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Friday, November 27, 2009

Shopping Catalogues: Just eyecandy?

Shopping can be therapeutic for some. So if there is some way to do this not only at your leisure but also by just scanning some beautifully designed catalogues and ordering through the phone, then that’s even better…right? Keeping this in mind, Hypercity had introduced a catalogue called Argos, which had a range of products lined up. The catalogue was printed and designed well and after all the money invested in starting this initiative, it still went belly-up.

When I contacted Hypercity, they didn’t divulge anything about what had gone wrong but I heard talk about how they just weren’t able to manage inventory well at all. Besides this, the India Consumer Complaints Forum has a complaint listed on their website regarding the poor quality of their service.

When it had just started, yet another site had an overall good review of Argos but the reviewer questioned Hypercity’s decision to sell their catalogues instead of handing it out free of cost. So, are malls and stores (or anyone else) looking to bring in customers through shopping catalogues paying attention to these reviews? My guess is, they are looking at only what they want to see.

Giving away catalogues for people to browse through, which cost them money to print, will be a great gesture on their part, if they do it cleverly. For instance, they could allow people to scan catalogues at a separate counter, where they can be served coffee and can put up their feet and take a look at what’s in between the pages. They pay for the coffee but still can walk away without buying the catalogue and if they have seen anything they would like to order, they can do it right there, while paying their bill. All they have to do is make a note of the merchandise code and tell the cashier. They can pay for it there itself and walk home with a receipt with the product being delivered to their doorstep.

If this was allowed, then you don’t have to print so many catalogues and only send them out on request (and then charge for it, if possible). Another Indian shopping catalogue is Elvy - a lifestyle catalogue - based in Delhi. You have to e-mail them a request for their catalogue and then they send it to you. Their catalogue is of excellent quality and they have products priced from Rs 395 to Rs 89,995 across 11 categories.

They have done some catalogues for ICICI, Bombay City Guide, Citibank and American Express in the past. Currently, if you fly Jet Airways, you’ll find they have done the JetMall catalogue. A quick glance shows you that they do have some gorgeous filigree-work candle-holders and good quality leather products. Even the outdoor Cheers tub drinks stand looks like a good conversation piece. When contacted, the Elvy spokesperson wouldn’t reveal how much business they are getting via their catalogue.

The reality is that in India, catalogues are picked up and junked because people still like to do their shopping by touch and feel. On a certain level, there is also distrust that they will not get exactly what is shown in the catalogue. Besides this, there is also quality-of-service issues which Argos faced.

Another big brand which came to India 15 years ago and which was an established name abroad, was Otto Burlington. Any guesses what happened to them? These were people who claimed to have made money in the West but if Indians were not ready to shop through catalogues back then, when it was an exciting new concept, are they ready to do so now? I remember my parents poring over the Otto Burlington catalogue and then I got my chance and I suggested to them that we get a huge set of silver cutlery, which came in a velvet lined box. We ordered that and a curd-maker. The cutlery is still going strong and is still being used but the curd-maker was a damp squib. The end result was that my parents wrote off ever shopping from a catalogue and most other people do exactly this.

Other stores who put out brochures from time-to-time, especially during the festive season are Vijay Sales and Croma. But these two don’t seem to concentrate too much of their marketing effort into their catalogues and it shows. The catalogues are designed to be handed out with newspapers, which is smart of them. It’s also something that people may overlook completely if it falls down behind a sofa, while you are reading your newspaper. What’s more, these brochures are merely to catch the eye about what’s new in their stores, so you can step in and see the things for yourself. It’s not as much about sitting back and ordering your Plasma TV on the phone.

There is an ‘all or nothing’ approach to shopping via catalogues that somehow doesn’t exist with physically shopping for something. I think the reason is very simple. If you see and touch something and then buy it and if it turns out to be a bad decision or a faulty item, then you know the shop’s not going to turn you away when you show up for a replacement. With a shopping catalogue, no matter how much they reassure you, you always remember somebody else’s awful experience of having lost their money completely.

Another reason is an unspoken one. People feel like they have been made a fool of by unseen ‘fraudsters’ where shopping catalogues are concerned. Whereas with a shop, you can always go there and create a scene and demand a refund or a replacement.

Abroad, catalogues might be minting money because the trust factor is high which is not the case in India. Their services are much better and is not as much of a hassle as it is here. So, catalogues that absolutely ape the Western model, might just make it here. Winning over trust is the big deal and if that occurs, the rest will follow. When I wrote to Elvy asking them to share any customer testimonials with me, their representative Anuradha Mishra did not get back to me.

In the West, it’s not only malls which print catalogues. I have a beautiful Christmas catalogue showcasing the collections of 5-6 British museums in the most innovative manner, where they have very cleverly printed say, paintings by Monet onto playing cards or superimposed Van Gogh’s works onto vases or Cezanne’s paintings onto dividing panels that can make for such a stunning and at the same time practical piece of furniture.

When will our museums wake up to such incredible possibilities? Let’s get inspired by the good deeds of the West, especially when you can land up making so much money in the bargain!

PS - Since writing this article, I've received a brochure showcasing 25 historic stamps from the archives of the National Philatelic Museum, New Delhi. The London-based Hallmark Group and the Authority of India Post are issuing a limited edition of these stamps in a uniquely memorable manner. They are engraved on solid silver ingots which are the same size as the stamps and will be layered with 24 carat gold to create a wonderful collectors showpiece. Only 7,500 sets will be produced worldwide.

This glittering collection will be sent to buyers along with a velvet-lined lacquered wood case, a special edition of the book 'Enchanting India, an album of educational Fact Cards, a Jeweller's Cloth and Gloves and an official Certificate of Authenticity, signed by the Swiss manufacturer guaranteeing the purity of the gold.

Fittingly, since this is the first time something of this magnitude has been produced for India and in the honour of famous Indians and their achievements which these stamps epitomise - this collection is called 'The Pride of India Collection'. Each gold plated stamp costs Rs 6,700 inclusive of all duties and taxes.

Go online to order at www.prideofindiacollection.com or call 011-26207151/52/53 or 011-41207151/52/53

1 comment:

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