An MBA (Master of Bazaar Accumen) in 6 months!
Looking for a few marketing gems to add to your coffers? You could pick up some priceless ones at, of all places, a bazaar! Full of innovation, keen insights and inspiration, bazaars represent a unique form of retail, with its own code of marketing, logistics and sales. Starting with this issue, POP brings you a 6-part series on the bazaars of India. As we take you to some of the noisiest, most colourful marketplaces in the country, you’ll be sure to get some invaluable marketing lessons, that too at a bargain!
Chor Bazaar. Treasures at a ‘steal’
There’s an old story that Queen Victoria had once lost her favourite violin during a visit to India. An extensive search was immediately undertaken to find the royal favourite, but to no avail. Finally, a resourceful member of the staff (assuredly a local) extended the search to Mutton Street, where the violin was finally found at Chor Bazaar. Once a market for stolen and secondhand goods, Chor Bazaar has evolved since into a packed, multi-dimensional flea market, where you can find anything from deodorants to car spare parts to rare antiques. Legend has it that Chor Bazaar was originally called
Shor Bazaar, ie the noisy bazaar. It was described as “not a nice place” by the novelist Rohington Mistry in his book, ‘Such a long journey’, but a lot of people would beg to differ. Chor Bazaar is a hot spot for curio hunters, vintage souvenir shoppers, colonial furniture buyers, Bollywood production units and tourists looking for insights into the ‘real’ Mumbai. Whether you’re looking for vintage telephone instruments, rare jazz recordings on LP or a six pack of deodorant, nothing is off-bounds for the folks at Chor Bazaar. A closer look at the by-lanes of Chor Bazaar also reveals marketing tools that the rest of us have long forgotten or are yet to discover. Here are some that we unearthed.
Make way for the generalists: The first thing that strikes most visitors to Chor Bazaar is the ease with which unconnected goods coexist. Antique furniture and lamps, both genuine and imitation, rub shoulders with brand new garments, car parts, movie posters and vintage music. It is said that the large format department stores that flourish in India were inspired by the principle of non-specialisation found in bazaars. This way of existence certainly seems to be profitable for Chor Bazaar, going by the crowds and brisk business at most of the stalls. A new perspective on trend-spotting: The dusty shelves of Chor Bazaar contain valuable data for the trend analyst who dares to look beyond the ordinary. The things that end up at the second-hand stalls, for example, give us keen insights into what’s out. At the same time, the vintage items that sell out give us a sense of the emerging sense of style. As Gyan Prakash says about jazz records in his book Mumbai Fables “Besides telling us about the change in recording technology and medium, the presence of these records in Chor Bazaar suggests a decline in the appreciation of jazz in Mumbai.” Further, on the topic of the old and forgotten, the brisk sales of old Bollywood posters and other items remind us once again of the cyclical nature of trends and fashion.
Targeting energies: Normally, a trademark sight at bazaars is that of vendors calling out to every passing visitor. Chor Bazaar is different. As a visitor to this market, you’re unlikely to be accosted at every turn with pleas to stop and at least look at the wares on offer. Evidently, the merchants here have evolved their senses to be able to spot genuine buyers a mile off, and they focus their attention only on these potential customers. Extrapolating on this phenomenon, the people who do get invited in must be getting better customer service, and the chances of a sale must be much higher. If only marketers across the country could hone their customer spotting skills by investing budgets and energies in that area, they could save millions by targeting their messages to the right people. Rewarding smart customers: In an age of idiot-proofing everything for customers, Chor Bazaar brings in a refreshing perspective, at two levels. First, genuine articles, especially antiques and vintage items, are sold along with duplicates and fakes. Only buyers smart enough to spot the genuine article get to voluntarily buy it. At the next level, the art of haggling comes into play. Only customers who are aware of the actual value of the merchandise can win the bargaining game with merchants, till they get a great deal. Fake connoisseurs get punished with fakes, that too at exorbitant prices!
From value-for-money to money-for-value: The bargaining mentioned in the last paragraph, creates an interesting situation that challenges known benchmarks in pricing. The original price quoted by the merchant is understood by both parties to be unreal. Thereafter, in the course of bargaining, the potential buyer brings the price down to what he or she believes the object is actually worth to him or her. For instance, the fact that a Victorian lamp is an imitation may not matter to a buyer who needs it for a period film set. In such a case, she may pay almost as much as an antique collector would for a genuinely old lamp of the same design. And both buyers would have got a fair deal. This hypothesis assumes, of course, that both buyers are knowledgeable.
The sum of the parts is greater than the whole: At the automobile spares market, old vehicles fit for the junkyard come in, to be reincarnated a few hours later! Operating on the principle that there’s some good in everything, spares dealers take apart old vehicles in this section of Chor Bazaar, and remove reusable parts that can be sold again. For customers, this is a boon in disguise, as buying replacement parts from OEMs is expensive as well as wasteful. For example, a customer would have to buy a pair of wing mirrors at a regular supplier, even if he needs to replace just a single broken one. But at Chor Bazaar, he can just buy a single piece and that too at a steal. Besides, there is no shortage of options; you can buy spares for almost any vehicle, from an obsolete Fiat to a Mercedes Benz. According to one of the dealers in this section of the bazaar, it takes two to three hours to completely dismantle a vehicle. In this time, all the reusable, resalable parts are separated, and the unusable parts are sold as scrap. What a way to recycle! Turning trash to treasure: A wheel fell off your revolving chair? Don’t replace the whole chair, just replace the wheel. Is your favourite great aunt visiting for a week? She doesn’t have to pay excess baggage by lugging along her wheel chair; you could just get a slightly used one that will suffice, for the duration of her visit. Chor Bazaar’s used goods stalls are full of odd things that can be recycled, or even upcycled. For example, there are old wooden screen doors that can be picked up for a song and used as a pegboard in a boutique window. Or old tin milk cans that make unique planters and conversation pieces at the office. High street brands in Europe often upcycle vintage pieces like old sewing machines as a backdrop for their collections. With places like Chor Bazaar, one can do the same, at a fraction of the cost. Surprised that all these eye openers have come from a pack of vendors, most of who have barely completed school? Well there are many more astounding facts in store. All it takes is a trip to a bazaar!
Irawati Gowariker & Ashwini Gowariker