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Indian retail chains need to learn on returning goods

I wonder how many of you would remember those days when neighbourhood grocery stores would promise "home delivery" to attract customers.

india Updated: Jul 27, 2008 20:49 IST

I wonder how many of you would remember those days when neighbourhood grocery stores would promise "home delivery" to attract customers. All one had to do was to call up the store and read out the shopping list and the goods would reach home in a short while.

Today, supermarkets have changed all that. An air conditioned ambience, attractive display, a wide range of products including electronic goods and home furnishing, discount offers and even eateries and coffee shops within the precincts of supermarkets have all made shopping, even for groceries, an attractive proposition. However, there are many areas where supermarkets need to improve and let me mention a couple of them this week.

First, they need to review their policy on returns and exchanges and make them more customer friendly. Ironically, all these stores are modelled on the supermarkets in the United States, where the consumer even has the right to change her mind after purchase and return the goods without assigning any reason, for a full refund. But here, retailers make such a fuss to take back even goods that are defective or sub-standard.

For example, some of them say that they accept return of defective goods within 15 days only. This is patently unfair.Let us not forget that these stores are not neighbourhood shops where you can just walk in anytime. Most people travel some distance, often burning fuel, to visit the supermarkets and usually shop once a month for groceries. So it makes sense for them to return bad quality goods on their next trip. Unless, of course, the shop is prepared to reimburse their travel costs and also compensate them for the time wasted in visiting the shop just to return one item.

In fact, many of these stores seem to sell either old stock or poor quality when it comes to cereals and pulses because a large number of consumer complaints pertain to insect-infested foodstuff.. Since these are well within the "best before" date mentioned on the package, one wonders whether they recycle old stuff or buy stock that is not of good grade. To make matters worse, many of them refuse to take back opened packages. That again is a strange policy because it is only on opening that consumers can notice the worms or insects. When it comes to processed food, it is only on smelling or tasting that one recognises that the food has deteriorated. So it does not make sense to say that they do not take back opened packages.

Talking of insect infestation, all these foodgrains have to comply with the minimum quality standards prescribed under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. I wonder if any of the inspectors of the food department ever bother to do some periodic checks at these stores to find out whether they are complying with the law? Also, grains and pulses are usually graded – so I wonder if in order to sell at a low price, some of these shops buy the lowest quality?

Another area of discontent is billing. Many supermarkets do not have an adequate number of counters for billing and payments (or not all of them will be operational) and as a result, consumers end up wasting a lot of time at the billing counter. Untrained staff make matters worse. For example, when they are scanning multiple, identical items, they can scan one item to get the product code and then enter the number of items- this will cut down on billing time. Instead, they scan them individually, thereby wasting the time of the consumer. It is equally frustrating to hear excuses such as computer snag or some missing product code for delays in billing.

What is needed is an attitudinal change and a healthy respect for consumers and their rights.