Saturday, November 26, 2011

To Retail or Not to Retail That is the Question

Remember that scene from Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan starrer 1998 romantic comedy film  You've Got Mail where Kathleen Kelly’s (Meg Ryan’s) bookstore The Shop Around the Corner  falls prey to the corporate fangs of the Fox Books. Those of you who have watched the film may agree with me that while we observed the dance of events on screen, we all had hoped  that virtue will be ultimately rewarded  and Meg Ryan will win the battle with Joe Fox (Tom Hanks)—one  of the corporate heads of his family owned “mega” bookstore, Fox Books—and by some means save her charming little bookstore.

Imagine this fictional figment unraveling in real-life, the thespians replaced by pedestrians and you will get the feel of the present retailing imbroglio in India unleashed by the government’s easing of the Foreign Direct Investment rules. The myriad-minded Indians are speculating whether to assign the protagonist’s hat to chain superstores like Wal-Mart, Ikea, or deign them as vicious antagonists. The current situation is dubious.

The cabinet of the Congress party-led coalition in the country’s capital, New Delhi, agreed on Thursday to allow foreign multi-brand retailers to own up to 51% of joint ventures in India and single-brand retailers like Nike, Apple, etc., to own up to 100% of their Indian businesses. This move on the part of the government being long overdue, I feel that embracing free-market policies will ultimately beget good results for the country.

Nevertheless the contingencies of allowing foreign retail stores unlimited access cannot be overlooked. Several mom-and-pop establishments, corner stores, and local businesses may face their demise on account of being unable to compete with giant chain-stores. I still remember how during my stay in USA I observed a local Target store usurping the business of a strip-mall next to my apartment complex in Nashville, TN. The American economy was at the time on the brink adding more pressure to the already ailing local stores ultimately resulting in several of them renting their shops to other stores or closing their doors. The electronic retail giant Circuit City went down during and time and moved their business online.

The Indian economy is struggling right now. Recently the Indian currency plunged to an all-time low dropping 52.70 against the US dollar. High inflation and lower growth rate have added to the rupee’s decline. And the Indian government feels, rightly in my opinion, that the easing of foreign investment rules will somehow ameliorate the situation and propel the moribund economy. The ever-increasing Indian retail market that currently does a business of $470 billion a year is expected to show a hike thus helping the rickety economic infrastructure of the country.

The local businesses that make up the majority of the above mentioned percentage do surely take liberties. In many cases goods purchased lack in quality and are more expensive that average Indians could afford. Food pricing being arbitrary India even minor disruptions in harvest results in shortage of certain crops or vegetables. A lot of produces are wasted every day because of the lack of proper storage areas and transportation issues. It is expected that foreign retailing superstores will work from the ground-up setting up warehouses, getting transportation means ready for swift movement of goods and establish rapport with farmers and local business owners.

The whole new future scheme may sound optimistic for India, but inside this well-laden growth plan there lie this question: who will actually visit these newbie chain-stores? Several Indian citizens who have been brought up on local-market produce and local made goods will look askance at these stores. Even now, people hailing from rural parts of India and people who are partially exposed to the fruits of globalization, people who have limited access to education and basic amenities will definitely feel intimidated by these superstores.  The retailing market is targeted at the new-generation, the well-educated, financially remunerated class and the upper-middle class who generally consider brand-shopping as a prerequisite of class and sophistication.

In my case I remember growing up on few branded clothes, but now the situation has taken a tectonic shift as youngsters and almost all modern Indian folks I see around me wear nothing but super-brands like Levis and Burberry. It is a part of the New-Indian culture that women and men who earn well are supposed to maintain an ostentatious standard of living; and such lifestyles have already resulted in mega-brands from Levis to Louis Vuitton, from Dior to Hulsta flooding the Indian market. Gurgaon, the city where I now live boasts of housings 43 malls including the biggest, Mall of India, giving Gurgaon the 3rd highest number of malls in an Indian city.

I believe that superstores like Metro and Wal-Mart will do well in these cosmopolitan urban locations, and surely enough the government has laid down specifications forbidding foreign retailers from setting-up their stores in locations falling short of ten lakh (one million) in population. Another imperative laid down by the Indian government necessitates retail stores to shop 30% of their goods from local farmers and small business owners. This move, in my opinion, will definitely cut the middle-man conducting business deals out and lead cash flow directly into the hands of the retailers.

.In the political fairground of India the government’s decision of giving the “aye” to this major open-market movement has already started creating political controversies with politicians hailing from the opposition sector retorting to acerbic vocabulary in demeaning the government’s move. Uma Bharti, a major political-thespian in India belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) condemning the government’s act of easing FDI rules said she would "set fire to the first Wal-Mart store whenever it opens here, regardless of the consequences”. Another politician, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, was vociferous on the issue too slamming the government for its irrational move.

