Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Media Clutter ? Try building a word of mouth program instead !

With evolving consumer preferences and media habits – and consumers spending an ever increasing  time on their smartphones and on the internet, gaining their attention and building brand propositions and equity had made life only tougher for marketers. It’s a given therefore, that the inclusion and integration of new mediums in marketing plans can’t be ignored. However, merely having a spend plan that integrates all new mediums to reach out your core message to prospective customers isn’t enough; especially when there is a need to differentiate and gain consumer traction rapidly.
To supplement conventional communication efforts in building a positive association and context for the brand, it becomes imperative for brands to also invest in building word of mouth for the brand. This is especially important for businesses and brands that seek to challenge the status quo or wish to influence deeply ingrained consumer habits; though it’s proven to be as useful for brands that simply seek to up their shares in highly competitive contexts.
Building word of mouth is not as easy or as simple as having a great product or service that your consumers like and then spontaneously talk about. In an increasingly cluttered and noisy world, it requires a dedicated and structured program with multiple interventions, initiatives and a sound understanding of the cascading network effects that could be achieved.
Research indicates that consumers especially millennials, are in active ad avoidance mode. They switch channels on TV and radio, block ads on the internet and on their smartphones or get into similar ad avoidance behaviour across other mediums. Most see ads as an unwanted disruption and headache that they can live without. Their preference is increasingly moving to content that they can download and consume ad free at their convenience. Conventional ad heavy media options are increasingly out of sync with this changing reality. On the other hand is growing evidence of the staggering growth of personalised feedback and recommendations shared by friends, family, colleagues esp on social media platforms. Whether you intend to try a new restaurant, or buy a new washing machine or a food brand to makes you lose weight, a word from a friend or acquaintance can make a big difference.  At the core of this phenomenon is the broad understanding that – we as human beings are social creatures who love to share; boast; display; project etc . What is undeniable is that we do tend to trust and believe the personalised feedback and comments so shared as objective, non-partisan and without the associated commercial trappings of paid advertising.  
It is in this context that service businesses (retail, hospitality etc ) and new product businesses can benefit immensely by operating programs that systematically channel the writer, photographer and critic that social media has made us all. After all, we as consumers do get tickled by knowledge and by whats’ new and interesting - more than by forms of paid advertising. Additionally, there is implicit trust in the information so shared. The crux of a word of mouth program therefore rests on credible consumer generated content.

The guiding principle behind building a word of mouth or advocacy program is to turn your consumers into influencers by channelling their individual energy and interest in your brand and providing platforms for them to share the same with other like-minded consumers. As the owner of the program, the business or brand needs to continuously provide relevant insights, inputs and in general the fuel to inspire, educate, excite and intrigue customers in equal measure. Customers have a way to imbibe what the brand shares & layer this with their own experiences. They generate it as their own content and share it with their extended families on social platforms as well as in one on one interactions.
The role of the brand is to manage and facilitate this process.

