Branding and traditional retail

Last night, the wife sent me to the grocer with a rather long shopping list. The grocer in question is Bhuvaneshwari Traders, a rather efficient “traditional retail” store close to home. There are lots of shop-boys there to service your requests, billing happens in a jiffy (yes, you get a printed bill) and they usually tend to stock most items that you are likely to  need. Of course, being a small kirana, they’re not able to stock a particularly wide variety of SKUs (and I don’t think that makes business sense, as well), but they seem to do quite awesome business by serving most of the customers’ needs, and very quickly.

It is in this kind of a context, I realize, that branding plays a major impact. Twice in my “shopping process”, I had to decide on the brand of a good quickly, and both times, I went for a brand that was on top of my mind – a brand that had “pull marketed” well enough for me to remember them. So, the shopping process consisted of my reading out from my long prepared list, and the shop boys producing those items at a phenomenal speed. The speed at which those guys worked made me believe that it was an insult to myself, and to them, if the speed at which I ordered was to be much slower. This was like Vyaasa dicatating the Mahabharata to his scribe Ganesha. Since Ganesha was so fast in writing, Vyaasa was compelled to dictate at the same rate.

So, when I asked for “1 kg salt”, the shopkeeper responded with “which brand?”. Given that I had to respond quickly, I had about a split second to decide what brand of salt I wanted. Captain Cook came to mind, with its ads of the “free flowing” salt. But then, I remembered having been told that the brand stopped production some ten years ago. The next thing that came to mind was Tata Salt, and I immediately remembered that my mother used to use the same. I also remembered their recent ad on Kannada TV “deshada uppu” (the country’s salt). I didn’t need to think further.

A few items down the list, when I asked for Garam Masala, two shop boys popped up with two different brands. Now, I don’t recall having bought too much Garam Masala earlier in life, and  I didn’t recall any ads either. But then, one of the packets produced was “MTR Garam Masala” and the other had a name that I had never heard. Here, the general branding of the two manufacturers in question played its part, and I instinctively went for MTR.

The purchase process for “traditional retail” is significantly different from that of “modern retail” (the supermarkets and the likes), and I hope, and think, that Indian marketers understand this difference in order to market their goods appropriately. While it is true that in the traditional retail context, “sales” plays a large part – give higher margins to the shopkeeper, and he will “push” (since some customers take his recommendation) your product rather than a competitor’s – there is also the “pull” factor. It is very rarely in these contexts that a customer sees a number of competing products side by side and has time to make a rational decision – most shopkeepers don’t afford them that luxury. The key to this is efficient branding, which leads to the customer demanding a particular brand of products, so that the shopkeeper has no opportunity to push the one that gives him better margins (some shopkeepers do try this – offering a competing brand claiming it is superior, but I’m not sure customers buy this).

And I think a lot of Indian marketers understand this.

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