Weekly Newsletter: Opera Houses Are not Just For Singing

Tuesday being a holiday, I dragged the 9 year-old out for old-fashioned shopping on Brigade Road, Bangalore. The new Miniso outlet made her very happy – Japan is associated with cuteness in her mind. Then she wanted to try the new Splish Splash flavour (blue! horrendous!) at Baskin Robbins. She loves this brand so much that she wanted to know who owned the company and we learned about Mr Baskin and Mr Robbins (they were brothers-in-law), though the brand is now owned by Dunkin’. After this we went to the Opera House – Samsung’s new experience centre in Bangalore. The Opera House is a 1930s structure and beautiful, now that it’s been restored after decades of dispute and neglect. Apart from giant screens and home equipment, the place has a surprisingly good cafe. Samsung has turned it into a high end entertainment destination where it is intended that you “showroom” – no pushy salespeople asking you to buy. Nobody asking you not to touch. (Though the child was not allowed to play video games – seems BBMP has said no players below 16!)

It is today inevitable that some part of your shopping will be done online, particularly for standardised products like electronics and appliances. You do want to check these things out and understand what’s available in the market, but you will probably by the final choice online. It’s just cheaper. This trend is going to continue – Flipkart is burning around Rs 200 crores on celeb endorsements and advertising discounts across categories, but specially mobile phones and fashion. They are targeting $1 billion in sales just over Diwali. Amazon can be expected to have similar ambitions. Rather than futilely hoping that nothing has changed, brand owners should facilitate online purchases by converting their physical presence into an experience center. Malls will continue to exist – but as an entertainment destination where the fun includes – but is not limited to – shopping. (As for malls that explicitly prohibit their tenants from promoting online shopping, Ice Age is coming!)

Later that day we went to Phoenix Market City and paid homage to another American icon – Toys R Us. This iconic brand is a well-known casualty of Amazon and online shopping and has shut all its 800 stores in the US. Falling toy sales (kids might prefer gizmos) did not help. It has launched in India, however, and seems to be pulling in the crowds. Toys R Us, a 70 year old brand, is a lesson that no matter how good a retailer you are, online is coming for you. It just might be on the verge of a turnaround though.

I’m speaking on Saturday at TiE Con Chennai on how to stand out in clutter. The short answer of course is to “be different and attention-grabbing”. In a good way, of course. Theresa May certainly grabbed attention by dancing to Abba’s “Dancing Queen” on the way to her big speech on Brexit. Do you think it was a good way? If you’re in Chennai on Saturday, let’s discuss in person 🙂 When I was heading marketing for iGATE (now a part of Cap Gemini) one of our challenges was how to attract niche professionals with good English and excellent analytical skills. Chess was already “owned” by another brand. We decided to host the International Scrabble Tournament at our campus. It was fun and through internal competitions it became a great engagement program. It did stand out from the clutter. If you’re a word geek do check out the upcoming tournament.

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