How to go about creating Positive Word of Mouth
1.      Identify target segments that are most likely to share experiences and generate  content
Lets say, your brand targets a chosen demographic - of (say) urban women, 25 -50 years old belonging to upper socio economic segments. From this – basis your brand needs, you could identify specific psychographic segments that are more likely to benefit and share your brand with others. For instance, you could chose women who are in their mid-thirties and are highly health and fitness conscious and lead an active lifestyle as well as those who are in their mid-forties but more affluent and prefer brands that showcase their status as TG.
2. Put a Structure in Place
To avoid making appear your content and program as adhoc and inconsistent, it is important to put in place a structure to generate continuous content that is relevant to your target customers. This structure should encompass
(a)  Activities and events that are staged offline in the real world. This diverse blend of activities can include performances, lectures, talks, demonstrations, one on ones with celebrities, celebrity appearances, wine & cheese evenings, fun events for kids or whatever that’s relevant to the brand & the business.
(b) A list of influencers – A list should be drawn up and could include celebrities, experts and everyday people who resonate with your customers and who you could work with. These could be journalists, public figures, bloggers, social media stars, chefs, nutritionists, doctors, fitness experts, fashionistas or even fans of the brand with a large following on social platforms.
Experts should ideally be those who are seen as objective, trustworthy and as thought leaders by customers; not those who are seen to be making recommendations due to monetary considerations. So film and sports celebrities must be used judiciously and sporadically. Also, they should be from fields that are relevant to customers and to your business. To be able to work with them over time, its important that we understand their area of expertise as much as we expect them to understand our business.
A diverse set of influencers – say a mix of celebrities, social media experts, and domain experts can be a potent combination to build strong network effects.
(c) A consistent tonality and defined zone for content – As brand owners we should define the broad contours in which content must operate and make all effort to keep it relevant & unique. Brands willing to walk this path must look at themselves as thought leaders and be honest in their tonality and in ensuring authenticity of content being shared.
3. Grow your fans and Social Media Community over time with consistent and Relatable content
Don’t be in a hurry to accumulate fans and followers overnight. Cultivate them over time.

The easiest way to directly communicate with your audience and get them talking as well is via social platforms. But for this to happen, just having a page on the social networks is not enough. The trick is to use a consistent approach to dish out relevant content regularly, in a manner that is friendly, not preachy and humanises the brand, and makes it more relatable. It should get your fans talking.

For content that is non-activity based, it is best to focus it around different themes so that different pieces over the next week or fortnight don’t start looking disjointed , making customers wonder what your brand stands for.

While you are engaged in growing your base of followers, one area you should be wary of is acquiring customers through excessive paid promotions. My own experience is that for sharply positioned brands, paid acquisitions end up targeting and acquiring large sets of customers who don’t necessarily relate to the brand and thus serve no real in getting influenced or influencing others.  However, it’s a great option for brands targeting the large mass of consumers.
4. VARM your customers, fans and followers
a)      Value them - Show your customers that you value them and their contribution by acknowledging and viraling good content generated by them.
b)      Acknowledge their achievements as much as you would like them to acknowledge your special achievements and milestones. This has to go beyond wishing them on their birthdays and anniversaries. Integrate with their lives. Build stronger one-to-one relationships with your customers; and buzz will follow naturally.
c)      Responsive - Make your platforms as aggressively responsive as possible. Nothing irks customers more than delayed responses. A well-handled complaint, irrespective of the issue is more likely to keep customers happy and engaged and talking positively about your brand or service.
d)      Make them feel privileged - Invite select few to preview your new content before it becomes public or invite them to your events and programs or get them to try your new products or services before they are out in the public domain. The feeling of being part of an exclusive set and being recognised is something that gets their creative juices flowing and gets them to actively engage in generating positive content and sharing it happily on their walls online and with their friends offline.
Word of mouth marketing can be highly effective and relatively inexpensive if it’s part of a larger integrated content strategy.

5. Create and maximise Network Effects
To be able to maximise the impact, you could plan a mix of offline events and social media activities running sequentially and sometimes concurrently. The target is to have different sets of your target consumers and fans talk about your brand and help build its equity distinctly.

For instance, for say an apparel retail business, or for a cosmetic retail store or an upmarket furniture or gourmet retail business, you could
(a) Content themes - have your regular social media content themes centred around your specific product lines, new launches, your sourcing approach or the refined nature of your products or about how to choose fine products from the rest etc etc. Run contests regularly to keep customers interested and your brand on top of their mind
(b) Experts - you can intersperse this social platform activity by getting domain experts (say every month) to conduct live demos in your stores and one on ones with customers. These demos themselves need not be drab. These could be exciting sessions where keen customers  actually learn a trick or two.  But the trick here lies in milking every event – before, during and post the event both offline (through leaflets, newspaper listings etc) as well as online.
c) Events / Evenings - In some months you may wish to either skip these demos or just add onto them say a wine and cheese evening for your social media stars and keen customers or a super celeb to visit your stores or endorse a product line or two.
d) Surprise Events - Keep the interest alive by surprise events and news of sightings of stars (from films, sports, Tv world etc) at your stores.
e) Needless to say, whatever you do offline, take the pain to viral the same online.
f) Changes in your policies and promotions must be actively disseminated on your platforms to allow customers to both know about it as well as discuss it if need be.

