The Chromosome of Indian Consumers

On the Internet the other day I came across this quote from a prominent marketing consultant: “The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” Easier said than done! For sales staff at jewellery stores this is the mother of all challenges.

Consumers today certainly have the will and the wherewithal. There is also a feel-good factor in the air. With my experience of more than a decade in the industry, however, I know that these facts alone will not drive sales to the canny Indian consumer.

For a husband, the idea of trudging down to the local grocery shop early on a weekend morning after an ultimatum from the wife is painful. But go he must.

On the way to the same old shop, he is distracted by a newly opened shop with a better ambience and display. He glances at his shopping list and decides to give the new place a try.

He picks the commonest product on his list. As he asks the sales staff to bring him a pack of butter, his eyes scan the store automatically to analyse the stock and ambience. He notes the promptness and politeness of the staff. If he is satisfied with this transaction, he will buy his whole shopping list right here.

This is behaviour typical of the Indian consumer. It is visible in every commercial situation and a jewellery store is no exception. A customer will test the waters with a low-risk purchase before taking the plunge. For retailers the question is how to unlock the hidden treasures of the customer’s desire and willingness.

As I have said, consumers have the will and the wherewithal. What they need is an environment that encourages them to exercise their power. A skillful sales staff can build the right comfort zone around every customer.

A customer comes to a store with a specific requirement: jewellery for a wedding, say, or for an anniversary. But she will not tell the sales staff her purpose straightaway. Staff members must be able to cast a spell, with carefully selected words, positive body language and warm but respectful conversation, so that the customer sheds her inhibitions and discloses her purpose.

With open-ended questions that focus on product variety instead of narrowing down to a few options, inserted intelligently into the discussion, the sales staff can learn the customer’s actual purpose. The sales staff must use words like an X-ray machine, to scan the customer’s mind and understand her sensibilities as well as her purse-power.

Visualise the customer as an aircraft circling above an airport, waiting for the green signal from Air Traffic Control (that is, the sales staff) to come in for a perfect and safe landing.

A successful sale is one that maximises the customer’s budget and builds on her sensibilities. Recently a man came to our store to buy a ring. As it turned out, he ended up buying several lakhs’ worth of jewellery for a wedding in his family. A productive conversation brought out these possibilities.

But be warned: sales staff should not be calculating numbers while attending to and interacting with a customer. If one party to a conversation is busy thinking of targets and conversions, that will drain warmth from the conversation and leave it purely sales-driven. Customers genuinely abhor brazen salesmanship.


I always urge the sales staff at our stores to focus on developing a bond with each customer. Do that, I tell them, and sales will happen automatically.

In the same way that the Indian customer keeps her purpose a closely guarded secret, at least at the beginning of a transaction, she keeps her true budget secret, too. It is up to the sales staff to locate that hidden upper number. Speaking generally, if a customer says her budget is `60,000, a deal can easily be closed at `75,000-80,000.


I don’t call this up-selling. It is more like stretching the customer’s budget to a point that is acceptable to both parties. What is a sale without a challenge?

(As told to Niladri S Nath)