Kolkata: Six-year-old Anubhav likes to scuba dive.
But he can’t plunge into an underwater odyssey in the midst of the concrete jungle in the eastern fringes on the city where he lives. The spunky youngster isn’t ready to give up on his dream though. And for now, it’s his neighbourhood retail store that is rewarding him for it.
At a recent drawing contest themed “what you want to be,” run by Spencer’s stores, Anubhav’s sketches of scuba diving won him the top prize.
Part of the retailer’s customer engagement campaign, the contest and scores of other programmes that collaborate with local schools to host talent shows, quiz contests, poetry, debating and the like, are bringing people such as Anubhav and his parents back to the stores.
The strategies that aim reaching out to neighbourhood communities are becoming a big hit with the retail industry, and several big brand retail chains are using these innovative ways to keep the customer interested to not just drive up sales during hard times but also improve the image of organized retail lately battered by negative news.
“The purpose of our programmes is community building for customers and adding value to their lives,” said Samar Singh Sheikhawat, vice-president of marketing at Spencer’s Retail Ltd, which runs 400 stores across 65 cities in India.
“It’s creative engagement is not only for kids but for their mothers, too,” said Anubhav’s mother Pallavi Mukherjee, who lives in Kankurgachi. “Through such activities, kids internalize learning with fun.”
Spencer’s also runs a programme for women, which includes workshops on cookery, home improvement, make-up tips, health, career counselling, diction and parenting. “The workshops are not only enriching but also leave a positive impression of the brand,” said Rita Giri, who participated in a skin-care and cookery workshop conducted through her residential welfare association in Ramgarh in south Kolkata.
The retailer has earmarked 10% of its ad spend for the two programmes, though it wasn’t willing to disclose the actual amount.
Like Spencer’s, Pantaloons Retail (India) Ltd, has increased its focus on its customer-connect programme. As part of the plan, the chain runs blood donation camps, creative sessions for women and children, drawing competitions, and magic shows for kids. Pantaloons’ eastern region head Sandeep Marwaha said, “They are a big draw.”
Big Bazaar, an arm of Pantaloon Retail that owns 87 department stores across the country, organizes blood camps, anti-pollution drives, and cleaning up of hospitals as part of its local community-centric outreach strategy. “Our strategy prefers to create value with our customers over plain marketing,” said Rajan Malhotra, chief executive officer of Big Bazaar.
The increase in engagement campaigns comes at a time when organized retail has taken a beating due to widespread protests. Small traders, farmers and shopkeepers wary over big format retail, have opposed private investment in it. Traders fear new competition that they say would take away 40 million jobs.
Large-scale protests and demonstrations had stymied plans of Reliance Retail Ltd, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Ltd, and a joint venture of Wal-Mart Store Inc. and Bharti Enterprises, one of the leading mobile telephony operators in the country.
Reliance, India’s biggest listed company, fired more than 1,000 people and closed stores after protests in northern and eastern India.
Foreign retail multinationals such as Carrefour SA and Tesco Plc. have also halted their investment plans in the country. Though local retailers such as Spencer’s and Big Bazaar have been operating hundreds of stores in India without facing protests, they could benefit from a positive brand association, or being seen as people friendly, and reaching out to people’s hearts and minds and not just wallets.
“We sometimes use the platform as an opportunity to clear the air. We talk about how retail benefits the society through quality service, standards and improving the quality of life,” Spencer’s Sheikhawat said.
Some of this customer engagement is delivering tangible results for retailers with an increase in sales. Dasaratha Raman, president of RPG Cellucom India Pvt. Ltd, that runs the Music World and the Books and Beyond stores, says its customer engagement programmes have been effective. “The strategy drives more people to our stores and increase our sales by 15-20%,” he said.
Sheikhawat agrees. The number of visitors to Spencer’s stores rose by 15-20% where it has conducted workshops, he said.
The retailer aims to reach 500,000 schoolchildren by tying up with 1,000 schools, and had conducted 130 workshops last year across Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata, and in Kerala this year.