A seminar was organised on the 12th of May in Zeist (the Netherlands) on “the Opportunities & Challenges for Dutch (Semi-) Processed Food Companies in India”. Highlights of a report and other insights were presented by Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight. Other entrepreneurs who also shared their experiences in India, and the Dutch agricultural counsellor, Wouter Verhey, was present at the event.
The sessions included:
You can download a summary of the report via this link: India – Opportunities Challenges for Dutch Processed Food Companies
Panel Discussion moderated by Mr. Devangshu Dutta, Chief Executive, Third Eyesight at the Indian Retail Congress 2015 (17-18 April 2015). The panel included Mr. Manish Mandhana (Managing Director of Mandhana Industries with the brand Being Human), Mr. Sanjay Warke (Country Head of Toshiba India), Mr. Tanmay Kumar (Chief Financial Officer of Burger King India), Mr. Kinjal Shah (Chief Executive Officer of Crossword Bookstores) and Mr. Ranjan Sharma (Chief Information Officer of Bestseller India, with the brands Vero Moda, Only, Jack & Jones).
The apparel retail sector worldwide thrives on change, on account of fashion as well as season.
In India, for most of the country, weather changes are less extreme, so seasonal change is not a major driver of changeover of wardrobe. Also, more modest incomes reduce the customer’s willingness to buy new clothes frequently.
We believe pricing remains a critical challenge and a barrier to growth. About 5 years ago, Third Eyesight had evaluated the pricing of various brands in the context of the average incomes of their stated target customer group. For a like-to-like comparison with average pricing in Europe, we came to the conclusion that branded merchandise in India should be priced 30-50% lower than it was currently. And this is true not just of international brands that are present in India, but Indian-based companies as well. (In fact, most international brands end up targeting a customer segment in India that is more premium than they would in their home markets.)
Of course, with growing incomes and increasing exposure to fashion trends promoted through various media, larger numbers of Indian consumers are opting to buy more, and more frequently as well. But one only has to look at the share of marked-down product, promotions and end-of-season sales to know that the Indian consumer, by and large, believes that the in-season product is overpriced.
Brands that overestimate the growth possibilities add to the problem by over-ordering – these unjustified expectations are littered across the stores at the end of each season, with big red “Sale” and “Discounted” signs. When it comes to a game of nerves, the Indian consumer has a far stronger ability to hold on to her wallet, than a brand’s ability to hold on to the price line. Most consumers are quite prepared to wait a few extra weeks, rather than buying the product as soon as it hits the shelf.
Part of the problem, at the brands’ end, could be some inflexible costs. The three big productivity issues, in my mind, are: real estate, people and advertising.
Indian retail real estate is definitely among the most expensive in the world, when viewed in the context of sales that can be expected per square foot. Similarly, sales per employee rupee could also be vastly better than they are currently. And lastly, many Indian apparel brands could possibly do better to reallocate at least part of their advertising budget to developing better product and training their sales staff; no amount of loud celebrity endorsement can compensate for disinterested automatons showing bad products at the store.
Technology can certainly be leveraged better at every step of the operation, from design through supply chain, from planogram and merchandise planning to post-sale analytics.
Also, some of the more “modern” operations are, unfortunately, modelled on business processes and merchandise calendars that are more suited to the western retail environment of the 1980s than on best-practice as needed in the Indian retail environment of 2011! The “organised” apparel brands are weighed down by too many reviews, too many batch processes, too little merchant entrepreneurship. There is far too much time and resource wasted at each stage. Decisions are deliberately bottle-necked, under the label of “organisation” and “process-orientation”. The excitement is taken out of fashion; products become “normalised”, safe, boring which the consumer doesn’t really want! Shipments get delayed, missing the peaks of the season. And added cost ends in a price which the customer doesn’t want to pay.
The Indian apparel industry certainly needs a transformation.
Whether this will happen through a rapid shakedown or a more gradual process over the next 10-15 years, whether it will be driven by large international multi-brand retailers when they are allowed to invest directly in the country or by domestic companies, I do believe the industry will see significant shifts in the coming years.
Retailwire hosted an interesting discussion on ethical consumerism, based on Andrew Benett’s description of the decline of hyper-consumerism, and the emergence of a more conscious, frugal consumer in his new book, “Consumed: Rethinking Business in an Era of Mindful Spending”.
In a recent article Benett identified 10 public figures who also act as beacons for mindful consumption. The list includes people as diverse as US first lady Michelle Obama, talk show host & actress Ellen Degeneres, investor Warren Buffet, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and rapper Ludacris.
Of course, Ellen, Ludacris or Oprah have a communication reach that most marketers would kill for. Walmart pushing sustainable technologies in its supply chain could possibly achieve more than many governments around the world would hope to, because its powerful carrot of buying budgets is far stronger for many vendors in Asia, than the sticks of legislation. Many of these are genuine, praiseworthy attempts.
However, much as I would like to believe that all celebrities and high profile businesses are evolving into mindful, careful consumers, that would be a gullible step too far. In the current economic climate, consuming too conspicuously is just “not done.” But that may change as markets improve, jobs expand and incomes rise again.