A consistent, transparent and exciting approach to building word of mouth helps create multiple ripples across diverse consumer segments and generates for the brand a wave of support sooner than later.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Is your organisation paying lip service to customer ??

Customer focus at one level appears to be something that no business should be able to do without. Yet there are countless examples of businesses that would rather focus on unending analysis and countless (mostly unproductive) meetings to discuss balance targets and team performance than on understanding the voice of the customer or acting on it.
One common syndrome that afflicts many of these organisations is the belief that they are customer centric. I am yet to meet a CEO who says that his organisation isn’t customer centric. After-all their sales went up last year, they conduct research once in a way and have set up a customer service department as well. If that isn’t being customer centric, then what is ?
To my mind, irrespective of the industry the organisation is a part of, or its business model, an organisation that equates customer focus and customer centricity with having a customer service cell or infrequent research that it conducts – is in some ways like a frog in the well, unaware and oblivious of what lies ahead and most likely to fail when the business environment gets tough. An uptick in sales is therefore more likely to be temporary.
To me the answer about the customer focus of an organisation lies not in whether it has a customer service department or the frequency with which it conducts research. It lies in focusing on the customer at the expense of everything else. It lies in the attitude of management when they would rather give preference to resolving customer issues than attending to the demands of their superiors. it also depends on the linkages of the customer insights or service teams with the rest of the organisation and the integration of consumer feedback into the processes that this organisation runs on. In this context, an organisation that responds, attends to and closes customer queries, concerns or feedback in 24 hours vs 4 days would definitely be more customer focused and customer centric in its approach.
Customer-centricity rests on 2 core pillars and a bedrock
1.      The first pillar : Consistent and ongoing understanding of customer needs, desires, motives and actual demonstrated behaviours including feedback on products and services;
2.      The second pillar : Processes that collate and convert this information into insights that become the raw material for new or altered propositions, programs and products
3.      The bedrock : The firm belief that the organisation needs to err on side of delivering superior customer experience even in situations where there could be a conflict between company need and customer need.
The first pillar is all about actively and proactively listening to customers. Informally at stores and markets etc as well as formally through periodic research as well as through solicited and unsolicited feedback on company’s websites, social media platforms, etc.
The second pillar is about the routing of information gathered through above processes and to appropriate departments at pre-defined intervals and discussions about how the insights gained can be used to refine processes or introduce new products and services and defining both timelines as well as process owners for the same.
The bedrock is perhaps the most critical. It is the belief system that makes the organisation design its products and services; it is what makes leaders and teams design  processes that continuously captures and it is what helps inculcate and percolate this value into rest of the team members.
It therefore becomes critical for the head of the organisation to demonstrate the same value system on a day to day basis for it to percolate down to his team. A leader can easily get away into zillions of other priorities on a day to day basis, but one who is customer focused would not hesitate to roll up his sleeves to daily look at or help resolve actual customer issues (a) from a view that the problem that caused the customer some grief should be looked at not as an isolated incident but as a systemic issue that must be addressed and relevant corrections made to prevent recurrence of similar issues (b) the value of sending the right signals to the rest of the organisation.
In this context, several corporate leaders like Mr Anand Mahindra, are seen as trend setters. They are available to anyone who cares to reach out to them on social media and actively address these issues. It is not just a great practice of a leader demonstrating consumer centricity but also a great PR tool and even better for converting aggrieved customers into firm believers and brand advocates.
For those of you wanting to start the journey – the chart below captures the broad points.

