Earlier I had written about the start of the first Staples store in Bangalore. I finally got to visit the store last week.
The store is on the Outer Ring Road, near the Marathalli Junction, opposite to Innovative Multiplex theaters. There are very few parking spots (5 or 6) in front of the store. I went in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday and found one free spot. If you plan to go at a more crowded time, you probably have to park on the street or around the side gullies.
As soon as you enter the store you find a row of desktop PCs to your left and laptops to your right. Then there is a row of shrink wrapped software packages and games. Across from the games, there are two aisles of PC accessories – keyboard, mouse, cables, USB drives, routers, headsets, webcams and such. Next there is a long aisle full of laptop bags, backpacks, laptop sleeves, CD/DVD covers and cases. Beyond that you find UPSs, blank media, printers, scanners and paper shredders. This leads you the second floor which is mostly filled with office supplies. The “Apple Store” and “Print Center” are also on the second floor. The whole range of office supplies, ranging from a variety of pens and pencils to papers, art supplies, notebooks, calendars and so on fills most of the floor. In one corner there are a few computer desks and chairs. The other corner is dominated by an area filled with Apple products, and a Print Center that caters to various photo and print needs. There is also an odd corner with cleaning supplies, mops and waste baskets! I am missing some products here and there but this should give you a flavor of what you can expect to find.
Now enough of the facts, on to my opinion.
First, I went to the store with an expectation of seeing a typical Staples store. I have been to a number of Staples stores in the US, and was expecting to find something similar. But what I found was an Indian electronics/office supply store that has a few Staples branded products and few other imported brands. The layout and the arrangements in the store are also reminiscent of other electronics stores like Next or E-Zone. The ambiance is mostly stark and plain. The most likely reason I came up with is that the store is a joint venture between the Future Group (more commonly known as Pantaloon India, India’s largest Retail company) and Staples, USA, and probably the people from the local Pantaloon group designed the layout and ambiance. If you have been to Big Bazaar, you might be reminded of the similarity (though the Staples store is not as crowded or ‘loud’ as Big Bazaar).
Product Selection – Computers and Electronics
The store has put up some ads that proclaim ‘the largest laptop collection’ and such. In the store you will find less than 10 laptops and about 10 desktops. The selection of accessories are also very limited. For example, there are no hard drives (internal or external) available – the only storage device they had was a 8GB USB Drive that was outrageously priced. Among the products they actually have, there are mostly only one or two of each. There is one Linksys router and one Netgear router, one wireless keyboard, one wireless mouse. There were a few webcams and there were probably close to a dozen types of cables (USB, Firewire, Stereo). Few things they had in ample supply were blank CD/DVD media (but most of the supply was the local Moser-Baer brand; very few Sony and other imported brands), laptop backpacks, printer ink and printers (I could find many inkjet and laser printers). The ‘Apple Center’ has the usual range of Macs (iMac, Macbook, MacMini), iPods and accessories that you will find in the Apple Stores. I could not find anything unique about the variety or the product displays. If you are looking for some specific items you have to come to the store and see if they have it available. My hope is that its still early days for the store and their product selection will improve over time. If this is all the range thats going to be available, I wont be a frequent visitor.
Product Selection – Office Supplies
I was more disappointed with office supplies than anything else in the store. Staples is known for carrying a wide variety of office supplies, but what you find in this store is pretty underwhelming. Sure there is the usual gamut of things – multiple shelves of pens, pencils, erasers, highlighters, desktop trays, notebooks, calendars and so on, but two aspects disappointed me — most of the items were Indian brands that you will find in any corner stationary store (there are few Staples branded stuff, but very few other imported brands), and there were very few unique items that perked my interest to look or to buy. I didn’t expect this from a store that carries the Staples brand for its name and markets itself as a premium store. There were some oddities too: a 10 foot long shelf is devoted to art supplies – water colors, acrylics, oil paints of many varieties – but you wont find anywhere in the store a single paint brush, canvas or other things you need for painting!
