Aug 31 - Sep 06, 2009

Since independence a lot of change has been witnessed in the habits of customers. Congestion on roads, overcrowded markets devoid of proper ventilation, inconsistent quality of products and variation in prices has forced the consumers to visit those outlets where the disturbance is absent, even if the sellers charge a premium for relatively better quality environment.

Over the years stand alone shops have improved the shop outfit and also succeeded in maintaining quality. However, if a person goes out for a weekly/fortnightly/monthly shopping he/she will have to visit half a dozen outlets maybe in the same locality or different localities.

Now shops of any area sell products of every day necessity. Some of the shops in big cities have become superstores but the need for such stores is felt where people could buy grocery, cloth and clothing, cosmetics and medicines and gift items.

Customers visiting superstores seem to be convinced by the advertising punch line. The management of the stores claims that the outlets are the one-stop-shops for farm-fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and poultry. Their assortment in frozen and processed foods take care of everything one needs in ready-to-cook sea food, vegetables, fruit pulps, dairy-products, ice creams, jams, jellies, sauces and the list goes on and on. One of the chains claim, 'to save time on bulk purchases, call in the order at any of their outlets and it will be packed and ready at the cash counter waiting for the customer, at the time of his/her convenience'.

Before writing this piece I visited Makro, a leading international chain having its outlets located on various parts of Karachi. The mission statement of Makro is the distribution of products with excellence in price, quality and variety to customers. Makro is also found to be an important link in the distribution chain, especially for those customers to whom direct delivery is becoming less and less economically viable.

It is also found that Makro, a cash & carry wholesale company, offers food and non-food products to a variety of customers. These include small and medium sized independent retailers, institutional customers involved in the catering business. Since most of these customers are jobs-doers, requiring quality products, consistency in supply and availability competitive pricing become the main attraction. The chain aims at providing excellent customer service for developing long-term and mutually beneficial relationships with customers.

In Pakistan, Makro has joined hands with the House of Habib. Its controlled prices, guaranteed quality and an extensive product range of food and non-food products bring a novel shopping experience to the customers. Makro caters equally to all segments of the society with special emphasis on small and medium sized institutional and individual customers. The main attraction is that these customers find all their needs under one roof.

Makro reference is in no way any attempt to promote the brand but a benchmark for others to follow. Some other names have also emerged and continue to influence the buying habits of people. Million of people still buy raw milk but people in the metropolitan areas buy tetra packs. There is also a gradual shift in buying chicken from the usual outlets to buying frozen chicken. This change in habits is partly driven by time constraint and partly by growing awareness about the cleanness.

The success of Markro has encouraged other entrepreneurs to establish similar outlets. The franchise concept is also getting popular. However, it has not attained wider acceptance in the country. One of the reasons for the popularity of franchise business around the world is consistency in quality and prices. If one walks into any of the franchised stores, it gives identical look. Quality of goods and services is consistent as well.

One of the features of these stores is 'fixed price' which does not give any opportunity to bargainers. While this should provide confidence to the buyers, there is also a perception that prices are relatively higher. At times the difference is mainly due to quality and not location.

One of the customer very nicely narrated that at times he ran short of money because he picked up all the items needed but at the counter he had to leave certain items because of 'insufficient cash'. Although he prefers to pay through credit card, it becomes difficult for him to manage rolling overdue bill, he said.