To make matters clear – let me explain through a real life situation faced at one of our businesses. Through ongoing consumer tracking in our gourmet retail business, we figured that one of the pain points for customers was time taken to transact at the cash tills. At one level it was a relatively minor issue that could have been neglected as business was continuously delivering high double digit same store growth. However, we chose to accept and address this feedback from existing customers seriously.
The entire cashiering process was mapped to understand that the time taken at cash tills was a function of several things including placement of the bar code reader on the cash till, the space available on the till for the cashier to scan products & bag them simultaneously, updated inventory in the system, number of redundant & duplicate SKUs carrying the same bar code as the product being scanned and training of the new cashiers in the system (given the high attrition rates) etc. So addressing the billing speed issue needed to actually tackle all of these for a really meaningful impact on the customer.
Programs and action plans were made for each of the identified issues and key responsibilities and timelines defined. For each of the Process owners, it was ensured that relevant KPIs are modified and actions that impacted billing speed, incorporated. Stake holders identified and Clear targets set.
We modified our reports dashboard to have a monthly update on billing speed for each store that could be further drilled down to the level of each cashier and then into every transaction. Simultaneously, we closely monitored customer feedback and as performance on billing speed improved, we actually saw a fall in the level of complaints related to billing speed.

The journey of capturing what is important to the customer and actions and ownership to address the issues, is however continuous and relentless. It is critical as well. For, customers are smart and their observation and perception that the company creates products and services that resonate with them or responds to their concerns and feedback in meaningful ways, goes a long way in building their sense of overall satisfaction and delight with the business. It also directly impacts the way they talk about the business and recommend it to their peers et al. This perception of a company that cares can seldom be created through a single action. It is something that is built over time into the fabric (and the processes) of the entire organisation through consistent effort and belief that it is the customer that is their raison d’etre. Mere lip service to customer focus can obviously never be enough.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Effective Leadership Styles for Retail businesses

Given the constrained levels of profitability in retail, the sheer significance of improved business fundamentals in the industry is high. In this context what usually gets spoken about is the need to generate increased business through repeat footfalls and efficient and productive teams that can grow margins as well as make the business customer centric. The sub text that often gets missed is about the kind of leadership style that can effectively enable the organization to achieve these objectives.
What differentiates great and effective leaders from ordinary Managers lies as much in the long term vision, focus and quality of decisions that they make as it does in how those decisions are arrived at or how those are implemented. The focus of this article is really on the latter two aspects or the leadership style.

Talk is usually focused on task centricity vs people centricity as an approach. One school of thought vouches for leaders who drive discipline, rigour and business programs incessantly. However, very often, task focus is confused for effectiveness! This school of thought favours leaders that drive their direct reports relentlessly who are then expected to drive the rest of their down-stream teams in a similar cascading fashion. Nothing wrong with it except that it doesn’t factor in the levels of knowledge, understanding or concerns and feedback that ground staff may have.

Democratic styles have their own drawbacks in retail situations where generally there tend to be too many loose and open ends. Speed of execution could suffer!

What needs to be remembered is that retail organizations in general depend a great deal on the energy and efficiency levels of front end consumer facing staff in the field as also of the lower down staff across functions. Ensuring their efficiency and passion on a day to day basis is of paramount importance especially if the business wishes to make a day to day connect with customers. This calls for an appropriate leadership style and an organization culture that can help the organization being perceived consistently as consumer friendly and efficient.

The kind of organization culture that encourages such an environment is often a silent contributor to the success of the business. Imagine walking into stores where you not only like the merchandise on offer but also value the staff for their ability to smile, connect, recommend and service your requirements efficiently. Such a culture and environment is in most cases not an accidental flash and it flows in the day to day working of the organization. It cascades down pretty much from its leadership and has some important tenets…like a team that understands its role, its goals, is empowered to take decisions in crucial / conflict situations and is confident that the management will back them in crunch situations.

