Tag Archives: Economics

Supermarketnomics

24 May

There is an unwritten law that says that the time taken to get your purchases billed at a supermarket will be inversely proportional to the time taken to actually buy them. And so, I tend to avoid large-format stores like Spencer, Reliance etc. Someday, they’ll get their act – and billing processes – together but until then I’m content to steer clear.

The only problem with this attitude is that one tends to miss out on what’s new. So, off I went to Spencer’s in Gurgaon yesterday.


And learned three things.

First, don’t leave your car in a ‘no-parking’ zone. In a stupid attempt to save forty rupees and to exit faster, you’ll end up at the local police station where it’ll cost you 300 rupees plus a 50-rupee rickshaw ride in temperatures approaching 50° Celsius. No greasing of sweaty palms though – just pay, sign the form, get scolded by the policeman in the tow truck (who’ll also shake your hand) and you’re on your wiser way again.

The second thing you’ll learn is that commodities tend to move up the consumer value chain and start becoming brands in a funny sort of way. I refer to the humble imli-goli made popular by Jet Airways (in the bad old days of full-fare flights). This little tamarind ball of spicy sweetness became so popular that even the erstwhile Indian Airlines had to introduce it and frequent flyers were cajoled into bringing back as many as they could glean away from possessive air-hostesses for friends on terra firma. This, despite the fact, that it was available for years at the local churan-walla or grocery store…“but not hygienic, you know!” as the aunty-jis of Defence Colony would dismiss with a manicured wave. Today, several local brands have mushroomed – or goli’d their way up – and the imli-goli is now available in sundry brand names. The one that caught my eye, though, was simply called Aero Goli and was sold loose out of a tin container within Spencer’s. Ironical that something as traditional has had to resort to the airline industry to gain acceptance. But that’s the way it is with most traditional commodities that are being branded I guess. Or is it that kids – and many adults – continue to see a flight as something aspirational?

Lesson #3: with plastic – as well as Sodexho Passes – becoming omnipresent (it’s not yet God though) and cash rarely being used at supermarkets, there is an interesting lesson in the use of coins. For some time now, we’ve been used to getting candies in lieu of small change but the sight of red-wrapped shiny Nestlé Eclairs sitting in the cash-box at every counter in Spencer’s set off a bell: officially, the 50-paise coin is no longer acceptable (nor is the 25-paise one and anything below that) which is why stores will give you a Nestlé or Cadbury Eclair if they owe you 50 paise. But while you chew away, you may be oblivious to the fact that you’ve been made a bit of a sucker in the process: the candy that’s sold to you at 50p costs the retailer a bit less, so he’s making money on the loose change he owes you as well. Sweet market economics at play.

So, if you’re off to the supermarket this weekend and do spot something interesting, drop by here and update us.

P.S.: the Safal stores in Gurgaon are selling the sweetest, juiciest, fattest green grapes I’ve ever seen. For some reason, they’re branded Bollywood and the pack states they were packaged for Germany. Don’t be surprised if you spot them at Alexanderplatz the next time you’re in Berlin.