Hans Raemdonck is a globetrotter though he lives in Belgium. On his way to China from India a couple of weeks ago, he was pretty amused with his brief shopping experience in New Delhi.
Actually, Raemdonck should have been miffed. But the gentleman that he is, he politely narrated the story of being completely ignored by staff manning a premium fashion label’s retail outlet at Delhi’s only luxury mall.
“The staff was not interested in selling,” he said gently. However, his colleague and his shopping guide in India pitched in: “They were very dry and very rude. They may be selling luxury products but why are they so stuck-up,” she asked.
There are several others who have complained about the staff attitude at retail stores in luxury malls, especially the one in Delhi made famous by a flop Bollywood flick. But when Raemdonck protests, howsoever softly, retailers and brand owners must sit up and take note.
Raemdonck is no ordinary customer. He is a shopper-marketing expert with the international research firm Synovate. As the global CEO of marketing sciences at the research company, he claims he observes (read “I spy”) shoppers and, accordingly, advises brand owners and retailers on how to influence you to buy more.
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A doctorate in exact sciences (chemistry, mathematics and physics), he started out as an expert with Proctor and Gamble (in Brussels) who developed laundry detergents for the company. But he quickly moved to consumer insights and launched his own marketing research agency Columbus that was acquired by Synovate in 2005.
To continue his shopping story, staff at the first luxury store did not bother about him at all. Assistants at the second store, too, were anything but helpful. Eventually it was his India colleague who found him the belt he was looking for. Since he flies across the globe, Raemdonck should know if luxury brands behave like this in other markets.
No way, he said. The staff helps you look for what you want. If you do not get it, they think of a smart way to connect and persuade you to buy something else. “In its New York store, the fashion brand that ignored me here offers coffee,” he said.
Although he insisted on underplaying the value of his first impressions of India’s market, Raemdonck admitted that the luxury mall he visited had no atmosphere either (read look and feel, background music, lighting, etc.) to hold the interest of a customer for an extended period. You have to keep people in longer for them to spend and if you are feeling good, you are inclined to buy more.
A visit to a modern mass-market retail chain attempting the proximity store format also confounded him. During the day there were at least 10 staff members in one of the aisles filling in the racks with personal care products. Obviously customers would avoid that aisle. His impression: No engagement. It was more like a warehouse than a modern retail outlet.
Incidents such as these may have given Raemdonck the hope to find clients in the country. In any case, he is currently focused on Brazil, Russia, India and China (Bric) to grow his business. In a bid to influence customer choice, companies in the UK and the US are already investing big time in shopper marketing that is growing faster than mainline advertising and trade promotions. Marketeers in the genre believe that companies can create a lot of new demand in the store at the point of sale.
By the way, for the moment it is manufacturers/brand owners who are responsible for 80% of the investments going into shopper marketing research. Only 20% comes from retailers commissioning such studies.
For instance, if a chocolate brand wants to improve sales at a store, shopper-marketing experts rethink its placement strategy. Since chocolates are associated with guilt (for being fattening), customers may avoid walking down the aisle that stocks the sweet. The product should then share shelf space with planned or a must-buy category such as coffee. Clearly, someone out there is observing our shopping behaviour closely. In fact, several big retail stores abroad have chips in the shopping carts that record the trolley (read your) movement to figure out the red-hot zones (those with highest footfalls) in a store.
Shopper-marketeers are attempting to influence your brand choices. Meaning, that you may have come to buy Tide but pick up another detergent at the store. Raemdonck wouldn’t share the tricks to do that.
But it is interesting to learn how these marketeers view us. We as shoppers are divided into “finders”, who enter the store and know exactly what brand to buy. Then there are “deciders” who use the store to decide the brand. “If you are in the decider category, you need different marketing activities,” he said.
Consumers are also classified on the basis of their shopping missions as they choose their retail format accordingly. The same consumer could be on a different shopping mission on different days, namely, leisure shopping, stocking or top-up buy. You could visit a small retail shop for topping up on, say, meat or cheese, for that dinner tonight. However, for your monthly shopping you could be visiting a hypermarket.
Shopper marketing—which is like spying on us—is still at a nascent stage in India but promises to evolve with the evolution of India’s retail landscape. The new generation of shoppers will look beyond the functional and demand enhanced shopping experience. And unlike Raemdonck they will not be polite when brands or retailers fall short of their expectations.
Shuchi Bansal is marketing and media editor with Mint. Comment at email@example.com