Those who have been in retail understand that the success of retail businesses lies as much in their execution as in their strategy. The job at hand of running a retail business is a hectic, intense and energy sapping exercise. It requires a combination of not just deep analytical skills, or attention to detail but also genuine people skills, quick decisive action and the passion to give it your all. Given the 365 day nature of the job, it requires leaders who are available to their teams at all times and then who can back their teams when they most need it. For this reason alone, it has little or no place for either the 9 to 5 types or for those who can’t work well with large teams or have little concern for people in their teams.

It is important for leaders to understand and imbibe the fact that overly autocratic styles that emphasize the “do it as I say” or “only my way or the highway” approach could be deeply flawed in the context of retail. While they can ensure discipline and task orientation in the short run, they are more likely to lead to unhappiness and a serious feeling of demotivation and not being understood in the medium to long run, causing stress, burnout and eventually a higher level of attrition. Also willingness and openness to share facts with the leader can present a serious challenge for reportees. They are more likely to refrain from sharing issues, concerns and bad and awkward news rather than risk unpleasantness from leaders who believe they know best. This is tricky in situations where team members down the levels have better product, process and domain knowledge than their leaders.

Leadership styles that have relatively a higher probability of succeeding in retail business are collaborative, flexible and situational. Such styles encourage and create an environment of transparency and openness, where employees across levels feel happy to be empowered and to be a significant part of the system and therefore work efficiently on a day to day basis. The environment encourages and welcomes them to speak up on a day to day basis and share their issues and concerns with their direct superiors without feeling constrained about escalating issues when the need arises. The environment while keeping consumer facing employees energized enough to be giving off their best daily, also enables leaders to derive critical ground knowledge consistently. This added ground knowledge substantially improves their ability to make appropriate as well as fast decisions. And none of this comes at the expense of any loss of focus on tasks or business goals.

When it comes to goals and tasks – several Managers prefer to set goals, leaving the nitty-gritty of execution to the concerned teams. There is nothing wrong with that except in situations where the targets and goals are far removed and way too tough to comprehend or achieve. Here true leaders don’t abandon their colleagues. Instead, they lead the way by working with the teams and demonstrate “what to do and how to do it”.

In general, it is critical to treat team members in every industry with respect, especially so in retail organizations. This is so because the behavior of team members’ often mirrors that of their bosses. Any laxity here directly reflects in terms of a grumbling and sulking environment and couldn’t care less attitude of retail staff.

For leaders, looking or acting the part of a CEO is the easy part of leadership. The tougher part is knowing and understanding what works or what doesn’t. A combination of common sense acquired through experience and the ability to work towards a solution without ego in a manner that breaks barriers and builds natural connects just makes it easier. Simultaneously, leaders that allows team members to evolve and grow, pat them on the back every now and then, kick them hard when needed, set a vision and target, define the broad path but allow them freedom and flexibility to execute within given boundaries and importantly show them the path when they flounder, are likely to elicit a far greater sense of ownership, responsibility and desired outcomes from their teams as well as effectively lead their organisations towards higher order goals. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Pushing high Quality Private label and Avoiding Common Mistakes

http://www.fritolay.com/images/default-source/blue-bag-image/doritos-nacho-cheese.png?sfvrsn=2Image result for lexclusif

Private label products are clearly an important though not the only solution to improve profitability for retailers. Yet they represent an important tool to improve long term customer retention and value. Given this context, it is not a surprise to see this as having been a focus area for numerous retailers over the last couple of years… and yet, poor quality and sometimes poorly packaged products abound.
To ensure consistency and high quality results, it is imperative to avoid common pitfalls and mistakes during product development, while the products are in store and in their day to day management.

