Saturday, October 17, 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 !