Customer Service and Sales People
One annoying thing I experienced, even in the first five minutes: when you walk into an aisle or shelf, a sales person will start following you one step behind. Probably trying to help, but most of them neither asked if I wanted help or didn’t take the cue that I didn’t want help. Same behavior all over the store, so it has nothing to do with individuals. It is plain that they have been instructed to follow around. It got so annoying after a while that I had to tell them sternly to stop following me.
At one point, I wanted some help finding paint brushes. I asked a sales person. He said “not in stock”. I said “I don’t find even a single brush; are all brushes out of stock or do you just not carry any brushes?”. He gave me a sheepish smile and said “I don’t know Sir”, but promptly added “we will get it in a day or two Sir”!!!
In another instance, I couldn’t find any hard disks and asked the sales guy walking behind me. He had no idea what I was talking about when I said ‘hard disk’. He went to get someone else. The other guy came and asked what I wanted, and I repeated that I was trying to find hard disks. He walked to an aisle and got me a USB Drive. I told him “hard disk, not USB Drive”. Pat came the reply, “its not in stock sir”. Again I asked, “I dont find even one hard disk. Do you actually carry any, or are you just telling me ‘out of stock’?”. Again the same answer, “We don’t have it now Sir, but we will get it in a day or two”. This points to only one thing: the sales people have been instructed to say “out of stock” any time a customer asks for something that they don’t have, irrespective of whether they carry that item or not. Not a good idea.
It is also clear that the sales people (esp in the computer sections) have very low technical knowledge to really help a layman customer. You have to know what you are looking for or you will have a hard time. Worst, you might end up buying something that you were not looking for in the first place. Caveat Emptor.
The prices are not surprising if you have shopped at other electronics and office supplies stores elsewhere in Bangalore. The one thing I liked is the clear, large, red price tags/labels they have for each product. They have put the labels on the shelf rather than on the product; the result is you can glance through the shelf looking at the items and prices in one glance without having to lift each item to examine its price. A suggestion to the store management: now that you have a label in the right place, you should add more product information (esp for computer related products) like technical specs and so on. It would really help customers find what they want.
There was a problem at checkout. Out of the four items I bought, the sales person could not ring up two using the bar code (both were art supplies). The products did not show up in their sales register. He had to manually write out a cash bill for them (and in that process made a very careless mistake in writing up the prices, which I noticed an pointed out in the end). I only hope that products not being found in their sales register is only a start up issue for a new store and will get corrected soon.
While I was at the store, I saw Kishore Biyani, the Managing Director and CEO of the Future Group. He was in the store, checking around how things are and chatting with some employees. He had an entourage (probably the store manager and some of his team) following him and listening to his every word! He appeared to be a very simple man, based on his dress, demeanor, and activities. He went around looking at various parts of the store, asked to move some things around and even inspected a dirty patch or two in the floor(!). He had a cell phone in his hand, and pretty much every couple of minutes (in the 10+ minutes I watched him) he got a call. Finally he came out (as I was coming out of store myself) with a large laptop bag and stood outside talking to his posse, pointing to something in the exterior of the store.
Overall, I was personally underwhelmed after the visit. Primary reason is I went with a lot of expectation. If you have never been to a Staples store in the US, you might like it. The variety of products is not enough for a sophisticated hi-tech buyer, but it most likely meets the needs of the common electronics/computer supplies buyer in India. I am sure if they took some effort to increase the range of products, they can attract a larger range of demographics. You can find most of the office supplies that you find in Staples in either your local stationary shop or any large general retailer like Big Bazaar. If you want to buy Staples branded products, you are not going to find them anywhere else though. I would recommend visiting the Staples store once so you know for yourself whats there and whats not there. If you live close to the store, it might be worth going there occasionally for your shopping needs, but if you live far away from the store (like me), most likely you will find some other place closer that sells the same thing.
Its worth one visit for sure.