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Barcodes and Bazaars

Veteran retailer Damodar Mall takes us on an exciting journey through India's stores
twitter-logoChitra Narayanan | Print Edition: March 1, 2015
Supermarketwala by Damodar Mall
Supermarketwala by Damodar Mall

There is something about the constant activity in a supermarket or even the neighbourhood kirana that is utterly fascinating. It is like watching a live drama every single moment - the minutiae of transactions, the shopper's motivation to buy, the way the tradesman deals with the consumer, the haggling at the billing counter and so on. For any observant marketer, it is definitely fodder for some great tales. Damodar Mall - the man who helmed DMart, Big Bazaar and is now with Reliance Value Retail - does just that.

The veteran retailer who has a habit of peeping into shopping baskets and speculating on the consumer's family size and composition gives us a ringside view of the Great Indian Shopping Saga.

He takes us on an enthralling journey through India's stores, introducing us to the diverse set of people shopping there, the vendors who keep a store's shelves stocked, and the traditional shopkeepers who build relationships with consumers. It's an exciting trip with a rich array of characters - from the modern Indian family next door, the busy working woman looking for convenience, the gent who feels less intimidated shopping at a kirana than at a modern retail outlet simply because of the layers of security to the typical small and medium entrepreneur who travels from Dombivili to Andheri and has just discovered the pleasures of deodorant to keep him feeling fresh all day.

From Unilever to Future Group and Sao Paulo to Raigad, Mall has traversed through many store aisles and bazaars. He has seen it all - from the sparsely stocked pre-liberalised Indian shops to the expansive modern retail outlets chock-full of brands, and now the ecommerce era. Inevitably, the book is packed with insights distilled from his rich experience. For instance, Mall points out how most of our traditional stores are almost always run by men with womenfolk only occasionally seen as store assistants. He also points out how although we are shopping for more clothes today, the physical size of our cupboards has remained the same. The challenge for the fashion retailer is to induce the consumer who wears clothes till they tear or fade and has limited storage capacity to change garments with each season.

One must commend Random House for spotting these delightful consumer stories in Mall's magazine articles and blogs and bringing them to us in book form. The format of the book - tiny slices of retail life with a 'mindpoke' at the end of each chapter that makes the reader think - is riveting. Mall seems to have truly read the consumer's language.

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