Thursday, November 15, 2012

The (un)Joy Of Shopping in India

Ok, so this post might digress from being just about food, and hit on my other obsession - shopping. I'm in the mood to rant.

Having lived in the US long enough to have been completely spoiled by the retail experience here, I'm now secretly dreading the prospect of shopping in India.

American store-owners actually want you to buy from their stores. Indian store-owners ("lala ji"), on the other hand, seem intent on making your shopping experience feel like war.

What is it about our country's businessmen that makes them so indifferent, so callous to the needs of the customer ? Why is the mantra of any business in India to rob the customer blind until they wise up ? I've seen a million cheap imitations of American products that don't come close to the original for quality. Not to say the US doesn't have its fair share of duds, but in India, the duds, by sheer volume, crowd out the few good products. 

The "Made in India" clothes that I buy in the US will last me years, while (pricier) clothes I buy in India will unravel in months. Why do we not deserve the same quality in manufacturing that is provided to US companies ? I'm genuinely perplexed - is it the cost ? I'm willing to pay more; no one offers me the option ! Or is it just indifference towards the domestic customers, because we are second-rate in our own country ?

And it's not just retailers; this trend extends to almost every industry. A Domino's pizza in India will taste so different from one in the US that you won't know they both came from the same parent company. Same for Coke. Same for Kitkats and Dairy Milks. McDonald's in India will continually reduce portions and increase prices, while their counterpart in the US is doing the opposite and still making money. 5-star chefs will continue to peddle a frozen, gelatinous mess as "New York cheesecake". At the local Subway, I pay for double meat to get the amount of chicken I normally get in the US.

Kirana-store uncles will always add up your total incorrectly, and when you catch them, laugh it off ("Beta chashme ke bina 3 mujhe 8 dikh raha tha"). Strangely, 8 will never look like a 3 to them, ever. A look at the Facebook page of the recently-launched-in-India version of Forever21 will show numerous messages from customers - none with a reply. On the US webpage of the same store , every question has been answered, every message replied to.

It's our money that drives these businesses, yet we never demand better from them. We've resigned ourselves to being treated like crap and settling for second-best. Why ?

A few recent imports from the US give me some hope - Chili's has great food, US-sized portions and decent prices (let's see how long that lasts). The Quiznos in Hyderabad had my favorite baja chicken and had not (the last I ate there) yet converted half its menu to alu tikkis. Zara India stock their entire international line, not just "India appropriate" clothes. I'm praying for Gap, H&M & the Cheesecake Factory to wake up and smell the opportunity that is urban India.

Till then, I'm relying on my network of friends and family to stuff their bags for me every time they head to India. Please, guys. I need your suitcase space more than you do.