In conclusion, it remains to be seen whether the Indian consumers are ready to change the way they have been shopping. It sure behooves them to use their discretion in choosing the method of shopping that suits them. And even though political parties with differing opinions may prescribe affirmative or negative results of the governmental move, the whole effect of this open-door-welcome scheme will beget its results only when both the Indian consumer and the big-box retailers join hands in agreement. And sure many Indians preferring in-home delivery of groceries from their local shops will need more than just average discounts to be lured to the doors of Wal-Mart and others of its like.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Perfect One, Where Art Thou?

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What’s with women and perfectness. I can’t help but notice all the talks about women and perfect men. Step into a clique of unmarried young women and all you hear will be the bla..bla..blas about that perfect partner. Women just can’t stop talking or fantasizing about the perfect man, who will jump right out of a storybook, come riding on his steed to woo and win them and take them away from the divinity forsaken festering Gehenna the world is becoming to a paradise called perfection. And there they will live happily ever after.

 Everywhere I go, be it out in the world, or on the social networking websites, I am haunted by talks about this mythical creature: the perfect man.  Apparently, every girl is looking for him, and those who have found him, or think they did, are trying to further perfecticize him. Blame those pieces of trashy vampire lit, or whatever is de rigueur in chick lit, but there is no getting away from the perfect-man-syndrome that all your friends are experiencing which ultimately lead to the disease called unhappy-for-life-because-of-irrational-expectations.

I may sound like an irrational prick, but open your Face book and read the wall-posts of happy and unhappy women on your friend-lists. Chances are that you will find at least five to ten posts, depending on how large your friend-list is, every day on topics like men, men’s love for women, their perfectness, and eternal faith that an unmarried women with no boyfriend must have on her stars that one day Prince Charming will come right outta his storybook world and straight up to her, and then they will go together on a junket. All the woman needs to do is to bite on wisdom cookies worth ten-pence and wait. What a load of bollocks!

Even celebrities with dolled-up figures and nose-jobs are looking for the perfect one, waiting, as I like to put it, for him to perform the above mentioned feats. And they seem to be having no luck either. Evidence: all celebrities are either divorced, or unmarried, or (un) happily married. Look at Kim Kardashian. Who thought the K-factor wouldn’t work? The point is, when celebrities with perfect fixings cannot have that perfect man, how can we, normal women with mediocre skin and ample cellulite hope to have him?

But does that mean that we should settle for less? Certainly not. I think we should have the perfect one, only we should specify in solid terms how perfect a person has to be to be called perfect. Or more exactly, what are the qualities that qualify a man as perfect: does he have to have a pair of wings or a long nose to prove he is unique? Ask a women and she would look askance, become positively irked and say all of the following: a perfect man has to be handsome, tall, well-qualified, rich, have to have a nice family, no criminal records, no past girlfriends, he has to love me more than anything in this world, and oh yes, he has to be perfect. I wonder if the speaker listens to how she sounds as she utters any or all of the above mentioned. I am sure she too will feel that such a male partner is found in fiction only, and not in real world. Then why waste your time looking for him? Why not aim a bit low and find slightly imperfect elements available readily in the market. 

And, while we are on the subj, don’t you think that men are also looking for perfection in women the same way as women. The question that rises now is whether women with sky-high expectations of perfectness willing to be all that she expects in the male half of the sketch, save for that past “girlfriend” part of course; however, I am sure a perfect guy won’t mind that eitherJ. The answer to the above question would definitely be a firm negative. We can at first be deluded and emotional and end up loving somebody beyond belief, but then we get our senses back and we distribute our love: part of it goes to regular retain therapy, part to family and friends, part to pets, a only a pizza-part to that man How can we shower all our love on one man, that’s insane, besides we have only so much love to deal with. We can’t afford to put it all in one place. As for past affairs and other important records are concerned, let’s not open that archive, okay?

As we approach the tail-end of this discussion, I suddenly feel the urge of advising all those women who are deluding themselves with visions of false perfectness. I am no expert in this matter, but I always have an opinion, and these days it’s all that matters. So babes, I think perfectness is boring. Think about it: a gal marrying a man and living happily ever after in a perfect citadel of romance. Is there anything more boring than that? With nothing to fight about, no domestic altercations, no differences of opinions you would feel you are living a subnormal existence. Imagine how boring life must have been for Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty!

When writing fiction we are told to keep in mind the fact that hell is interesting; I say when talking about relationships a bit of hell taken in moderation add wonders to the relation. Moreover, there is more fun in perfecting, or rather customizing an imperfect specimen over a life time rather than having an already perfect one delivered on our platter. We will have no use for him.

Finally, when you are hoping to select one gander from a basket full of juicy ones, aim low. Don’t expect your gander will be the best one, or in other words the perfect one.  Do that and we will all shall live happily ever after.

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