When to make a store non-accessible to customers (Funskool)

Typically stores spend a lot of time and energy in ensuring that their design is such that customers are able to freely browse, are able to find the right items that they want, and are drawn to items that the store wants to sell. There is big money in ensuring that stores get their placements right, make it comfortable for customers and so on. Makes sense, right ? So, you would expect a store selling stuff to kids and children to make it easy for parents to get there, for them to look at products, and so on, even when their children are there with them.
Funskool is a brand that brings a large number of toys, some of them are pretty good and is supposed to be a good place to get some toys. There is a Funskool store in the Shipra Mall in Indirapuram, located near East Delhi, and when you see this store from outside, it looks great. There were a lot of toys such as Lego, and other interesting toy brands. So, we decided to go inside the store to buy the stuff. One small item, we had an infant with us, who is all of 17 months old. He is now old enough to recognize toys, and sometimes points out to toys, some of which we buy as well.
So, we decided to enter the store, along with the infant (who was in a stroller). As soon as we entered the store, the guard told us that the stroller needed to be put to the side. Interesting – typical stores ask you to keep previously purchased items (say if you have bought items from other stores previously before entering this store) along with the guard, but never have I seen a store asking us to keep the stroller on the side. We told the guard that we were not planning to move the infant from the stroller, but he was insistent, that no matter whether the infant is in the stroller or not, the stroller could not be taken in the inside of the shop and needed to be kept with the guard.
I could not understand what was happening, after all, it could not be that the guard was telling me to go and shop, and leave the infant in the stroller with the guard. And if he wanted us to remove the infant from the stroller, it seemed very strange. Whether to move the infant from the stroller is my decision, not based on the demand from the guard. The only step we could take was to vote with our feet, and that is what we did. I did ask to speak to any employee in the store, and he told us that this was indeed the policy. Apparently, their store design was meant to optimize carrying capacity, which meant that the shelves did not have enough space to move the stroller inside the store, and hence they do not allow the stroller inside. I continued to be flabber-gasted; this is a store that is selling toys to babies and kids, but will not allow a baby in a stroller inside. Well, I know which store that I am not going to be going again to.

The experience at the Passport Seva Kendra – needs a lot of optimization

I had gone for 2 passports (one fresh passport for an infant, and one re-issue). With the advent of automation, there is an expectation of faster processing and streamlined support, making the experience seem almost like a breeze (well, one can wish for some things, right ?). So, here goes my experience of the same, and what could be problematic for people visiting the Passport Seva Kendra.

I went to the PSK (Passport Seva Kendra) located at Herald House, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi. It is an office located at 2 floors in the building, and with sort of gleaming new infrastructure inside the office. Lot of people over there, well dressed customer service people, and overall a good experience as you walk in. Well, there are a lot more things that need to be considered when you walk in, and need to be prepared for the same.

There are multiple points of experience, something that need to be evaluated, and hopefully optimized in the future. This experience is post the experience of taking an appointment at the PSK, something that is an experience by itself (some people have had a lot of bad experience in being able to get an appointment, and even my appointment took around 25 days before there was availability).
Continue reading The experience at the Passport Seva Kendra – needs a lot of optimization

