Joys of Being a Jerk

Having had a brief exposure to the front end of retail sales, I have dealt with all sorts of customers. The ones that come to mind the most are obviously the horrible, screaming ones. They are the kind which makes people in retail despise humanity as a whole. I had often thought when dealing with this type of customers, that I would never do something like this while making a purchase myself. I planned never to scream or make a scene even if my shopping caused me some inconvenience. But then again, the best laid plans of men and mice…

I have a high-end gaming laptop which cost me quite a bit. It is, as expected, an ultimate performance machine which comes with extended warranty. I was having some issues with it recently so I called in the service guy. His diagnostics suggested replacement of a few parts and he committed to complete the task next day at or before 11:30 AM, because that was when the necessary parts would be sent separately by the company. Apparently, parts were delivered separately to ensure genuine products reached the customer. So far, so good.

The next day however, I started getting. apologetic calls from the company from 10:00 AM at an interval of every 20 minutes, explaining possibilities of a delay! Apparently, what had happened was this – Possession of this tres cher laptop made me one of the most valuable customers and in order to get a good feedback, the service guy had made the time commitment too early for their warehouse to adhere to. He arrived on time and had a proper contrite face when I told him that the people on the phone said the delivery could happen by 1:00 PM earliest (by Indian standards, this was not even an issue. Hell, they could have been 24 hours late before anyone except the customer could be bothered).

At this point, knowing the situation, plus my background experience, I should have ideally smiled and said that it didn’t bother me. Instead, the core of my existence, which is twisted and evil, prompted me to have a feel of the other side of the table, being a nasty customer. I purposefully berated the poor guy for wasting my entire day and added some other filler I had heard as a front-end guy. The man immediately started making calls to his bosses and as a result, a delivery van arrived with the parts within half an hour. Before 12:30 PM, my laptop was good and I was golden. My takeaway from this episode can be summed up very simply – The crying baby gets the milk. I think I understand why people do it in a store. Making a scene is not only a surefire way to get your needs fulfilled immediately, but also, there is a chance to receive a bonus to placate you. Also, venting out makes you feel (temporarily) good and doing so publicly makes you seem macho. I did end up giving the service person the best possible rating in his feedback.

Furniture Retail in India

In India, the Housing boom came and went by. The retail boom came and cooled down. Yet the way furniture retail operates has changed only a little. The only perceivable changes are
1. Modular Plastic furniture
2. Imported furniture, use of newer materials like wrought iron etc to make designer furniture.

However the real change that I am seeking is redefining the way in which the whole industry is organized. The problem is that in India there are 2 options for the people
1. Hire a carpenter:
a. He if unprofessional. i.e. never sticks to the schedule, if hired on a daily basis would loaf around a lot, if hired on piece meal basis would often rush the job producing shoddy work. They also often tend to supplement their income by charging commission to the retailers and a lot of supplies are wasted (hence inflating the bill of materials)
b. Since the work would be done in the backyard or a temporary shed, a lot of productivity that can be brought because of mechanization and proper tools and fixtures is lost. There is no economies of scale.
c. A carpenter has to do all the tasks hence there is no room for higher quality because of specialization.
d. Furniture now is not confined to A good design demands not only good workmanship, but also different materials and latest styles. Beautiful pieces of art is often not the specialty of unorganized carpenters.
e. You cannot commission a carpenter for a small stool. It has to be a significant assignment involving atleast a week of labor for him to be interested.

2. Do it yourself.
Thanks to the cheep labor available its not a popular option. I have not known many people who can do more than basic repairing and installation/assembly.

3. Retail Shops.
World over most people buy modular furniture from companies like Ikea etc. because its cheap and affordable. The workmanship is good, and the furniture is designed in a way that eases packaging, transportation and assembly. This not only saves cost, but increases the usability.

However most Indian stores don’t have economies of scale. They operate like boutique stores. i.e.
1. High inventory
2. High markup/price
3. Smaller revenues

Whats even more starling is that modular furniture, ready made items costs 2-3 times more than their customized counterparts.

There has to be a way that can resolve these inefficiencies and pass on the benefit to the common man. Afterall spending 1Lakh in furnishing and woodwork even for the most modest of the homes is not uncommon.