Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dubai Crisis: Time to buy a Second hand car?

Dubai is a hop-n-stop destination for a lot of Indians looking to unwind and blow big bucks on branded goods. Everything from chocolates, perfumes, clothes and at one point of time, upscale second/vacation pads were bought. Now the former items are still being purchased while the real estate scene is looking extremely depressing and property prices have dipped like an out-of-control plunging elevator.

The joblessness has caused an exodus of white collar workers who lived the good life on a dream and prayer. The dream has turned sour and prayers have not helped them keep their jobs or their material wealth either. So, they are leaving behind debts owed to banks, (all that shopping on credit cards possibly didn't help either) and the banks are repossessing a lot of apartments and cars. So, for anyone looking to buy a second hand home or car in Dubai, now is the time to strike.

Dubai is afloat with a lot of top-end cars that have, literally in some cases, been abandoned by their owners. A lot of second hand resellers are now rescuing these cars and hoping to find buyers for them. If you work there or have relatives there, then coming back home with a used car can be a possibility.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Consumers & Products: Who failed whom?

Have products always failed consumers or have consumers sometimes failed products? How one super successful sitcom almost didn’t make it because of faulty feedback.

As consumers, we use so many products through our lifetime. There are some which just remain etched in our memory since childhood. For instance, I don’t think anyone has forgotten the Parle G Glucose biscuits with that cute chubby kid on the wrapper and she’s still very much around. Another brand which had a similar cute kid on its packaging was Amul’s Nutramul chocolate milk powder. Now they have a cartoon of a kid trying a karate kick, on it!

I decided to make a list of products and services that have failed to sustain the advantages they had enjoyed with consumers. Some of them have actually gone and ruined what was a winner in the name of making improvements and no amount of customer feedback forms that I’ve filled out, seems to wake up their woolly-headed back-office staff! So, these I have definitely rated as products having failed me. I’m wondering if this is some really bizarre strategy of getting people to notice them anyway?

It does give stores some talk-time. I came across this video where two citizen journalists (I think) in the US, called Gary and Crystal, talked about how they had gone to some mall in Chicago to be in time for a free coupon that was being given out to the first 400 shoppers who walked in. They walked in at 9.00 am and found the store empty and the store employees pretending they didn’t know some such offer was on! One guy told them, the coupons were all sold out. Another lady told them, the store had only seen about 80 people or so. Both Gary and Crystal then go on to talk about how badly the store is managed and how even the clothes are not displayed well. Crystal finds a top-end designer dress marked down but hidden – if you didn’t look hard enough, you would never find it. She actually says that, may be someone in the store was hoping that she didn’t find it! So, you see, ultimately the store does get talked about.

Meanwhile, there are some products/services which were good and have still disappeared from circulation. I’m wondering if I should have hoarded some of them since I can’t seem to find them anymore and maybe the big bosses who run these companies, will finally get the message? Have I failed these products in some way?

The fact is that sometimes, some products are only released to test market reactions and then withdrawn. But how many positive responses do these firms need for a product to get a green signal and then a more mass scale launch? Go to the ITC website and you’ll see a range called Superia which is not launched on a big scale – either the shampoos or the soaps. I think this range is meant for tier 2 cities and towns but why not the bigger cities? They do have a very good shampoo made of hibiscus extracts and when I tried it, it felt good on my hair. Ironically, it’s available in sachets at kiranas (mom-n-pop grocery stores) across Mumbai but not in the bigger shops. Lately, I’ve not even seen this hibiscus one even at those small stores.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Buy Brand India with Pride

Are you a shopoholic and unashamed about it? Well good for you then. But could you bring yourself to redirect your money in another direction and spend on Indian brands that meet your style and quality requirements? If yes, then it's cash well spent.

There has always been a craze for brands but that was understandable at a time when India didn't have world class products to offer. Today, we do have great products of superb quality available in almost every segment we care to shop in.

So why are people still so starstruck with foreign brands? People...wake up and endorse homegrown brands. After all, if Indians didn't buy India-made products with pride, then we can hardly expect the world to buy our products.

Shopping Etiquette: A Code of Conduct

With so much shopping activity going on, there should be some kind of unspoken and unsaid but clearly understood Code of Conduct kind of thing in place for shoppers – especially the chronic and the cranky kind.

I mean who wants to grow old while waiting in a queue, for the people ahead of you to get done making their payment. It’s usually at this crucial moment that crisis hits and a lot of people realize that they don’t really have that much cash on them. So, then out comes the plastic. In one instance I know of (because I was right behind the woman), she was holding up a queue at the cashier's to argue with her husband because he had blocked her credit card. Well, this situation was humiliating for her and embarrassing for the rest of us who were forced to listen to the conversation.

Huzefa Tapia of Grids & Words Design, an advertising and event management firm says, “Talking of etiquette, some people really don't have it. They think that if they are carrying 4-5 pieces of plastic with them, they can hold anything up. The thing missing here is the common sense in them.”

He adds, “Well.. talking neutrally, one can make a mistake once about getting their credit card block limit wrong, but all the time... it seems weird. Yet, if you are a compulsive shopper, the smart thing is to carry cash on hand or very politely letting some stuff go and coming back another day for it. This surely will help you not create a scene at the cash counter, eventually helping the line to move faster.”

“Smart people also do not buy everything with one credit card. They would spread it out evenly with 2-3 cards depending on the buy. The simple conclusion is be smart and carry some on-hand cash.”

Creativity Unleashed!

As a child, have you ever used walls to give a free rein to your imagination? Then why not do the equivalent as adults? I mean why not use everyday items in more innovative ways. Try shopping for one thing…but using it as another! Here is my quirky, fun and at the same time practical list.
1. I did this when I was in college. I wrapped my text books with those gorgeous wall calendar sheets. I know most people may not be using such wall calendars anymore but if you are, then don’t waste those fantastic photographs printed on good paper and just throw it away.
2. Remember the funnies section of the Sunday newspaper supplement? It used to be printed on this glossy-finish paper (the Times of India one) and it was an entire page of ‘Hagar the Horrible’ and ‘Beetle Bailey’ etc. They used to make for great gift wrapping paper. You could try this with the Hindustan Times’ cartoon supplement because though it’s a matt-finish paper, the quality of the printing is good and not as bad as the Asian Age!
3. Use leftover scraps of good gift wrapping paper to make envelopes for gifting cash or gift vouchers at weddings. It adds that personal touch. For this, I always use the classy, thick sheets you get at Hallmark Galleries (mostly) with lovely prints of flowers on them. This paper is just right to do this kind of craft project. Those common glittery ones look tacky and obviously, you won’t be able to make them into envelopes without them ripping up.
4. You can use hair bands as bracelets if they are pretty enough and also do the opposite - use bracelets as hair bands. For eg: I bought a pretty coloured pebbles bracelet from Goa and I frequently tied my hair with it and got compliments for it!
5. A salon owner who worked at Franck Provost told me that the Kaya protein gel, which is a hair root strengthening gel can be easily used as a styling gel as well. Since it looks and smells good, you should take his advice.