Mumbai builder to pay Rs. 14 lakh for late delivery of flat

In the past few years, one of the biggest problems quoted by people who have bought houses is an inability to be confident about getting their dream houses on time. Flats have been announced in huge numbers all across the country, specially in the suburbs of the larger cities, and the response from people has been tremendous. Driven by an urge to live in their own homes, and with easy availability of loans, as well as the herd mentality (when so many colleagues are taking houses, it produces an urge to figure out the finances involved and if it is available, why not also try and buy your own house), the sale of houses / flats was high. Especially where there were IT offices involved, almost everybody in the office would have purchased a flat. Now, the business of constructing houses is very opaque – builders would have managed to get land banks, or in some cases, assumed that they would get land banks; floated proposals for building towers of apartments and managed to get people interested in these, and with these sales, there was working capital for the purchase of land, greasing of the official machinery, and getting the construction process started.
Given that the working processes of these builders is not transparent, there is a lot of machinations that happen, there is no knowledge whether the financial and building processes of the builders follow any standards (even if they claim that they are following strict guidelines and processes), and there are a number of people who have been stuck. Sometimes the builder plays with the funds, sometimes the builder does not have the required permissions, and sometimes the project management of the construction project was in pretty bad shape. In all this, the interests of the flat-owner, who has put in hard-earned money to purchase a flat is not really considered. When the delivery date is delayed or some other problems, the interests of the flat purchaser is not thought of – there are numerous cases of people being duped, of flats being delayed for years, of construction quality being pretty bad, and so on. But now people are being more vigilant; property builders are as bad as ever, but consumer courts and the regular courts are cracking down where there are violations of consumer rights, such as in this case. In this case, the couple purchased the flat, paid up the required percentage of money as required, and yet had to suffer a 5 years delay in being handed over the flat, with almost no justification for why there was a delay (link to article):

The state consumer commission last week directed a builder to pay a compensation of Rs 13.50 lakh to a Jogeshwari couple for a five-year delay in handing over possession of a flat in Thane. The couple has paid more than 95% of the flat’s price of Rs 30 lakh. The commission also directed the builder and developer Ganaraj Group to hand over the flat within 45 days failing which Rs 1,000 per day would be payable to the complainants, Prashan and Sailee Dhotre, till handing over of actual possession of the flat.
The Maharashtra State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission said that on carefully going through the written version on record no tangible reasons were revealed with respect to the delayed possession of the flat. “On going through the registered agreement to sale, we find that the possession was to be delivered on or before November, 2009. The terms and conditions set out are certainly binding on the parties executing the agreement. Therefore as rightly pleaded by the advocate, the opponents have incurred deficiency of service to the complainants by not delivering the vacant and peaceful possession,” the commission said.

Such measures, legal action and penalties are a required part of ensuring that builders live up to their promises. Even if the builder is suffering from some genuine problems, the builder needs to ensure that the purchasing parties are treated as stakeholders and know all the available information, and are compensated as required.

Being served bones in your vegetarian food – Indian Railways

Of course, this is not the first time that this is happening, but the repeated occurrence cannot diminish the outrage and distaste that such incidents leave in the mouth. In India, there is a special significance in being a vegetarian, as followed in the name of religion rather than due to personal choice. A large number of Hindus, Jains and Buddhists are vegetarians, and consider the consumption of non-vegetarian food to be sinful, and something to be avoided (having such a faith is their legal right, and one cannot dispute this). Thus, in India, there are many restaurants and hotels that even call themselves as only vegetarian so that the concept is clear that there is no non-vegetarian food being cooked in the place and hence there is no chance of their being served non-vegetarian food. But what happens when they are in a place where both types of food is served; the place serving them vegetarian food is under a duty to ensure that they get pure vegetarian food and not food that is mixed with non-vegetarian food.
Even if they are served non-vegetarian food by mistake, some of them will dismiss it as a mistake, but for others, the experience can be traumatic, since they have not had non-vegetarian food and to eat it due to somebody’s mistake can be seen as a violation. Now, when you combine this with the way that the railway ministry is run, with late trains, dirty trains, people complaining about food (after all, if the food was good, why would the fairly recent phenomenon of people being able to book food in the trains from outside be off to such a great start ?), and so on. But one would expect that there would be a lot of control in terms of the place where the preparation of food is taking place, and simple mistakes such as mixing non-vegetarian food with vegetarian food be avoided. And yet it happened to this traveler, a Jain gentleman, who found that the vegetarian curry he was eating had bones in it, and then further shocking, the administrative officials, instead of apologizing to him, tried to prevent him from filing a complaint. If this had happened in a restaurant in developed countries, it would have resulted in a lawsuit (link to article):

Jain, a 65-year-old frequent travelling businessman based in Hanumanthnagar in south Bangalore, took the Rajdhani Express from Delhi to Guwahati on September 19. The next day he ordered a vegetarian lunch and was having it. To his horror, he realized he was chewing bones served in the curry. “I couldn’t smell anything because the bones were mixed in the vegetables. I complained to the manager who was serving food in that compartment but he refused to listen. In fact, he blamed me for not having checked the food properly. Later I complained to the pantry car manager and he too argued with me,” he told TOI.
On reaching Guwahati, Jain gathered the media in front of whom the pantry car manager admitted to having served him non-vegetarian food in place of vegetarian food that was ordered. Jain filed a written complaint to the Indian Railway headquarters on Sunday after reaching Bangalore and is awaiting a reply.

