It only takes a mouse and a telephone
Ruwanthi Herat Gunaratne looks at marketing trends in a new era
We've grown excessively lazy during the past few years. No more do we wake up on a Sunday morning and stroll to the newspaper stand at the top of the road to pick up our favourite newspaper. No more do we visit the pola on Saturdays. It's either a quick trip to the supermarket or everything is delivered right to your door. You really don't need to leave home to shop.

Infomercials get phones ringing

Kitchen utensils and car vacuum cleaners, exercise machines and children's name it and it comes to your door. And if you don't fancy any of these, there are manicure and pedicure sets and a range of hand-held sewing machines to choose from.

These products can be purchased in three ways. There's the option of buying it from a door-to-door salesman who might suddenly pop up at your home, on the telephone or by the click of the mouse on the Internet. Shocked? It's true. Marketing of the new era is no longer restricted to shopping arcades and weekend polas.

Take Quantum Teleshopping for example. They've been around for four years now and are the firm behind those "half hour infomercials" on television. "People do not have the time to go out shopping anymore. Parking is a big problem. Here they are given the opportunity to pick up the phone, dial a number and get the product they wanted delivered to their door," says Nomal Wijeyaratne, the Managing Director of Quantum Teleshopping.

Most countries have their own dedicated shopping channels that are tailormade for this type of marketing. The half-hour infomercials usually begin with an introductory 13 minutes that give the viewer a chance to see and understand the product better. Local information of how and where to purchase a product follows.

Direct approach: The salesman at your door Pix by M. A. Pushpa Kumara

"Consumers need not leave their homes to get the perfect product. We also provide a 30-day money back guarantee. The slightest complaint can be voiced and an answer will be provided, " Mr. Wijeyaratne said.

How well has the market caught on in Sri Lanka? "Well it's a niche market, quite small and concentrated in Colombo. But it is adequate for us to sustain ourselves. Still, the majority of our sales take place in the showroom but that too is due to the TV advertising."

These infomercials make or break the sale. It is through the TV advertisements that the interest is generated but the need to touch and feel the product before purchase exists and that is why the showroom provides 80% of the sales." So the human touch is lost due to TV advertising? Not really, he says. "Take clothing for example. Here the human touch is vital and that is why it never picked up on telemarketing. But with exercise equipment it is not a problem."

But he is confident that leisure shopping will remain the same. These are family outings in a way and there's always variety. He says that grocery shopping on the other hand can be tedious as the same products are bought day after day, month after month and year after year. "I'm sure that anyone will be willing to give the grocery list to someone else and get it done."

Another relatively new concept in marketing that hit Sri Lanka six years ago was that of Direct Sales. Yousef Mohamed Jiffry, the Chairman and Managing Director of Direct Marketing International (Pvt.) Ltd. who was working in the Gulf in the same business explains, "I wanted to come to Sri Lanka to settle down and so brought down the concept with me."

Direct Marketing is a wholesale distribution company selling merchandise to independent distributors who in turn sell directly to consumers. These distributors go door-to-door to homes or workplaces, showing people their products. Sales are either made on the spot or a sample product and order form are left and picked up later.

Merchandise is usually sold on the basis of low price and good value. The more people see the product the better the chance of selling it. But how did he introduce the concept to the country? "Our sales people were not willing to go out into the field dressed in shirt and tie, carrying a bag full of products and selling it to people they did not know. So initially I brought down three Americans who worked with me for three years. They went out to the field with our salesmen and showed them how the system worked and how effective it could be. It soon caught on and we now have 247 distributors."

The response, he says, has been fantastic. Distributors are willing to work even during the weekends to meet the demand, selling products like hand-held fans and massagers, and kitchen scissors with a bottle opener attached to it. "They are not the kind of products that you would go out of your way to purchase. They are only purchased on a whim."

Suppose a product did not live upto expectations? "The customers are free to come back to us. We are prepared to give them an alternate piece of equipment. Each bill has our telephone number and address."

The salesman's attitude is vital for this type of business. "Every morning we have motivational meetings where we convince our salespeople that they can do it, that they can make any sale." The job is tiring but rewarding. Mr. Yousef says that there are those who are willing to out even after seven in the night to make a sale.

So how do people react? "Some are quite willing to ask the salesman in and listen to what he has to say. Others slam the door on them or ask them to come some other time. It's everything to do with attitude. If the first house doesn't yield any results they just move on to the next. It's as simple as that."

E-commerce too is catching on. There is no limit to the purchases one can make on the Internet. Books, flowers, furniture and even 100g of candied peel as we found out. There are supermarkets online that promise to deliver your goods within a period of 72 hours. You can even order ladies'lingerie off the Internet.

But do people actually shop on the Internet? "Yes, they do,"says Brando Grey, the Senior Executive of Customer and Merchant Services at Lanka E-com Technologies. "It's mainly the migrants who are interested. A gentleman in the States recently wanted to buy his mother in Sri Lanka a refrigerator. So a few e-mails went back and forth and we decided on the perfect colour, make and size. It made everything very easy."

This concept was first introduced nearly five years ago and mainly targeted utility services. One could pay phone bills, water bills and electricity bills all on the Internet. But now nearly everything can be purchased online.

With these new concepts of marketing springing up one cannot but wonder whether in twenty years time we'd be totally at the mercy of a mouse and a telephone. But modernization has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Convenience has always been top priority, but the allure of actually walking up to the corner shop and buying that 100g of candied peel is still present. And will be so for a long time to come.

Back to Top  Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.