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Global luxury brands usually boast about the superior shopping experience they offer. Their sales staff is supposed to be thoroughly familiar with the products on display and understand the needs of the customer.
However, this level of professionalism is sadly lacking in India. At the recently concluded CII-ET Dialogue on Luxury in Delhi, Yashovardhan Saboo, CEO, Ethos Boutiques - a retail chain of Swiss watches in India - blamed deeply ingrained social and economic prejudices for the not-happy-to-help attitude. Even regular buyers of luxury brands complain that sales staff tend to judge buyers by their appearance. "If a woman wearing a sari walks into a Jimmy Choo store, the attendants will not see her as a serious customer. On the other hand, anyone in a dress and stilettos is paid much more attention, " says Ragini Jaiswal, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur.
Fashion consultant Harmeet Bajaj, who counts her shopping experiences at Max Mara and Marni among the best, says that selling luxury brands is a fine art. "Store attendants have to talk to the customer, understand her background and style. They should never force any product on you. In stores abroad, the attendants know their regular customers and give them personalised care. And if you are new to the brand, they are trained to assess you in a matter of minutes and guide you around. Such inter-personal skills are missing in India. "
When Burberry launched in India in 2008, customers were promised personalised shopping, a USP of the brand. However, when Priyanka Bhattacharya, a freelance beauty writer from Bangalore, walked into a Burberry store in Delhi, she didn't find the staff very forthcoming. "In India if you walk into any luxury store all that the staff tells you is the price of products because that is not mentioned. That does not make the service exclusive. They rarely offer you any style tips - what kind of bag will work for you? Will a short dress suit a short frame? They are not trained to assist shoppers. "
Luxury shoppers also find that the stores are not stocked with the latest collections. This is reported to be especially true for beauty and make-up brands. Even though the autumn-winter collections are out elsewhere in the world, in India you will continue to find lipstick from the last season. It's also been observed that luxury apparel brands prefer to keep more pr?t-a-porter, or ready-to-wear, collections in Indian stores rather than haute couture lines.
The recent CII-A T Kearney India Luxury Review 2011 has also taken note of this gulf between customer expectations and supply. Customers, it reports, seem to be saying, "have money, will buy, but please treat me well". The Review further states: "High quality talent continues to be limited. With the entry of new brands and footprint expansion by most companies, luxury players are facing high attrition rates resulting in increasing personnel costs. "
The way out, feel experts, are intensive training programmes for luxury retail professionals. "Right now there's very little investment in retail training. We need to introduce long-term training programmes instead of organising sporadic workshops. It will also help to offer retail professionals opportunities to work abroad, " says Saboo.
Anil Chopra, former CEO Lakme Lever Pvt Ltd, cites the example of the aviation industry to emphasise the importance of right training modules. "On any given flight the same set of crew is servicing passengers in the A class, business and economy class. How do they manage this? It is possible because there are good schools and institutes training them. This can be replicated in luxury retail industry. "
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