Given that the Government and the Railway ministry is trying to change customer opinion of Indian Railways, they would be well advised to ensure that such complaints are processed and responded to, and people can see, that even though mistakes can happen, the authorities are trying to improve conditions rather than trying to push them under the carpet.

Shopping in retail stores / markets / internet stores – some points to take care of …

In my younger days, there were only small neighborhood stores that you would go to get whatever provisions you wanted and there were really not too many different brands either. Over the years however, more and more variety of products started coming into the market accompanied by larger stores, leading up to today’s hypermarkets where you can get everything you need for your household and where you can easily spend thousands of Rupees. However, with all this convenience and speed of purchasing, there is a darker side that you need to be careful about. I will detail some of my experiences in points below.
In addition to these large hypermarkets, there are also many ecommerce sites available that let you purchase almost everything and get it delivered to your house free of cost, but there are certain problems associated with these, which one needs to be aware of. These are also detailed below, so please be careful.

1. Discounts: Discounts are one of the biggest problems and rip-offs that are present in stores, and the perception is there is a lot of problem with the concept of discounts. I ran into one such problem where I was buying a suitcase from one of the large hypermarts, and it was offered at a great 40% discount (for that day only). At billing, I made payment (along with some other items), and just out of some instinct, I took a closer look at the bill. The price did not seem right, and when I confirmed at the billing section, they stated that the discount in the system was 20% and that was what was given to me. It took around 30 minutes after that, including calling the salesman at the luggage section before they resolved matters and gave me the 40% discount. If I had not taken a closer look at the bill, I would have lost out at the 20% discount. Post this, when doing the billing, I always ask the billing person to tell me the discounts for each item.
Another major problem is about the rate when discounts are offered. It was laughable. I went to buy some jackets at a store that is in the business of offering 75% discounts. A typical jacket that would have cost Rs. 2000 was available at Rs. 1800, so I thought that after applying a 75% discount, it was a great offer since the final price wold be Rs. 450. Imagine the shock when they confirmed that Rs. 1800 was the final price, that price pre-discount was Rs. 7200. I was blown out, since a great jacket of a great brand would be less than that. So, before buying stuff at discounts, do keep in mind that many (not all) retailers increase the price of their products before they then apply a discount, which means that you are really not saving so much money.
2. Expired items. This is a real problem. It takes up so much time now, that one wonders whether the advantage of buying slightly lower priced items at these hypermarts are really worth it. You find an item with a good discount, but be careful that the expiry of the item would be close. So you could buy some sauces or dips or some other exotic stuff, and find that prices are lower, but be careful, the item would only have a month available before expiry. There is no way that you can finish off the whole bottle in a month, in which case if you buy the item, you will use for a month and then discard the remaining, which turns out to be more expensive. I have had similar problems with buying perishable stuff online. And if you start seeing the expiry of every item that you are buying (you should), it can end up increasing the amount of time needed by a significant percentage.
3. Broken stuff or exchanged stuff when buying online. A lot of people have had experiences such as this one. You spend some time identifying what you need, and then find that the stuff you wanted is delivered to you, but big disappointment. Either by mistake the stuff you wanted has not been delivered and something else has been delivered, or it is in a damaged state. I have had personal experiences and learned from friends that ecommerce retailers are not so good when it comes to customer relations. Imagine buying a phone, getting it delivered in a cracked condition and then the retailer disputing that there is a problem (and this happened with the largest ecommerce retailer). A lot of passing the buck between the retailer and the phone company, and it took a lot of effort to finally get the phone exchanged, enough to push the person away from ecommerce platforms.