By: Sreeradha D Basu

Shoppers, dont stop; keep reading. Big retailers are finding new and interesting ideas to woo you and they go beyond price discounts, free parking and Facebook presence. So, look forward to attending some workshop on cookery or interior design workshop right inside your colony, conducted by Spencers Retail. Or, to getting your new pair of Bata shoes, which was not available at the neighbourhood showroom, delivered home by courier.

Retailers such as Spencers Retail, Shoppers Stop, Future Group, ITCs Wills Lifestyle and Bata India are trying new tricks to connect with customers and build a relation that will give them an edge in the rapidly growing but increasingly competitive retail market in the country. And they offer a whole lot of services, from home delivery across the country and style advices to workshops in residential localities and free yoga classes.

Such initiatives, retailers say, will help them stay connected with consumers and get crucial insights into what people want. Through such initiatives, we can get a fix on what customers want and come up with service initiatives accordingly, says Sanjay Gupta, marketing head at Spencers Retail.

Within a couple of months, the RPG group firm will start a pilot project in Kolkata, dubbed At Home with Spencers, where it will conduct workshops on cookery, art-of-life, health & hygiene, interior designing, fashion and beauty for women at residential colonies. The programme will be rolled out nationally within months, says Mr. Gupta.

Shoppers Stop is already running its Start Something New Today campaign in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore to push a different fashion product every week through local advertisements and social media. And it hit the bulls eye.

The results have been fantastic, nearly tripling the sales of some fashion items, says Vinay Bhatia, customer care associate and VP, marketing & loyalty, at Shoppers Stop.

Shoppers Stop also runs other relationship-building programmes in local catchment areas such as holding yoga classes every day for a group of 15-20 people at its Chembur outlet before the store opens. Its come to a stage when retailers have to think how to be different, says Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO of Retailers Association of India (RAI).

At a strategic level, retailers want to define their above customer expectations (ACE) model, he says. Its all about exceeding customer expectations.

Such initiatives range from retailers providing free parking at malls and using social networks to increase customer engagement to offers such as Big Bazaars promise to pay double the price difference if any product is found to be cheaper at a rival shop, says Mr. Rajagopalan.

Bata India, which has the largest network of stores in the country, recently introduced a home delivery service in metros. The service, now available in metros, will soon be available across all Bata stores, according to Bata India MD and CEO Marcelo Villagran.

ITC Wills Lifestyle has gone a step further. If a customer is unable to find any particular size/style that is available in any of its store in the country, it will be made available to him/her without any obligation to buy. Alternations are done within an hour or home delivered.

If you can meet and exceed customer expectations, it makes a deeper contact and has a more lasting impression, says Atul Chand, CEO, retail business, ITC Lifestyle.

Originally published in The Economic Times on 6 Aug 2010, written by Sreeradha D Basu, ET Bureau, Kolkata