Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Shopper and the Shauppeur

These days, many of my "blogger-thoughts" seem to occur while shopping. I hope I can say this without sounding shallow or inane. Anyway, today, I accompanied the husband to a store to help him pick out a pair of jeans. Finding myself in the unusual role of the shauppeur (okay, it's not a real word, but, you know, shauppeur = shop + chauffeur = someone who drives/accompanies you to shopping), it struck me, for the first time, that stores in the US almost never have any seating. It's almost as if they don't want the many waiting spouses/friends/parents accompanying their customers to have this basic comfort.

This lead to a sudden (and emotional) flashback to stores in India where customer service is impeccable. Right from the 'aiye behenji' greeting, to seating customers comfortably as someone tirelessly unfolds and displays hundreds of sarees while the behenji-suddenly-turned-diva rejects them one after the other with a shake of her head. The behenji is then shown how the saree will look on her, the saleswoman, and the store manager so that she can get a truly accurate picture of what the saree looks like, and is convinced that there really is no catch. And this I will never understand - how is it humanly possible to smile at someone who walks away after all this without buying anything? Epitome of human endurance if you ask me.

Anyway, back to America where, except for a 30-day return policy (which I will forever be grateful for), customers aren't treated as gods. Now, the behenji-business ain't gonna fly in America, but I would imagine that at least seating shauppeurs will allow them to busy themselves with Facebook apps on their iPhones and whine less, so that the shoppers can take their time to browse the store and find something they like. This may particularly help the case of the tired/irritable/impatient/well-past-the-dating-stage-I-don't-have-to-impress-no-more shauppeurs.

But then again, having no seating may force shauppeurs to browse the store themselves and perhaps buy something (I did eye a this pair of pink jeans that I almost tried today). Two birds with one stone maybe? This may hold true mostly for female shauppeurs though. What do you guys think?

Anyway, this post isn't just an attempt to understand the complex science of shoppology, but of late, I've noticed how little time and money is spent in understanding what people want, and how much of it is spent on something that someone sitting within the confines of an office thinks is a great idea. Just trying to see if paying attention to little things can make a difference. To the perceptive eye, some of my posts have undercurrents ...


  1. Look, the time spent shopping helped you come up with this post, so all is well!
    Anyway, in my case, the husband is always the 'shauppeur' and hence no shops will benefit from the theory of him buying something just because he's there ;)
    But seriously, now in India too, if you shop in the malls, which is the only place you end up shopping, nothing is as comfy anymore, you're forced to stand/walk. The 'make the customer sit, and get the stuff to them' applies only to smaller shops which are hardly visited!

  2. Lots of good observations. I think they do try to use every bit of space to maximize choice, because that's what they believe people go to stores for: choice. An impulse buy for the companion is never a bad thing of course, but yeah, wonder if it reduces the overall time spent in the store if someone gets impatient.

    (BTW, Department stores like Nordstrom and Macy's do have comfy couches and even TVs for people to sit and hang out)

    Also, your last paragraph reminded me of my single best lesson from business school from this awesome prof/entrepreneur named Steve Blank - There are no facts in the office building, only hypotheses. Facts are found by going outside the building and talking to customers.

  3. @DI - I know! Men are not as tempted in stores as women are. Sometimes, if I spend too much time browsing in a store I almost feel guilty leaving empty handed :D. True about the malls, but that is true only in big cities. In smaller towns like Vizag where I come from, most people still shop in the standalone stores where they give customers A-class treatment! Even in malls, jewellery stores for instance always have seating in India. My friend and I went to this massive Tiffany's store recently, and nope, no seating to sit down and try on jewellery :-s. I can see how this saves cost though, but not sure if it's a good "luring mechanism" though...
    @Uday - My anna gets me! :) True about maximizing the space, esp. in Manhattan. But I don't understand when they do that in sprawling JC Penny's and such in small towns - perhaps to provide uniform treatment. And good point about the hypotheses, that's exactly what they are...

  4. @PP - Good post...The main reason here in America on paying no attention to customer is
    - The people who work at these stores don't own the stores themselves. They are just 9-5 or 12-10 shift workers. They get paid for the number of hours that they work and by not how much they attract or entertain their customers.

    This is in direct contrast with stores in India where people own the store. They have the 'ownness' attached to the store and they try to maximize the profit to the fullest. In doing so, the first thing that they have to do is keep their customers happy.

    I hate shopping here when I go to the mall at 6 pm on Sunday and all the malls are on the verge of closing. I never could understand the logic of closing the mall at 6 pm on Sunday?? How ?? Why?? I have no answer.

  5. The 'aiye behenji' concept is no longer in existence thanks to swwanky malls! Really miss that, especially when it comes to Saree shopping!
    SOme pretty cool observations you had. I absolutely agree that not having seating forces shauppeurs to shop. I am not complaining, though! :P