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.

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