Sunday, 18 October 2009

A treatise on buyer behaviour based on observational experience, with particular emphasis on matters sartorial

Frivolousness on a Sunday is unbecoming of a serious business writer and therefore the idea of a light post is hereby being discontinued. Instead this is a learned treatise on buyer behaviour.

The mere sight of an Indian lady getting ready to embark on a shopping expedition to buy a sari for Diwali, or a wedding, is sufficient to strike terror of the sort Osama bin Laden can never hope to achieve. Now, the unfortunate member of the male species who happened to have said “I do” in a fit of madness a long time ago, and who has to pay for it (pun intended), deserves our deepest sympathies. For he has to accompany the lady on this misadventure that is closely akin to walking with bare feet, and no clothes, in the depths of the Afghanistan winter to meet the aforementioned Osama to tell him on his face that he is a dandy.

The destination for this expedition is usually T Nagar. There are equivalent locations in every Indian city, but let us stick to Chennai, for some of the most fearsome shoppers reside here. T Nagar, is usually a nice place, except that at such a time, some 64 million other members of female species have the same idea as our lady. With the poor male in tow, looking suitably terrified, our lady descends on one of the torture halls that dot this locality.

She pushes and elbows her way to the front of the jostling throng, and gets ready for the three hour ritual that is about to unfold. Being not athletically inclined, and being of er, rather generous proportions, she finds an empty stool and perches herself on it. The stool resigns itself to its fate. She then announces across the counter that she has come to buy a special sari and can they show her their best wares.

The drama is about to start. The sales girl throws open some 20 saris. Our lady hasn’t moved a muscle. More she says. Another 20 more come out. Still no movement. Until the 50th sari has been flung open, it is considered poor manners to even lift a finger. Once a small mountain has formed in front of her, our lady will start to slowly stir. The cloth is felt. The bottommost in the pile is retrieved and opened out. After about half an hour of humming and hawing, 14 specimens are retrieved for further analysis.

Now comes stage 2 of the process. Each of the 14 specimens is to be opened out by the saleslady and flung over herself so that our lady can judge on how it would look on a human body. Not that the sales girl is any match for our lady's beauty and grace, but still …. The saleslady is expected to now extol the virtues of each sari and comment loudly on how our lady would look stunningly beautiful in each of them. After another half an hour, the shortlist is now down to 3.

Then comes the most scary stage of the process. The terrified male standing on the side has already acquired a terminal case of deep vein thrombosis. The lady now turns to this quivering gentleman to ask him for his opinion. Oh God ! His real thought is that all 3 look unbelievably ugly and garish. And holy cow – each of them costs more than he makes in a month. But he will be instantly decapacitated if he even hints of any such thinking. So he diplomatically tries to suggest that all three look quite good. He is now given a severe tongue lashing on how useless he is and that he cannot even give a simple opinion. Reeling from this assault, he whispers tentatively that the red one seems to be just that little better. Another furious volley results – is he that tasteless and brainless to suggest that the worst of the lot looks a little better. Where has he left his brains ? Serves her right for asking for the judgment of an imbecile. She turns away and promptly pares the shortlist down to 2, excluding the red one.

The next half an hour is pure agony. If you ever want to witness the ultimate throes of indecision, this is the moment. First one is selected. Then the other. They are both opened out, draped on at least 4 women. They are looked at standing, sitting, with one eye, from 45 degrees, felt, touched, caressed ….. God in heaven. Here’s a decision to be made that affects the future of the human race. Please help !

Then a miracle happens. Our lady spies somebody at the far end of the shop looking at another specimen. She jumps out of the starting blocks faster than Usain Bolt. Displaying unknown athletic talent she rushes across and snatches this specimen and announces that this is what she’ll buy. Never mind that hapennings of the last three hours.

Our man can now hardly move. This specimen now costs twice what he earns in a month. With the resigned air reminiscent of an animal being taken to the abattoir, he takes out his card.

There is a post script to this story. Upon reaching home, the lady now thinks this wasn’t a good choice and that they will all return to the shop the next day to exchange it for the red one.

I now challenge my good friend Adesh, who writes a great blog on customer service to use these unique customer insights and develop his theory of consumer behaviour.

Acknowledgement – The inspiration for this post comes from a wonderful and brilliant friend, Priya, who posted on this theme here. Of course, she doesn’t do any of the things listed above !

