Marks & Spencer has been a destination for all visitors to London.
In the good old days, the 1970’s and the 1980’s every Indian going to London would be armed with a list which set out the essentials that had to be bought from Marks and Spencer. These essentials normally comprised of underwear, or inner wear or whatever is the polite word today. So Dad walked into the ‘Lingerie’ department, most embarrassed, and, attempted to buy inner wear for the family. Carrying the precious shopping, he would amble across to the ‘mens’ section and splash out on some shirts. In those days there was really nothing available of even halfway decent quality in India. For good reason underwear from M&S was much sought after. It fitted well and lasted. The Dhobi back home, try as he could, found it difficult to screw up M&S underpants, such was their quality. Buying a decent ready made formal office shirt in India was next to impossible. What you got was badly cut, has collars that flopped and flapped and buttons came off. So M&S was the answer to all Indians.
After you bought your clothes, with the very precious foreign exchange given to you by our Government, you stood in a line to get the VAT refund processed. Standing in line with you were Nigerians. They were the guys with cash in those days. Many of you may not know this, but till way into the 1980’s M&S only accepted cash. No cards were accepted. Then, with the spread of card usage, they started to accept on M&S branded credit cards. The acceptance of all cards by M&S in the UK is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Today, it is pretty much the same. The Oxford Street branch of M&S is full of Indians and Pakistani’s buying stuff. The underwear is still top quality. Of course, today with changing economic status, the Nigerians are a bit lower in the pecking order. The Chinese and Koreans are now big shoppers. So now, you stand in the VAT refund line with a bunch of Orientals.
Not surprisingly, partly I imagine because of the huge sales to Indians, and partly because of liberalization in India, M&S opened in India. This was in 2000 or so. Do bear in mind that by 2000, Indians were travelling in droves as compared to the very Socialist 1970’s and 1980’s. Exchange restrictions were gone and you could spend upto USD 10,000/- So Indians knew what was on offer in the UK. Unfortunately, for M&S, opening was a disaster. The clothes were old. The clothes were inappropriate, the merchandising poor and, most disturbingly, the clothes were horribly expensive. M&S struggled.
Then, it was Reliance to the rescue. A new 51:49 joint venture was set up by Reliance and M&S. More stores opened and hugely improved merchandising resulted in M&S regaining its position.
Today, I can assure you that the merchandise available in the M&S flagship store at Hill Road at Bandra is comparable to what you get in the UK. Of course there are regional variations on account of local fashions and climatic conditions. Of course the store is smaller. But, by and large, the merchandise is excellent and more importantly, the same as is available in the UK, and, at broadly the same prices.
The stores are set up similarly; the sales staff is generally much better trained, knowledgeable and courteous than most other stores. Frankly, going to the Hill Road M&S, for me, is like stepping into London. Okay, I exaggerate, but you get the point.
Anyway, a few days ago, I needed to get myself some ‘smalls’. I am quite partial to the David Gandy endorsed M&S underwear. So, I picked up a couple of boxes, each of which has a pair of underwear. Accompanying me was HRH the Queen of Kutch. I know it is impertinent and probably sacrilegious to write about these things, but HRH went to the Lingerie department and bought a pack of ladies panties. I went across to the cashier and the purchases were scanned, the total rung up, the credit card charged – very fast line speeds, much faster than any other store in Mumbai. I wonder if they are using Jio – and then started the fun.
The cashier opened each box. He then took out each boxer short and removed the security tag. Then he refolded the boxers and put them back in the box. The pack of 5, ladies panties had each panty inside the pack separately tagged. I was amazed, and I asked why every garment was tagged. I should have known before I asked him! Because Indians are fucking criminals, robbers, pilferers pocket maar’s. He said that people open packs and pilfer a single item. Therefore, they have to tag each and every item. I was truly shocked. After removing the tags, just to double check, he placed the shopping bag on a scanner, which thankfully did not beep. This meant that all tags had been removed.
Besides stating what is the obvious, that Indians are thieves, do you realize what must be happening before items are displayed? Every pack is obviously opened. Tagged, contents refolded, repacked and displayed. When sold, the whole process is reversed. The number of grubby hands touching every garment. The number of staff required to do this. The time, the time cost, the manpower cost, the effort. Don’t forget the cost of the actual tag and the equipment needed to fix the tags. During peak shopping time, imagine the lines at the cashier, the poor chap has to remove all tags, delaying checkout.
To look at it differently, the costs of tagging, and I not being a retailer cannot give you an accurate number, must be less than the costs of the shoplifted goods. That is why it makes sense for M&S to spend money tagging everything. Tagging everything is cheaper than the losses by theft.
How pathetic we Indians are. I have nothing more to write.