Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Fake Act

Usually, I intend to keep this space free of my professional life but this particular episode of a blatant fake-act needs to be documented here.

A few weeks ago I had gone for a summit called ‘A Strategic approach to retailing for brand profitability’, as one of our important clients in Sri Lanka is in the business of Retailing. It was held in one of the 5 star hotels of Colombo and there were two retail masters (as the e-mailer had indicated) from India, doing the talk. R Kannan, President of RAMMS India (a retail solutions company) and Gopi Krishnaswamy, CEO of Insight Instore Research (another company doing the same kind of stuff with offices in India & Singapore) were the retail masters.

Though Mr. Kannan’s session was good but had nothing really revealing on the subject. But it was Mr. Krishnaswamy, the CEO of the Insight Instore Research, who had some really revealing insights.

Through a series of examples from his company’s experiences on various clients across the world, he started making some brilliant points. Examples like once his company, Insight Instore Research, tracked a shopper with a cartful of items, who abandoned the idea of purchasing them because of the waiting time of half an hour at the payment counter’. The point being made is that shoppers hate waiting in the queue.

A bell rang in my mind. Paco Underhill’s ‘Why We Buy’??? But then, I thought, it sounds like a common occurrence at retail stores and Insight Instore research would have perhaps tracked it.

For those who are not aware of Paco Underhill and his extremely interesting book called, ‘Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping’, it’s a very interesting book on the subject indicated by the title of the book. Mr Underhill is the CEO of Envirosell, Inc., a company dedicated to retail research. His clients include Gap, Hallmark, the U.S. Postal Service, Wal-Mart and Starbucks. You can know more about the man and his work over here. Now, thanks to a project for this retail client of ours, I had finished reading this book a week before this retail summit.

But all the subsequent examples put across by Mr. Krishnaswamy kept ringing the same ‘Paco bell’ until it turned into a loud cacophony of many bells (like the prelude to the song ‘Time’ by Pink Floyd) with the final example. It’s the famous example of a lingerie area in a clothes store not doing well because they had kept benches for the bored and waiting husbands, right next to it. (The point here being, the layout of the store is very crucial.)

Once again from Paco Underhill’s study (and mentioned in his book) being passed off as something found out by Mr Krishnaswamy and his Insight Instore research. Minutes later, I was out of the hall where this was happening.

Why? The gentleman could have easily mentioned the correct source of the examples while making the same point. Nothing would have got lost. While now, his image and credibility is lost in my eyes and the eyes of all those who will read this.


bluesin said...

I am pretty sure that this has not surprised you. Paraphrasing, plagiarizing and taking undue credit is rife in most industries in our country. But I equally blame a clueless audience. There are very few like you... that get it. The conference attendee mindset in this country is more ... free food and booze (unfortunately).

ALIen said...

this is what is the usual thing that peoplle who seems to know things actually behave as they don't know and something like "Aedaa ban kar peda khana" types... Baba thanks for the book reference.

blaiq said...

I agree with bluesin. If the typical conference goer is a bit more informed than he/she usually is, it would be difficult to pull off this charade. Even the ones not there for the free food or booze are typically clueless about things that are standard knowledge/compulsory reading for their industries.

After reading this I really am hoping I run into this Gopi Krishnaswamy somewhere ;)

Anonymous said...

You can get the real thing. Envirosell, Paco's company has a full retail research office in India.

Rahul Jauhari said...

I hope he gets to read this post...

Farhan said...

I do agree that this needs to be documented and forwarded to the organisers of this workshop to avoid any future disasters of this nature. How could Mr. Krishnaswamy pass off the hard work done by Mr. Paco Underhill as their own, without feelings of guilt or remorse?

meraj said...

its not surprising but its always revolting and this time it was revolting enough to write about it.

you are welcome!

it will be an amusing encounter if you ever run into this gentleman.

thats right!

yeah...i want him to read this and feel a bit ashamed about himself...if at all.

well sure you will do the needful of getting this across to the organisers of the seminar

Smiling Dolphin said...

