4 Marketing Secrets from Indian Street Vendors

Shopping in India can be a bewildering experience.  Aside from the completely westernized shopping megamalls that are popping up all over large cities in India, there are still thousands of stalls, streetside vendors, underground markets and bazaars selling just about everything imaginable. Lajpat Nagar in Delhi is one of these types of places, full of stores stocking brilliantly colorful clothes, textiles and other materials stacked from floor to ceiling using every centimeter of space in each narrowly designed retail cubicle. Upon first entering the main road here, you are struck by two things  the colorfulness of every store, and the sameness of each store, seeming to sell the exact same materials side by side. Of course, there may be differences – but to the unfamiliar shopper, picking one store over another seems to be nothing more than a random choice.

Despite this landscape of chaos, there is an order that emerges and it is mostly driven by word of mouth. People tell one another which shops are good and which are cheats. They share recommendations on almost a product by product basis. There is no one best store for everything. For the best dress (sari), you go to one place, for the best selection of authentic (non-pirated) DVDs you go to another. In this world of street marketing, owning one product category and being the best place for it is the most important thing.

Nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to churis (also called bangles). Churis, unlike clothes and many other products, look the same to anyone.  All stores mostly have the same ones, buy them from the same place, and even stack them in the same way.  What distinguishes churis from one another is what order they are placed in to match with a particular outfit. This is where the skill of the Churi Wala (salesperson) comes in. He (usually it’s a man) can look at an outfit and match the churis exactly. For the Churi store, it is the skill of the salesman to provide exactly what you need that makes the sale.

Put all of these pieces together and there are a few interesting marketing lessons that come from the Indian street vendor which should be valuable for your business as well:

  1. Be the best at something small. Often times we try to make our businesses the best for an entire category. Are you building the best legal firm? Or the best home furnishing store? Instead of trying to own a broad category, what if you started to set your sights a bit narrower? Instead of the best furniture store, aim to have the best selection of coffee tables in town. Instead of trying to provide legal services for everyone, build a track record of being the best at foreclosures. Reputations can span to an entire industry, but they usually start with something smaller.
  2. Create a culture of experts. Everyone knows the feeling of speaking to someone who knows what they are talking about. They give you good advice and tell you what you really need to know. When they sell you a new curtain, they tell you the lining shouldn’t be cotton because that will shrink. Their expertise is what you are really buying – and the product becomes secondary. In many small businesses, you have that person somewhere in your organization, but the key to success is translating that into your workforce. The Churi wala isn’t just selling bangles, he’s the only one that can match them for you.
  3. Encourage word of mouth. This lesson is not exclusive to Indian street marketing, but it is something that you see over and over from the street markets and stalls. The surest proof that it is working is the fact that nearly 100% of the people who actually walk into a store will be purchasing something.  The common retail concept in the US of “just looking” doesn’t seem to apply here.  As a result, it really pays to take care of every customer that comes in the door.  Serve them coffee or tea.  Give chocolates to their kids.  Going shopping to the right store here feels like coming home – and after a good experience, you are likely to recommend that same home to anyone else.  For businesses such as this, word of mouth is the only marketing that works.
  4. Speak the right language. One of the more popular videos on YouTube features a young boy selling his fans made of peacock feathers. Described in the title of the video as the “lingo kid” – he speaks a dozen different languages to help invite passersby to stop and see his products. The product itself doesn’t vary, but the way he promotes it and the language he uses is very specific for each audience and helps to create a deeper immediate connection because you know that he is able to speak to you as an individual.

By Rohit Bhargava

Source: Open Forum

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