This morning at the supermarket, I was goosed by the security guard’s hand-held scanner while her colleague had a good nosy through my handbag then burped in my face (Ladies, you’ve got to work on those people skills); I only wanted a packet of teabags. There are many things I love about living in Mumbai but the retail experience isn’t one of them.
And, even once you’re inside the store; it’s not exactly a Horn of Plenty. It’s the same old stale bread, dented tins and stinky meat halls. People want good quality and affordable fresh food and lots of choice and at the moment they’re not getting it. I am hoping that’s all going to change in 2013 when (and if) India welcomes the Big Guns. So, come on down Tesco, come on down Wal-Mart, come on down Carrefour and let the competition begin! It’s time to light a rocket under some of these complacent, over-priced and unhygienic less-than-supermarkets; they’ve been taking the Mickey for far too long.
When I first came to Mumbai three-and-a-half years ago it took me a month to find a supermarket. I’d been living off a diet of rice and Mars Bars since I got off the plane so I must have been feeling a bit delirious because I shelled out R500 for a packet of imported Weetabix. I couldn’t wait to get them home and into a bowl of milk. Imagine my surprise when I ripped open the packet to find them crawling with weevils. I took them straight back but didn’t get the profuse apology I might have expected. I could almost see the guy thinking: Why is this foreigner getting so worked up about a few weevils? T.I.I — this is India, dude. So, now I still eat Weetabix, I just never look down, I need the protein to be honest; it’s not like I can pop out and buy a nice piece of smoked mackerel, is it?
I understand that customer service in the retail industry is a relatively new concept in India so it’s no surprise that one or two things may need ironing out. So retail bosses, will you let me give you some free advice? I do have quite a lot of experience in the shopping arena. Are you ready? You make your customer feel like a thief when you insist she surrenders her shopping bags before entering the store. You make your customer feel like a terrorist when she has to take one between the cheeks before you let her in. Your customer does not appreciate being followed around the store at a distance of two inches by an untrained assistant who looks like a frightened rabbit if you ask her to stop breathing down your neck. Finally, don’t always expect the customer to have the right change, that’s your job! Thank you. Have a nice day.
Mumbai is one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in the world, and it is making giant forward strides into the future but, along the way, the bar on some things needs to be raised. Foreign Direct Investment can only lead to a better Mumbai. The market is so massive and varied that the Mom and Pop shops have nothing to fear. Look around the city, there’s no danger of it becoming as homogenised as the rest of the world just because there’s the odd Starbucks on the corner or a Tesco’s selling fresh crayfish and rocket sandwiches on granary bread with a lemon and garlic dressing. So welcome 2013 — bring it on!