Having said that, if the current fashionable rash of mindfulness raises the profile of concerns around over-consumption and waste, if it actually drives us towards more sustainable behavior and be more gentle to the planet and our future generations then, well, the end justifies the means.
Andrew Benett’s list is here: Top 10 Public Figures Who Are Also Mindful Consumers.
And this is the discussion on Retailwire on this subject.
There’s been a lively debate on Retailwire.com initiated by Tom Ryan (Managing Editor), and prompted by an article in the Washington Post about how consumers are literally taking matters in their own hands and testing toys and domestic items for the presence of toxic substances.
Some of the commentators feel that this is going too far and could create waves of unnecessary panic, that consumers and consumer advocacy groups do not have the necessary expertise nor a balanced judgement, that it is a job for the government agencies. Others support the move and say that such moves are absolutely in order.
In my opinion, despite good intentions on the retailer’s part and the humongous bureaucracy in the supply chain, if product safety compliance is incomplete and if consumers feel insecure, then they will provide the wake-up call any which way they can.
We may decry the paranoia, but let’s also consider the increase and concentration of risk in recent years due to factors such as:
However the industry may feel about it, I think consumer advocates have the steering wheel on this one. Unless government outlaws ‘unapproved’ testing…but I wonder how palatable that would be, politically speaking.
Here’s the original article from the Washington Post.
And the discussion on Retailwire.com is here (needs a free sign-up).
Advertising Age recently carried an article titled “The Death of Customer Segmentation”, by Michael Fassnacht.
He questions the traditional marketing hypothesis that the better we segment consumers, the better we know what is relevant and the better we can market to them.
Fassnacht argument is that:
This last point is of particular importance, since electronic media – especially websites that customize themselves based on analysis of the users behaviour and history – are becoming more prevalent communication platforms. In fact, for the last few years “mass customization” and “a consumer segment of one” have been fashionable phrases thrown about in marketing circles.
Fassnacht quotes Amazon, Apple and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace to support his well-structured argument.
However, it may be a challenge for traditional retailers and brands to apply the learnings from these brands in their physical stores.
Going further and on a lighter note – or perhaps not 🙂 – if we are to believe the philosophy of the Vedas, the Universe has a head start on “self-segmentation” and “customization of consumer experience” technology. According to it, the world and our experience of it is “Maya,” an illusion product of our mind, and we are free to create and mold it, and experience it as long as we hold the illusion.
If that’s the case, our modern techies and marketers have a long time to go before they climb that technology curve.
The original article is available here: The Death of Consumer Segmentation?
New American Dimensions and Asian-American advertising agency interTrend Communications has just put out a report titled “Asian Indians in the US”.
It is amusing to come across the term “Asian Indians”…only in the USA! :-))
That aside, the executive summary has some interesting insights including:
Retailers in the US might draw a leaf out of British retailers that have significantly tailored their product mix to suit specific immigrant populations. Sure, the UK has a higher proportion of Indians (and other South Asians), but there are enough areas in the US where the South Asian population is high enough to warrant more specific merchandising and marketing.
When I think of the “Indian stores” owned by someone of Indian or South Asian origin in concentrated catchments of high-income South Asians (LA, Houston, Boston etc.), I can’t help thinking of the opportunities missed by the chain stores.
On a separate note, the study says that some respondents “felt that the Asian classification was negative, an attempt to lump Asian Indians in with the rest of Asia when they have a distinct, rich culture that should stand by itself.”
I’m sure other communities would also take exception to such “lumping”.
It is indeed interesting that marketers tend to use the term “Asian”, throwing together diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds from Turkey in the West all the way East to Japan, and throwing segmentation disciplines out of the window.
(The executive summary is available here.)
Delhaize and Unilever may not yet have felt the need to visit a relationship counseler, and of course, the jury’s still out on who (if anyone) will actually win in their battle.
For now, Unilever has lost shelf-space for around 300 of its brands at Delhaize stores.
Delhaize may potentially lose some of the sales that those brands got for it, in case consumers want a specific brand rather than a private label or a substitute brand.
The consumers lose not just in terms of their choice being reduced, but perhaps also in becoming confused about the specific value / benefits of competing products when the certainty of their customary brands is removed. Remember, brand loyalty is built on the predictability of a repeated experience over a period of time. If you remove that factor from the purchase, each purchase becomes an experiment again, until a similar predictability is found.
(For those who missed the previous post, you can read it here.)
Referencing this battle, reactions to a discussion in at least one online poll on www.retailwire.com seem to favour retailers, or equally blame both retailers and suppliers. Only about a quarter of the respondents felt that retailers were not being fair. Considering that the respondent universe comprised of professionals from retail companies, suppliers as well as service providers, this seems to be a surprising result. Or perhaps not? Perhaps brands are no longer delivering a significant value to be able to command a premium over private label?
Some of the reactions from that discussion are reproduced below with permission from Retailwire.
For all those who have admired the consistency and presentability of produce in western supermarkets, here’s proof that tough times really focus us on substance and force us to look beyond skin-deep beauty.
Even in fruits and vegetables.