During development
      Treat the PL brand as an independent entity not just an easy to sell rip off of a national brand.  Develop it with the same rigour and concern for consumer acceptance in every possible way including product testing. Also as a brand ensure that it has distinct USPs like every good brand must have.
·         Understand competition – in terms of competing brands, claims, perceived quality levels, product features, packaging aesthetics, pricing, et al. Some retailers do a packaging rip off of national brands. While it can help their consumers understand what the product stands for, it in no way elevates the product stand out on its own as a high quality product. The only reason why customers may prefer such a product would be a lower price tag and not product superiority.
·         Proportion of product name vs brand name – Given that PL brands – in general do not tend to be as well known as national brands, it makes sense to keep the proportion of the product category name bigger than or atleast equal to the brand name. This ensures that in no case the product is missed on the shelf by prospective customers. Only in a situation where the retail chain operates on predominantly PL brands and does not stock national brands, can the risk of the brand name being bigger -be taken.

Leading National Brand                                                 Private label brand
(More weightage to brand name)                                            (More weightage to product category)

·         Invest in good packaging – go looking for design / packaging agencies that can can truly add value. Don’t blindly ape national brands nor compromise on packaging quality. Aim to identify genuine need gaps in terms of product taste, form or packaging.
·         Never trade quality with price – Negotiate with your manufacturers with eyes and ears wide open. Ensure that product specifications are recorded and understood and not touched when pricing negotiations are underway. A lower negotiated price should not be at the expense of a lower product spec. While a national brand can, a PL brand that trades quality for a lower price is unlikely to succeed.

       In store
·         Superior Merchandising on the shelf is as key as the development of a high quality product. Placement of PL brands must be comparable or better than the leading brands from a visibility and easy to reach or pick perspective. Placement of PL products on the bottom 2 shelves completely defeats the objective. Similarly on online sites – PL brands must be upfronted better than national brands. 

National brands are usually well merchandised. PL products too could follow the same colour blocking approach.

·         Align with staff – For PL products to be upfronted effectively in stores, it is critical to ensure their consistent availability, superior merchandising and point of sales support at all times – actions that cannot happen without staff understanding, involvement and support. This requires ongoing engagement, dialogue and product understanding (between the PL or category teams at HO and the store teams) and Linkage of private label sales with the overall incentive programs as well.

·         Collaborate with PL contract manufacturers and make them partners in your success. This clearly means understanding their strengths, constraints and motivations as much as you do your own organisatons’.  Streamlining of basic processes and Preferential treatment for PL partners will help elicit their support on a day to day basis and ensure faster growth for the ranges.

·         Invest in checking Quality  – all national brands have teams that ensure consistent quality output for consumers. PL brands that take this area lightly could suffer in terms of being taken for granted by suppliers. Results could range from differing appearance of the end product to poor quality of the end product or even external inclusions like hair, wires or sometimes even mosquitoes and flies contamination in the product. Having your own team to monitor production, packaging and checking quality at inward, in-process and outward level will help drive the desired focus on quality and process compliance.
·         Maintain samples of approved packaging and details of product quality in as much granular a manner as possible – or have it monitored by an external agency. Too often, in the absence of a quality team, these simple aspects tend to get ignored or overlooked and the PL products that hit the shelves month after month don’t necessarily bear a resemblance to when they were originally developed.

@Mohit Khattar

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why encouraging greater participation of women in modern food & grocery retail stores is a good idea?

