Creating chaos for a better customer experience!


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On my recent visit to India I noticed a major shift in consumer behaviour, from the traditional buying of everyday groceries and food items at local mom & pop stores to buying from big box supermarkets, which have gained popularity in the last few years. But are the new supermarkets delivering the right customer experience?

After walking into one such big box retailer called ‘Big Bazaar’ I could not help but notice the different look and feel it had compared to first world supermarkets such as Woolworths or Coles, and with the growing trend towards emulating everything western I wondered why the difference is so stark.

There seemed to be an incessant sense of disarray and commotion present that did not seem to faze the staff or the customers. On researching this immensely successful supermarket chain, which has around 250 stores spread across India, it became clear that that was exactly the customer experience the CEO and the leadership team wanted to provide. The founder and CEO of Future Group, Kishore Biyani, has changed the face of retail in India and is often referred to as the ‘Sam Walton of India'(the founder of Wal-Mart).

Kishore Biyani was clear from the beginning that they had to reflect the look and feel of Indian bazaars at their modern outlets, so that no customer would feel intimidated with the surroundings. This so-called ‘chaos theory’ is implemented in his supermarket as he knew the Indian consumer was not used to shopping in the quiet and pristine environments of western supermarkets, where everything is neatly displayed and there is a lot of room to manoeuvre shopping carts around. Indian customers would simply walk down these wide aisles of neatly stocked shelves without buying.

In India chaos sells and money was therefore spent on trying to make the stores a little messy, with tiny aisles to make it look more crowded and noisy, with constant announcements of deals over the PA system. The middle-class Indian consumer feels more at home with this sort of atmosphere, where there are large bins of goods in the way where they can touch, feel and smell the products, The overcrowded aisles and crammed layout also played to the Indian consumers mindset of the more the people in the store the cheaper it would be, which gives the impression they are scoring good deals.

Indian customers, especially housewives, are used to using all the senses while shopping for food. They like to see, touch, feel and even smell food products before purchasing them. Understanding that the majority of the customers are still not used to processed and packaged food, Big Bazaar played to this sensory experience having products such as wheat, rice, lentils in large buckets, and having a bit of soil on fresh produce that implies it is fresh from the farm.

There are similar examples in China; Chinese Wal-Marts have big tanks of live fish where the customers can pick and choose for themselves then pass the fish over to the clerk to gut it. Chinese customers are more comfortable in picking their own fish, which also ensures freshness, rather than purchasing packaged or frozen fish. To ensure they compete in the local market such steps have become imperative for big box retailers to ensure they are catering to what the customer wants while doing their everyday shopping.

So is this a good customer experience? Even though the stores do not have an ideal layout and are not kept in an immaculate condition, they still provide the right sensory experience for the targeted customer.

The lesson here is that creating a great customer experience is not limited to following ‘assumed’ best practice i.e. having a flawless store or sterile environment (or even the neatest website). It must understand the pulse of the customer and cater specifically to their needs.

Rahul Kakkar
Rahul Kakkar is working as a consultant for the Customer Experience Company, in Sydney Australia, which specializes in management and customer experience design consultancy. Rahul has worked in New Zealand and India previously and has recently completed his MBA in Strategic Management.


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