21 comments:

  1. kiwibloke18/10/09

    ha ha! nice one for a sunday morning indeed. Men I thought knew three or four colors- Black, Blue, Grey and a once in a while brown. But when I see some of the boys rummaging through mountains of shirts of all hues, patterns, prints and labels, the T Nagar Mami is no match. Will look forward to a post on how 20somethings metro men pick up their clothes.
    cheers

    PS: I have a friend who buys 5 black trousers and 9 white shirts every 4 years. His logic and arithmetic is irrefutable. 4 years = 900 formal wears. Each trouser gets washed after two wears, each shirt after one. His logic is shirts last about 100 washes and trousers roughly double. Every 4th year he empties his wardrobe lock, stock and barrel and the ritual repeats!

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  2. Look it from the perspective of the other species. Shopping is such a frustrating experience. you have so many choices. and worse is that there are so many critics. oh - you got this - i got this for 200/- less in that place (so whats the big deal - you spend 200 Rs on auto going to that damn place), hey this colour dosent suit you so much (i am not walking the ramp in india fashion week, so what if the colour dosent suit), did you buy this, this material makes you feel very hot (fine, i am not a door to door fruit seller who is going to walk in the sun), blah blah blah ---- added to this is the male species who find it a torture to first of all accompany and then give any views whatsover to support the struggle. My god - i find it easier selecting candidates who are going to work for me for the next many years than sarees which i am going to wear once in while. I hate shopping! Please empathise, it is not so easy at the other end as well :-)

    incidentally, i did my diwali shopping this year in T nagar only but then i smartly delegated it to someone who is one of the most experienced soldiers in this ordeal - my mom !!!

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  3. when i saw the title on my reader, i was a tad disappointed that it was not going to be one of ur sunday posts, but then that was a mislead..

    i absolutely loathe shopping so i completely understand what it is like to shop with a person who is totally smitten by this entire process..

    an extremely businessy take.. but then its not always the women at fault..

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  4. Looks like you have not been to T Nagar for a while now in tow when mlady was shopping.

    Now the larger of the shops have a row of seats made available to the terrified accommpanying male. A good friend of mine informed he had grown a full blown beard while waiting to be called to pay (with paper or plastic). A wag commented this looks more like the outside corridor of the maternity wards!!!

    You told one side of the story - the specimen the first lady ultimately picked up had been part of a pile being given the once over by another formidable lady and this second lady runs to this end with similar switfness and grabs the specimen discarded by the first lady at this end and purchases that!!!

    Try these shopkeepers - they will give you all the insights of their customer behaviours.

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  5. @kiwi - Oh these metros. They ought to be expelled from the male race. I absolutely want to meet this friend and shake his hand - I think he is a genius !

    @sandhya - Our sympathies are entirely with you milady. Oh what a difficult cross you bear !!

    @AJCL - I can't believe it. Can it really be true. Have I found the first member of the feminine species who does not like shopping. Bravo. We salute you as the rarest of the rare ; in fact unique and alone in the world.

    @CMK - You're a ustad. I admit, I am no match for the unique insights you have gathered. Methinks some significant personal experience has gone into such depths of learning:-).
    Yes, I haven't been to T Nagar for a while. The thought of likening it to the maternity ward is hilarious.

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  6. I completely agree with AJCL! Women alone are not always at fault! Me thinks this is hype :D.

    I avoid shopping with people like this for a reason- I cannot stand the plight of the salesgirl/boy. When quoted that, the person who is accompanied casually reasons, "She/He is being paid for that", which, to me, is unacceptable.

    A dress is, afterall, a dress. If one cannot make a decision on that, from a heap of atleast 50, he/she has many things to regret about!!

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  7. Your opening lines had me ready to shed a tear for those lovely Sunday posts! Boy, was I glad you were kidding!! Please tag all your Sunday posts as such so that a chuckle is ready at hand when we need it the most!! :D

    Shopping for Saris and Gold in Kochi was something I absolutely loathed - especially during Onam and Diwali. When we were kids, I m positive we were squished by older and fatter ladies in a hurry! I have seen how women never look st the pile in front of them - rather they always have their necks craned out to spot what the gaggle of ladies in the far corner are shopping! The accompanying men are having a slumber fest and the kids makes friends with the other kids and have a ball!! The terrified male no longer exists- atleast not in Kochi!! :D

    I just loved this tongue in cheek Business post! :-)

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  8. Exkalibur66618/10/09

    Spare a thought for the poor sales men and women who live through this day in and day out..the process is a freaking mind job..dont know how they retain their sanity. They probably are numb mentally from doing this day in and day out. Great post and enjoyed reading it with further insights provided by CMK & Kiwibloke.

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  9. @athivas - You too ? I know the female readers of this blog are very very special; but this special ? Now I've discovered two ladies who don't do "shopping". Wow !

    But, you think this is hype ?? Come to T Nagar !!

    @thethoughtful train - Write a post on Onam shopping in Kochii please - would love to hear of this vivid picture you are painting.

    I have to visit Kochii - no terrified men ? This I have to see.