A cursory look at any modern food & grocery retail store across formats and cities reveals a far greater percentage of men in the workforce than women. In most such stores and formats, women don’t seem to comprise more than 10-15% of the workforce when their number should be atleast 3 times higher, if not more!!
While this may have to do with some of the policies that have shaped modern retail in india and with the prevailing environment of perceived security threats to women’s safety and security, to my mind it also has to do equally with historical perceptions carried by decision makers who in most cases happen to be men on what women staff can or can’t do.
I guess elaborating these perceptions or policies is futile. It will suffice to say that for every perceived drawback and perception there is a robust rationale on why participation of women in food and grocery retail must be encouraged for this sector to move forward.
The following 3 points need to be borne in mind to better understand the recommendation
a)        The end user: Most food and grocery formats stock a multitude of brands and skus – sometimes over 5000 to 7000 SKUs – in a single supermarket store and more than 20000 SKUs (food n grocery) in a hyper!! These are brands, products and SKUs that burgeoning India is familiar with and buys on a day to day basis. While most of such products are consumed by the household in general, there is greater connect that the products have with women – than with men. Think fruits and vegetables, daals and spices, attas, rice, sauces, cooking masalas and pastes, cosmetics, household cleaners, detergents, shampoos and skin creams and so on. For most such products the key end user is a woman.
b)        The decision maker: More than 75% of the shoppers in most such stores happen to be women on a consistent and ongoing basis. They come in, browse, engage, make their choices and then take the final call based on their past experience, recommendation from friends or store staff or basis shelf displays, POS material or by advertising that they may have seen.

c)        Intuitive knowledge: Most employees (incl men and women) that work in the front end as contract staff in retail stores come in from relatively weaker socio-economic segments. So their own first-hand experience with many of the products is likely to be low. In such cases, their intuitive knowledge on such products or their usage is always beneficial.

The Rationale
My view is built around 3 pegs – Intuitive Knowledge, Inherent skills and attitude.

1)        Knowledge: In a scenario where most users and most shoppers who engage with food and other fmcg products are women, as retailers, if we are serious about influencing choices, then one of the first questions that we must ask is  whether the predominant male staff – is aiding or actually becoming a hindrance to achieving the said objective.
How can someone with his own limited experience and intuitiveness (shaped by his gender and past experiences) and perfunctory knowledge of these products suddenly become effective in influencing the choice of consumers who in almost all cases are likely to know more about the product than him. In most such cases, experience shows that women staff members are able to bring their superior innate knowledge (shaped by their gender and experiences) to the fore more effectively and help increase store and format productivity.

2)        Skill: Many of the front end roles in retail stores involve merchandising, maintaining cleanliness and hygiene, cashiering, etc. Again from a larger and maybe traditional perspective, these are roles that have been the domain of women for years. The fact that they seem to enjoy these tasks better than men do, makes it easier for them to appreciate the rigour and  importance of the jobs and to excel in them. Ask a guy to spot dust and grime in the store and ask a woman employee to now do the same thing. The difference would be apparent when you notice the half a dozen areas highlighted by women employees that could be maintained better. Ditto for merchandising stuff on shelves. Women, thanks to their inherent skill tend to arrange and organize better as also maintain hygiene and cleanliness better than their male counterparts. They also tend to be more agile, skilled and in general dexterous with their hands. The fastest cashiers in Natures Basket for instance tend to be women. So more women would mean not just better presented stores but operationally more efficient stores as well – something that consumers are likely to notice and talk about as well as make front line Managers happy.

3)        Attitude: The final point that I make is that of attitude and connect. The way women easily make friends, engage, converse or connect with other women is far superior than the way men connect with women or say even with other men. Observe women on trains, flights, salons, in markets or while exercising in the gym. There is a natural conversation almost always on! They are also likely to be part of many more whatsapp groups than men!! It is rare to find them coming out of any public place without having conversed with at-least one complete stranger. This is again something so intuitive, and so innate that it doesn’t seem to require any extra effort; nor does it seem to be limited to any socio economic class. Unfortunately for most men, forming such easy connects is going against their grain. This makes the job of front end male store staff who are mostly faced with women shoppers, that much more difficult and stressful. Conversely, more women as front end store staff is likely to have longer term benefits in terms of improved productivity as well as improved customer loyalty for the business.

None of the above is to suggest that men can’t do some of the things detailed above as good as women staff members can or that women are good only in the roles described above, or that external training inputs can’t change any of the above, it is just to point out that in certain areas, women are naturally more gifted and all things being equal, better equipped to perform and contribute to the business better.