British supermarket Sainsbury has challenged European Union guidelines that restrict the sales of fruits by certain physical standards. Sainsbury’s is questioning EU regulations that prevent selling “ugly” fruit and vegetables. Due to EU regulations such as size of cauliflower (minimum 11 cm diameter) and the shape of carrots (requirement that there should be a single root, not multiple), Sainsbury estimates that up to one-fifth of what is produced in British farms cannot be sold in the supermarket. According to Sainsbury’s estimate, not following these regulations can help to reduce prices by up to 40%, and reduce wastage by up to 20%. The retailer is also trying to drum up customer support by running an online poll (94% responses were in favour of Sainsbury’s move, at the time this column was being written).
So less beauty could mean more veggies in the supermarket, and more money in everyone’s pocket including, hopefully, the farmer.
And this may also vindicate anyone who has complained that the beautiful veggies and fruits in western supermarkets taste inferior to their “ugly” counterparts sold on Asian hand-carts. Give us more substance and less style, any day.
Let’s look at some other substantial issues that merchants should consider.
Remember “I can’t get no satisfaction”? That’s what Mick Jagger and his mates in the Rolling Stones hit the world in the face with in 1965, allegedly in response to the rampant commercialism they had seen in the US.
After 43 years – at least judging by the modern supermarket shelves – apparently we still ain’t getting no satisfaction. In fact, the array of choice tends towards “overload”.
A typical developed country supermarket is estimated to carry over 40,000 SKU’s. Can you think of 40,000 types of items (or even 10,000) that you would need from the supermarket for your home?
So here’s the result. During my travels, if I’m in a store that is unfamiliar I could spend over an hour wheeling a trolley around before reaching the checkout. The first 5-10 minutes are focussed on figuring out the aisles based on my list. The next 10 minutes are spent picking what is actually on my list. And the rest of the time before the checkout is usually spent browsing through the thousands of SKU’s and picking stuff that we never knew we needed when the family made the shopping list.
Now, the guys who run the supermarkets are generally a smart bunch – they’ve figured that the more options you put in front of consumers, the more they buy. My cash receipts are proof of that. But, as American professor and author Barry Schwartz (“The Paradox of Choice”) says, the point where the choice becomes counter-productive is already well-past in developed markets.
With such overwhelming choice, consumers get into analysis-paralysis. And even after they finally purchase something out of the enormous range, you get shades of post-purchase dissonance. Only, in this case the dissonance, the dissatisfaction is not related to a bad product, but: “What if there I had made another choice? What if there was a better product than this? What if there was something available for less?”
During these times, it is pertinent to also put this in the context of business costs. There is surely a cost of providing that humongous choice in supermarkets. Have we considered what the saving could be, if the variety was reduced, if the product range was consolidated?
Consider the time (and therefore cost) spent on product mix and pricing decisions – surely merchandising teams have to be larger if you have a larger product mix, since each person can only handle a finite workload. Consider the cost of logistics of handling a widely diversified range. Consider the efficiencies lost in diverse production mix. So, does the consumer really need, really even want all that choice?
Retailers like the German chain Aldi raise precisely those questions. Aldi sells about 1,100 SKUs compared to the usual 40,000. And it claims that the typical shopping basket in Aldi’s UK stores is 25% less than competing supermarkets.
Indian retailers, of course, are possibly yet to reach that pain threshold of choice. There are possibly some potentially useful choices that are still missing. But even here, it is well worth taking a hard look at the product offering. With availability levels that can dip as low as 50-60%, it is probably worth asking – what if we dropped XYZ product from our range? Would it really hurt our sales or even our image; or would it help us to focus better on the products that really matter?
If we took our attention away from building such false choices, could the business become more profitable and therefore more sustainable?
The US and European markets are often the source of many a management thought and business model related to consumer products and retail, and of “best practices”.
So, in closing, I should share this question someone asked me recently: “when do you think consumer spending will bounce back in the US?” My first response was, “If only I had a crystal ball”. But the next thought in my mind was what if US consumers actually came to a decision that they had “enough”? What if their excessive consumption was no longer the role model for consumers in emerging economies? What if, instead, the frugal consumers of India and China became the global role model?
What would your business model look like then? Would your corporate be more socially responsible? And would it have a better chance of lasting longer?
For those who are interested in taking this inquiry even further, I can recommend John Naish (“Enough: Breaking Free from the World of More”, 2008), John Lane, Satish Kumar, M. K. Gandhi, Alan Durning (“How Much is Enough?”), or any number of ancient Indian, Chinese, Greek or Roman schools of thought, many of them pigeonholed into “religious” or spiritual categories.
You might also like this video of a talk by Barry Schwartz on Ted.com (below).
Do please share the results of your inquiry with us, too.
“The Indian consumer is a damn tough customer”, said a senior manager a large retailer in India.
But is it really so?
Are we trying to open a simple combination lock (the Indian consumer’s mind) with a complex cryptographic fingerprinting algorithm?
Retailers need to invest in understanding, gauging and benchmarking the local preferences. They need to be able to react to those preferences in a highly local manner. And they need to acknowledge that the consumer is an intelligent value-conscious buyer, not a cost-focussed idiot.
That is the magic 3-number combination to the riches of the Indian consuming market.