    @Exkalibur - The poor salesgirls indeed. And the salesmen - imagine having to do this for a living.

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  10. There is an equivalent of T Nagar in Pune called the Laxmi Rd. and within that an alley called Tulshi Baag! If I have to blackmail my dad for anything, I just suggest him that maybe I should tell mom that "Papa didn't take you shopping to Tulshi Baag for quite some time now... didn't he?"

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  11. I will have to unfortunately join the ranks of ajcl and athivas - sari shopping can be a positively scary experience and I am glad I havent done it in years - can always rely on my mom.

    But your post set off some fond childhood memories of wedding shopping for some older cousins. These were huge communal affairs where all the aunts and grand-aunts and all of us inconsequential kids would congregate at my uncle's in T Nagar where earlier in the day a select group of aunts (supposedly with good taste) would go to Nalli and choose 25 odd saris and bring them home, even though the intention was to buy only 4-5. The bride-to-be would then hold up each of the saris close to her face and look around the room full of women, unsure of the response. Some of the saris would get oohs and aahs while many would be relegated to "romba sumaar". Of course it did not end there because there were decisions to be made regarding which ones were daytime saris versus nighttime saris. Did it match the jewelry that the bride already had, that everyone was intimately familiar with by now...
    Then there would be the trek back to Nalli to return the rest of the saris. Of course some other aunts would end up picking from this lot. Mind you these saris were way above their initial budget, being potentials for the bride - but hey they had been looking for the color combination for so long! Also it had looked so good on the pretty young bride to be:-) As you may have guessed by now, the males in the family had no role to play. Being self-respecting individuals, they would merely do the run to the bank and hand over the cash :-) But what I find amazing is how in those days the stores would trust their loyal customers and allow them to take so many expensive saris home just so they could take a day and think over the decision. Of course the family in turn would never even dream of setting foot into another store, even to browse. (oops... this is long)

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  12. J- I absolutely loved your take and that lil glimpse into ur childhood.. i ofcourse fit my set of faces to the aunts and grand aunts and the rest of the shopping party.. major major nostalgia i tell u..

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  13. haha Ramesh, chanceless top notch!! what a writing yaar, I was laughing all through the words, the scene opening up nicely with every dam details :) sorry cannot help but to picture in the place of poor male specimen :)

    Way to go, write some light material like this as often as you can :)

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  14. @Deepa - You naughty girl .....

    @J - Great write up. See response to AJCL, to which I say Amen. Please consider taking up blogging yourself .....

    @Sri - Delighted that you enjoyed it. Your time is coming, my friend ...

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  15. Anonymous19/10/09

    Thanks - but I'll stick to piggy-back blogging for now :-)
    --J

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  16. Aren't men a tad jealous of the kind of choices we women have in our attire ? can't blame them if they are - After all, men only have their checks and stripes and the "interesting" plains to choose from! The brown borders on black, which borders on blue which borders on gray - so what's the point in surfing the trouser counter?

    Having said this, I would also like to add my name to the list of women who never shop for the sake of shopping ! Even on those rare occasions when I do, I get bored very soon. Just don't have the patience to go over a heap of 50 sarees...

    If I see something I like, I buy it - very rarely do I take the trouble of going in search of that elusive "perfect dress/saree". And never do I make the mistake of dragging my husband into any of my shopping expeditions ( well in my case they are more simple trips than expeditions).

    Incidentally, I have an interesting aunt who probably beats all the T Nagar shoppers hollow! She would do a price comparison across 10-15 shops before buying her sarees, which is not too bad, but then she would also do a price comparison across 10-15 other shops AFTER she buys her saree to make sure she got a fair deal !!! Now, what do you say to that?

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  17. @Lakshmi - See comment of kiwi - apparently there are metro men who wear pink shorst and yellow trousers with floral patterns !

    If your aunt does that, she must surely rank as the scariest person in town !!!

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  18. LOL.....the best part was "Upon reaching home, the lady now thinks this wasn’t a good choice and that they will all return to the shop the next day to exchange it for the red one."

    I'm not a major shopper but the indecision kinda struck a chord. It happens to me especially when the better-half is with me....and finally go with what he says;-)

    Thoroughly enjoyed the post;-D!!!!

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  19. @Reflections - Delighted that you enjoyed the shopping expedition !! Especially as all the other ladies are claiming they don't shop !!

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  20. @Ramesh: Thanks!

    I am one of those who enjoy shopping but not at the cost of letting it take over you. And I must agree that it is more entertaining to shop for women than for men.
    I mean how long will it take to pick up a black trouser and a white shirt. to say a man has to shop is to me a paradox!

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  21. @Priya - You know we have to look hard at the shades of white and black, you know :)

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