Arguments from front line Managers ranging from perceived instability in the business due to attrition caused by marriage or pregnancy, in the case of female staff must be challenged with hard data. Surprisingly, attrition – which is in general high across retail businesses - tends to be lower for women than men!!
As retailers and marketeers, we need to be cognizant of this reality. The perceptions that our operations staff may be carrying about the alleged capability of women staff must be challenged by making them understand and appreciate the above. To begin with food retailers could experiment in catchments that are perceived to be safer. The argument to have an open mind and a willingness to experiment to make our retail workplaces more gender diverse stems from the understanding that no one gender can completely understand or appreciate the mindset and behavior of every consumer. By giving women an equal opportunity to showcase their natural skills, we as retailers would go a long way in improving consumer connect and make our stores more productive than what they are today.


Retail theatre can help brick and mortar retailers build repeat footfall

Why retail theatre is here to stay?
With increasing competition at one end and more retail points beginning to look like each other, the consumer has ever increasing choices of where to shop and what to expect in every category from retailers in general. The moot point for brick and mortar retailers is the need to not just bring back customers more frequently but also positively influence their in-store journey, and in general have the ability to influence choices through information, interesting forms of engagement or entertainment. All retailers will tell you that this is easier said than done. What with shrinking attention spans, time constrained lives, traffic overload on roads etc, it is tough to bring customers back to stores in any case. To top this, with increasing penetration and convenience of online retail, the scenario for brick and mortar retailers starts looking even tougher.
It is in the above context, that one needs to examine the significance of retail theatre.
To me, retail theatre is the essence of going beyond the mundane and infusing elements that breathe literally life into a physical store. These elements could be physical, audio-visual or digital or a combination of all of these.
The physical elements could be – product display led, engagement or activity led or even audio-visual led.
Imagine walking into a departmental store – first into the kids section to pick up something for your little star, before venturing into the evening wear section for ladies or for that matter men and then into the home furnishing section. What if, instead of standard uni-tonal music, the audio experience could be different in every section? The chirping of birds and animals in the kids department, followed by mellow music in the ladies wear section and then by a more aggressive sporty music in the men’s section. Would it not enhance the experience for customers and make every section seem real and lively.
Now imagine being in a food store with endless aisles of packaged food products all around you and yet you stand there confused, not sure of what to buy.  Imagine a kiosk in the midst of these aisles, where a cheerful promoter is happily demonstrating a new range of cooking sauces and pastes. Don’t you automatically gravitate towards it? Or a section where the product displays are not on the standard mid floor racks but are displayed loose like in an old style wholesale market? Does it suddenly not cue freshness better than any packaged product ever can. You can not only touch but smell, feel and sample too!
Now think of walking into a furniture store. Rows and rows of endless furniture and furnishings -neatly divided by sections. You start browsing when your eye falls on an oversized screen where you notice one of India’s foremost interior experts sharing practical tips to make your house more beautiful and engaging with customers live!
Or an apparel store with loads of clothes and a line of customers in front of the trial rooms awaiting their turn. Replace this scenario with a Magic Mirror (recently introduced by a leading department store chain in India where customers need not physically try on products. Agreed, It’s a novelty but more than that, its amazingly relevant for the category too.
Digital disruption is another way of grabbing consumer attention. But digital disruption done from the perspective of analytics is likely to be less successful for offline shoppers unless it is specific, in real time and customized for individual shoppers while they shop. For instance, getting personalized offers through the deployment of beacons in stores can be both informative and engaging. Similarly there could be other forms of digital intervention in stores that make the journey more pleasurable and remind a customer what they could be missing if they were shopping online.
All of the above are real life instances where businesses are employing retail theatre to disrupt the journey of a customer inside the store and making it more engaging, more enjoyable and giving the customer a solid reason to return back. One can think of infinite more ways to create and enhance the customers’ journey in stores. But whatever is chosen needs to be scalable and relevant to the business one is so seeking to enhance. These are things that the customer is more likely to remember, talk about and then come back to the store again for.