Thank You India: A Refreshing Retail Tonic

Travel broadens the mind but also helps to focus it on what is most important and what can often be forgotten or neglected on our journey through the particularly frenzied and changing landscape of retail.


I was fortunate enough recently to be invited to speak at the In-Store Asia 2015 event in Mumbai. What I found was energy, enthusiasm and real excitement about the future of Indian retail and not just through words but clearly through the actions that many companies are actively taking.

However what was most refreshing both in the formal presentations but also the private conversations was the focus on the important fundamentals of retail and the efforts to get those correct. It is no lesser temptation for Indian companies to be distracted by retail technologies, omni-channel innovations and the myriad of marketing mobilisations that are now present under anyone’s sun, yet so refreshing to be talking about assortment and stores and customers.

The retail audience was a constant reality check against the flights of fancy and distractions from the real issues. Clearly of importance were the issues of building customer loyalty, delivering price competitiveness but also unique value through customer service, store environment and the product proposition.

Indian consumers are the same as the world over in wanting the right product, at the right price, but equally appreciative of choice, quality, differentiation in the offer and increasingly the ability to buy, pay and collect products at their convenience.

In a fascinating omni-channel environment the small family stores continue to provide free home delivery and store collection in a model that has been sustainable for many years, against the back-drop of the larger international business offering the same convenience but at seemingly unsustainable levels with pay on delivery and free delivery.

In more advanced retail markets we may sometimes flatter ourselves as to our expertise and implementation of commercial retail best practice, to gloss over the shortcomings in our assortments, the wobbles we have in supply chain and deliveries, the lack of clarity and engagement of our store layouts and designs, and go chasing the novelty quick-fixes.

Of course there is merit and incremental sales to be gained from everything from the introduction of smells and sounds into our stores to mannequins that market to our mobiles, as-long as this is not simply the a case of painting the front door whilst the retail foundations of our retail businesses crumble, our walls stand starkly in need or repair and modernisation, and the functional infrastructure requires maintenance and support.

The value of not being at the vanguard, as a nation, of retail evolution is the ability to learn from the mistakes of those that have gone before us. I hope that the apparent plethora of Indian retail innovators continue to learn from this.

And the lesson for ourselves in the evolved and mature markets is not to take our eye off the retail fundamentals and never be too proud to re-address our past achievements and bring them into 21st century retail best practice.