Meraj, I think you should write a polite letter to Gopi Krishnaswamy about your discomfort with what he did, enclosing the blogpost link(with its comments!). It's bad enough he did this, but you also need to stop him from ever doing it again, and that can only happen if you come right out and tell him so. All the best with the letter:-), Lynn

Gopi Krishnaswamy said...

Hi Meraj,

I believe it is appropriate to acknowledge both praise and criticism not matter how big or small, with balance and equanimity and hence decided to respond to your post as soon as it was brought to my attention. First of all, thank you for expressing your views and sharing them. I also thank the others who have commented, for their views and opinions.

While it would have been a pleasure to meet you at the seminar and discuss your opinions first hand, I will still try to address your concerns now as best as I can.

First of all, Paco's book 'Why we buy' has been a best seller for 10 years now and is the largest selling book on retail. I first read it myself in 2000. It cites a number of examples throughout. In the ten years since its publication, various people, researchers and companies have studied innumerable aspects of retail. Many of these do overlap with studies referred to in the book. For example, the book itself talks about how 60 to 70% of purchase decisions are taken in the store. As it turns out, the major support for this rule comes from the 1995 Consumer Buying Habits study initiated by Point of Purchase Advertising Institute (POPAI). The study covered 4200 consumer across 14 US cities and found that a high 70% made purchase decisions inside the store. However, the book did more to publicize this finding than POPAI could have ever imagined!

There have also been innumerable studies conducted on shopping time and check out times influence on shopper satisfaction and also on shopping behaviour of men and women. We are definitely not the first and will certainly not be the last. Please do read Martin Lindstrom's recent book titled 'Buyology. Why everything we thought about why we buy is wrong'. While the approach is different, I believe you will find bells ringing when it comes to certain situations.

The point being that studies, results and therefore examples, do overlap in a field as broad as shopper behaviour and in my own 15 years in the domain, I have seen a great many such cases. To assume that each has taken unfairly from the other might be a bit limited. Secondly as speakers, we use a large number of examples which vary depending on the audience interaction. I believe in the seminar you attended, I might have used over a dozen examples, mostly from our own work. You may recall that examples like the beer and diaper example (to explain the importance of adjacency) were clearly stated as not from our work, but a 'famous' example. While we are not at liberty to disclose many of the brands and names involved in specific studies and examples, we do work with leading brands in India and globally. To suggest that none of the work is original implies that these leading marketers are ignorant enough to not know the value of what we talk about and just buy borrowed examples. And that does seem a bit unfair to us and to them!!

A recent research project conducted by us in fact questions the 70% rule in the context of traditional retail in India! An ongoing study of ours in collaboration with a world leading business school analyses some of the points (like the importance of waiting time and store design) you have rightly derived from my 'borrowed' examples!

Meraj, my response here is not meant as a justification and certainly not as a further provocation. It is purely meant as an explanation of how we perceive the situation. I will be happy to have a chat with you on mail, phone or in person should you see merit in doing so. I'm available on

I would also encourage others reading your post to visit our website at for a better and more neutral perspective of our work and for those who have said they would like to meet me or write to me, it would be my pleasure to hear any qualified and objective views you may have. After all, in lighting a lamp for somebody else, you will also brighten your own path!

Bhaskar Khaund said...

Meraj - interesting post , do more of this , nice to be updated on stuff
Mr Krishnaswami - thanks for the clarification. very good - and professional ! - of you to respond to the post. Am sure Meraj's feedback was very useful in providing an audience perspective for your future talks. Overall
I thought this exchange was a great example of what the internet is doing to enrich conversations.

meraj said...

Mr Krishnaswamy,
Really appreciate the fact that you tried to explain your POV and stance on the subject. Unfortunately, I am not convinced...hopefully, those who read your comment are. We can take this conversation further (if you please to do so) at

Its just once in a while that I get this impassioned to give the main idea behind this blog, a backseat. Am glad you appreciated it.