The Indian retail industry is thriving today. There is stiff competition among Indian and foreign retailers to attract customers and retain them. In this tug-of-war, quality retailing has emerged as the solution. The retailer who provides quality products and services along with a quality shopping experience succeeds in the long run.

The quality of the product offered by the retailer has two aspects � the perceived quality and the actual quality. Perceived quality or point of sale quality refers to the image that the customer has about the product while buying it. The actual quality or the point of use quality is the quality of the product that the consumer experiences while using it. The retailer plays a very important role in building up perceived quality with the use of attractive display. The retailer is in direct contact with the customers and so he can play a significant part in helping the manufacturer reduce the gap between actual and perceived quality. The retailer should also ensure quality at the various stages of the supply chain so that the quality of the product is not affected.

Another important factor to be considered for quality retailing is the quality of the services provided to the customer. Today�s customer wants a unique shopping experience. Retailers are striving to help customers enjoy their shopping expedition as much as possible. The difference between shopping in India and shopping abroad is reducing gradually, particularly with several large malls coming up all over India. Customer mentality is different in different countries. Particularly in India, there are huge cultural differences among the people of different states, which in turn affect their buying behavior. In this scenario, it becomes necessary for the retailer to survey the customers� culture and expectations so that he can train his staff to appropriately meet these expectations.

Visual merchandising, mystery shopping and due diligence testing are three of the major concepts being embraced by retailers to help in attracting and retaining customers.

Visual merchandising is the creation of an attractive visual image to induce the customers to buy from a certain retail outlet. Sometimes, it is mistaken to be the same as window display, but in fact, window display is only a very small part of visual merchandising. It deals with the entire image presented by the retail outlet to the customer. It includes several aspects such as the flooring and lighting used in the store, the color co-ordination in the store, uniforms of the staff, the way in which the staff interacts with the customers, mannequins used, the design of the trial rooms � in short, every thing that creates an image about the store in the mind of the customer. More and more retailers are understanding the importance of visual merchandising in augmenting sales and are indulging in it. Visual merchandising is being considered as an investment and not as an expense.

Another trend that is emerging in the retail industry in India is that of mystery shopping. Though it is still in the nascent stage in India, many well-known retailers like Nike, Gap, McDonald and Banana Republic are using mystery shopping as a technique to see whether their customers are actually being delivered the products and services of the desired quality or not. A mystery shopper is a person who is paid by the retailer to shop in his store in order to experience how a customer is served. He then reports his findings to the retailer so that measures can be taken as appropriate. Mystery shopping gives an idea about the current service quality provided by the retailer so that steps for improving on it can be taken. It also helps in comparing the quality of the products and services with that of competitors. Another important function of mystery shopping is that it helps in checking whether the service provided by the staff matches the firm�s established policies or not. Some firms make use of mystery shopping to identify the employee who provides the best service and in rewarding them. Suitable training modules can also be developed for the staff to overcome flaws in the service system.

Yet another concept that is slowly gaining momentum in the Indian textile industry is that of due diligence testing. Due diligence testing with respect to products is undertaken in addition to the routine quality control checks. It refers to the checking of several aspects such as whether the products have been manufactured under healthy conditions, whether child labour has been used and whether the production process is harmful to the society or to the environment. The retailer should undertake due diligence testing to ensure quality at the various stages of the supply chain. Surprise visits or blind checks can also be used by the retailer for due diligence testing. With the help of due diligence testing, the retailer can be assured of the quality of the product and can promote it easily. Due diligence testing is not compulsory as per law, except in certain countries like U.K.; however more and more retailers are now resorting to this measure to safeguard the interest of the customer and thereby their own.

In these times of tough competition among the retailers, if they indulge in price wars, it tends to reduce their profitability. It has been observed that customers give more importance to product quality and customer service than to price. Many companies have been able to sustain themselves in spite of charging a higher price for their product than their competitors with the help of better customer service. Steps such as mystery shopping, due diligence and visual merchandising can go a long way in developing trust and confidence in the minds of the customers and ensure their long-term support.

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