India and my favourite – Jet Airways have done a spectacular job in selling service to the India consumer not the product. Stay put in an Oberoi or Taj lobby for hours and no one will disturb you. Put the key brands sales teams thru a hotel or airline experience and then put them in front of consumers.

- Don’t focus on looking smart yourself – make the consumer smart instead!

I still remember walking into the Levis counter at Vama (Mumbai) a couple of years back (Vama incidentally wins my prize for the absolutely worst store…in terms of service in the world). The girls at the Levis counter were slim and pretty, chewing gum, strutting around and constantly chatting among themselves without a bother in the world that they had a job to do. I saw a few customers (girls and their moms) standing on the side absolutely intimidated and shadowed by these ‘modern’ girls! I asked one of these wannabe models what was the difference between all those red, blue and black ‘tabs’ of Levis  – she looked snidely at her partner and asked if she knew… in a tone that made me feel like a moron. (hmmm… shouldn’t she have known in the first place)?

The customers in the corner had vanished and so also had vanished valuable sales for Levis.

Tell Sales people to either become models or Sales people and thus choose between one profession. Don’t mix them up.

International brands can open as many stores in India as they want and stuff them up till the walls burst, but it’s the sales folks who will make the cash register ring. Set that right first.

Send me your retail experience in India or anyplace else as a comment and contribute to this piece.


Originally posted on May 16, 2011 on rodinhood.com


Related articles by me on this subject:

Why my Paanwala is better that the Honda car salesman

Why isn't there a Nobel Prize for customer delight?


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I guess folks like you n me would remember Julia Roberts' 'Pretty Woman"
There was a scene when the streetwalker julia was thrown out of a upmarket store. She returned after making purchases from another store and said to those sales staff: "you work on commission right? biggg mistake" and showed them the wares she had bought, and the kind of commission these girls could have made.
I think in a bootstrapped country like ours, money will do louder talking.
As walmarts will come in, slowly a culture where these sales people will have their monthly salary linked to the sales they make will come in, and that should have a positive effect. In a primitive society, the motivation to work, be polite and nice is perhaps more "in your face", so either a carrot or a stick is more obviously needed.

Another sad part is our population. We are so many, that outlets really don't care about customer retention by being nice and all. They will give you a loyalty card with points to be encashed at ridiculous prices at some distant point in time. Apart from that, an irate customer is welcome to go away coz there is enough wannabe crowd waiting to come in.

What an amazing post and something that I completely connect with! I also have this feeling that in terms of sales service you get what you pay for. Most of these employees get paid peanuts and considering that they are the driving force behind these stores at the very least they should have performance linked pay and commissions so that they are atleast motivated to do better. I also agree with your point of the product knowledge - this is such a key component that is ignored and you just dont get that feeling of excitement at entering a Adidas store in India (like, yeah! I am on my way to Fitness) as you do in other countries because neither do the staff know anything about the shoes beyond Yes Maam this looks good and they don't care. 

Nice post Alok. In general we lack a good CRM strategy in India. Even large companies do not have a structured approach to CRM. Getting New customers to the stores / site is getting increasingly difficult - thanks to the slumping economy and the ever increasing Cost of Advertising. Its so much More important to retain your existing customers now.

With a global economy in place, its often Not possible to compete with Multi Nationals or enter into a "Price War" with other companies. But the one thing that you can Make you Stand apart is having a good Customer Relation. 

A good customer relation is a valid point here Aneja, but that is the problem of an average India retail store.
Once they see the sales happening at the counter, they feel their job is done.

I once asked Vijay Sales Manager in Mumbai(is a great guy) about this CRM.
You know what he told me, his reply was
" People especially managers assume that a customer when he purchases any item, his job is done. They do not think of this one sale as a chance to start to a long lasting Customer Relationship." This shortsightedness brings in the inefficiency that Alok is talking about. 

@Alok. Great post. It was a delight to read mainly because I could relate to it. 

Tejas Nimbargi

Totally agree with you Tejas. One has to look at the long term potential.

In the US almost all products have what they call  "100% satisfaction guaranteed. In other words, you can return the product within 30 days if you are not satisfied - and they literally mean it. For ex u can wear a shoes for 30 days, go back to the store, shrug your shoulders and simply say u didn't like it. You will get full refund.

Now I know that may not happen in India, but at least the salesmen can be nice when they sell a product to you, or at least be allowed to exchange the product if it has a manufacturing defect.

Totally agree with this! Having experienced such things first hand, we have tried our level best to keep this in mind before any sales exec goes on the floor of a Stuffcool Store. We train our sales staff not with the perspective of selling, but with a perspective of helping the customer make a decision. We have the advantage of being small right now i.e. taking decisions faster, interacting with customers directly etc. Going by the feedback we have received till now, it is quite encouraging & keeping fingers crossed that things just keep improving.

I know the above post is true from the fact that customers have shared horrible experiences with other retail stores & are really "wide-eyed" surprised at the level of service they get from us. We drool over this feedback, but prevent it from entering our heads or else we may stop improving & lose focus on the customer experience.

We have 2 stores, 1 at the Mumbai Domestic Airport 1B & 1 at R City Mall, Ghatkopar. I request fellow Rodinhooders, including Alok sir, to please visit our stores and share your experience with me at jeetu (at) stuffcool.com ; We have also tried to create an improved shopping experience @ our online store, stuffcool.com. Do give that a try too :)

Thank you

Great to see we are all moving in the Right direction. Would love to visit your store sometime.

Would be pleasure to meet you :) Do let me know whenever you are in Mumbai..will arrange a visit for you to the store :) 

I am humbled. Will surely keep in touch!

Thank you :) Looking forward to our meeting..

Nice post and can really connect with it. I've often experienced disappointing service at coffee shops. CCD baristas err, attendants say 'not available' to an Americano (it says 'black coffee' on their menu) and refuse to serve it chilled (it is not served at their cafes). Juhu Costa baristas are often curt, forget to serve water and stay locked up in the washroom for a smoke. Starbucks,on the other hand, makes you feel loved! They smile, greet you and understand what they serve.

I have already ranted about this in one of my replies in another post, so no point repeating this again.

But, this definitely is a pet peeve of mine. Hardly any thought going into "Service". Everything is about sales.

I think most business owners have this mentality of churning rather than customer retention. Perhaps it may be coming from the rationale of infinite supply of buyers considering the large population base. Also, I am not sure the sales people even have prior sales experience, let alone knowledge of the products they are selling. Customer handling should be a big part of the sales training.


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