Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Nov 24, 2003
Marketing - Strategy
Browse now, buy later - the new mantra
Prestige smart kitchen, the showroom of Prestige kitchen products in Chennai. - Shaju John
Chennai , Nov. 23
HOW does the idea of a store that displays wares you can browse to your heart's content sound? More and more companies across various sectors are placing faith in this concept. In these days of retail heaven, it is high time every outing, however mundane the product, became an experience in itself. And that's what these stores sell. More than the products, the experience.
Mr K.E. Ranganathan, General Manager (Marketing & Sales), Parryware - the sanitaryware products division of EID Parry (India) Ltd - which recently set up `experiencentres' in Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore, says: "Consumers nowadays want to touch and feel stuff, even in categories that didn't come in for that much consideration or afford that opportunity earlier, like furniture or wall tiles. And some categories of products demand making an informed purchase, which a dealer may not always be equipped to deal with."
Another purpose these centres serve is acquainting consumers with new products and informing them that the company has a wider range than what they are usually known for.
Mr Chandru Kalro, Senior Vice-President (Marketing), TTK Prestige, which has set up Smart Kitchens in the last few months, says: "For a long time we were seen as a pressure cooker company, but in the last 3-4 years, we introduced many other products. However, the kitchenware industry suffered from lack of good display. Why would the consumer part with her money without good information?"
The Smart Kitchens display the entire range of Prestige products and are sales centres as well.
The experience centres are also helpful in building the brand. Apart from giving the company a modern image, MTR's Namma MTR outlets serve a three-fold purpose: they sell the entire range of MTR's `complete meal solutions', offer product demonstrations and sampling for its instant foods at its concept kitchen, and act as food courts and ice-cream parlours.
New concepts can also be explained at these centres, as in the case of Standard Electric Appliances, which markets the Venus brand of water heaters.
The company has set up display centres for its solar and gas water heaters to clear consumers' misconceptions. They also help the manufacturer get instant feedback and carry out product improvements, if necessary.
The trend is growing at a fast clip. Mr Kalro says that the Smart Kitchens will soon be opened across the country, as "they will make a big difference in the long run".
As of now, there are 11 centres; at least seven more will be established in the next two months. They will soon be equipped with live kitchens, too.
H&R Johnson (India), a tiles company, has set up display centres in Chennai, Bangalore, Kozhikode, Kochi, Coimbatore and Pune. Soon, Madurai and Thiruvananthapuram will join the map, and by March, they will be extended to Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. Parryware plans to add 4-5 centres soon.
Some of the centres offer value-added services too. At the Parryware centres, customised software aids customers in designing their own bathrooms - something that till now was an architect's prerogative.
There is also a video of the manufacturing process to boost customer confidence. Advice and estimates are given. "It gives us an opportunity to upgrade the customer, and it's word-of-mouth power too," Mr Ranganathan said.
H&R Johnson too has a free interior design consultancy associated with its Bangalore outlet. The designer will make house visits to plan the bathrooms based on budget, wall and floor concepts.
These display centres also dispense with the need for advertising, to a certain extent.
Given a good location, they speak for the brand, according to the manufacturers.
Companies don't expect major results in the short term from the experience centres.
Consumer response is tracked but most of them say that for now, the focus is not on sales.
As such, the expenditure on these centres is clubbed with that spent on advertising and other brand-building efforts. Clearly, the consumer is at the centre of the experience.
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