When Online Delivered a Better Experience Than Offline

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 6.31.36 PM

For most aspects – technology, ecommerce, applications, or fashion trends, I belong to the category of late adopters.

I have been extra cautious about ecommerce and online payments. My first online purchase was in 2013 when I bought a book in Kindle format to read on my iPad.

While I continue to prefer buying “in-shop” or “offline”, I have made considerable foray in the last five years in my online adventures, moving from low-investment purchases like books, cosmetics, and food, to clothes, small household items, and the odd furniture. I may never buy a mobile phone or laptop online, and will definitely not buy footwear or jewelry.

My initial online shopping for clothes was not a great experience. What I got was not what I saw on the web store.

Then, I chanced upon a brand that sold only via two channels – online and through exhibitions held in various cities.

Here’s an experience of both.

The online shopping experience

This apparel brand seems to have nailed the online experience. The clothes were neatly showcased by pattern, size, colour, and fabric, which made locating the clothes super easy.

Elegant pieces of prose described the garments, their designs, and their inspiration. There were no complicated alphanumeric style codes. Each garment style was given its own exotic name.

Suggestions were provided for matching pieces and accessories. It was easy to pick up the full look.

Their size-chart was highly detailed, accurate and very clear in that the sizes referred to the garments. So the customer could decide the fit – loose, fitted, tight. I never had to exchange a product because the size was wrong. Zoom-in features from at least five angles and perspectives gave customers a real feel of print, pattern, colour, and fabric.

A key feature was the availability of a real human being at the end of a customer service number that was boldly displayed on the web pages. In the age of AI and chatbots, this is a rare treat. Executives were also available on FB Messenger to respond to queries. Questions and comments to their Facebook posts were always greeted with highly personalised responses and speedily. There were no stock, copy-paste replies.

They had picked the best ecommerce technologies for their web store creation and mobile application. Uncluttered layouts and easy navigation made for a great UX/UI. The e-store was integrated with efficient order processing and order tracking tools. Order fulfillment was exceptionally smooth, with day-to-day updates provided for tracking and delivery status.

The clothes were almost always delivered in five days, packaged in simple, yet classic reusable bags. From search to delivery, it has always been a hassle-free experience.

Oh! Yes, the clothes themselves were fabulous, never failing to draw admiring glances and comments.

The offline shopping experience:

Now that I was sufficiently hooked to this brand, I was tempted to experience their clothes exhibition. When I received an event update, I marked the date and made plans to be there.

When I arrived at the venue, it was nothing like the online experience.

Racks of clothes, marked by size, stood haphazardly, across the hall. Piles of garments were strewn on large tables, discarded by customers who had pulled them out from the racks or tried them on.

Long lines of customers stood outside makeshift trial rooms, each with at least six garments to try on.

The full range of cuts and colours were not available or were probably lost in the piles.

There was no one to answer questions or help with the clothes.

The venue itself was dreary with tacky branding elements.

I was out in ten minutes without a purchase.


Online can never match an offline buying experience – has this premise been finally busted?

In their quest to have a successful online business, are brands neglecting their offline experience?

Have the roles reversed, in that online best practices will now be replicated offline?

Any other questions or take-aways?


Making Retro Cool Again


Even in an increasingly digital, mobile, instant or plastic world, there’ll be a very special place for the old way of doing things like handwritten letters, personalised messages, and traditional film cameras.

The Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 sits neatly between an ultra-digital and traditional camera. In the age of smartphone photography and DSLR cameras, it evokes nostalgia and renews excitement for traditional photography. The fact that it continues to top the charts of must-haves with teenagers and young adults even after so many years just shows how enduring everything retro can be. Its popularity is more to do with fun, old-world, and vintage and less to do with brilliant photography.

What makes it so appealing is that it comes in a range of stunning colours, matching carry cases, different colour lenses (to mimic today’s digital filters), and an array of frames and clips.


Nailing the product-design-marketing mix is never easy. The Instax Mini seems to have a winning formula – take a bit of retro and package it as cool!

The effect is amazing – the Millennials are craving a Gen X experience!


A non political hyper analysis of the first US Presidential debate, 2016


I kept the alarm, but still woke up 10 minutes late, to watch the Presidential debates from the other end of the Atlantic.

I tweeted, made some observations and here is a television viewer’s take on the most watched debate.

90 minutes. On stage, behind the podium, in front of the audience and the moderator. Scrutiny is an understatement.

90-minutes. Millions watching and hyper analysing every word, gesture and expression.

90 minutes. No commercial breaks. No camera cuts. Just a split screen, zoomed in on the made up faces.

The preparation and homework that must have gone in is unimaginable. After all, the stakes are tied to the most powerful job in the world.

Expression. Eye contact. Gestures. Tone. Pitch. Blink. Flicker. Cough. Sip. Sniffle.

Yeah, the briefing documents must have had notes running into pages for each item.

One almost felt sorry for them. Here we were perched on the sofa with tea and an array of sandwiches, looking forward to 90-minutes of undiluted entertainment.

A chance to play God. And an endless investigation of the key issues.

In addition to no commercial breaks, there were no bio breaks either. They must have been off water, at least two hours before getting on stage.

Still, Donald sipped. And the trolls went berserk with his drinking.

Then the face needed to be arranged exactly in the manner that the campaign managers had told them to.

What to show? How to hide? There’s no place to go, when you are in the limelight.

Smile! Hillary did plenty of that, poor woman, giving in to the criticism that she doesn’t.

Don’t smirk or shake your head. But Trump went ahead and did just that after fifteen minutes of polished restraint. His campaign manager must have sent a text message to his colleague – smh.

He sniffled a bit too and got written about it. Wondering how that comes in the way of Presidency though…

In addition to sniffling, was there shuffling? Who could tell? The podium covered it well. Thank God! You can’t be seen shuffling if you are running for the President’s office.

Don’t cough. You are allowed to choke, preferably on a pretzel and after you become President. But don’t cough. If you cough, you will be written off. She didn’t.

But she did her famous shoulder shimmy, just once. And the trolls went to town with the now famous shimmy GIF.

What to wear? Bright? Sober? Pleasant? Feminine? Humane?

Hillary pulled off the bright red jacket brilliantly, along with the expertly coiffed hair.

Just how many hours were spent selecting the colour and cut? How much analysis and psychological connections of subliminal derivations of colour must have been done.

Looks like it worked. She looked sensational. And Trump saw Red. That explains why he interrupted Hillary 25 times in 26 minutes.

The carefully selected blue silk tie stood out pretty well against Trump’s crisp white shirt. It seemed to have a calming effect on Hillary.

She won this round, in my estimate. Not hands down. Or not because she was brilliant. Mostly, because he was being himself. A brat.


Worthy Intentions. Unworthy Title


L’Oreal Paris, along with NDTV announced the 2016 Women of Worth Awards on March 28 2016.

Congratulations are in order to the nominees and the winners for the tremendous work in their respective fields. And recognition at a special felicitation ceremony, like the one put together on March 28, becomes a fitting tribute to their endeavour.

However, the Women of Worth Awards shows how a good brand strategy gets diminished with poor execution.


First, why is the award for women only? Okay, L’Oreal makes and sells beauty products for women. So they restricted their awards to women. Isn’t that obvious? Yes, but isn’t it also obvious, that when you connect only the dots that are obvious, it demonstrates poor vision? It’s a fantastic example of brand myopia. Of course men are worthy too and making the award gender-neutral would have done wonders for a brand that might be used by primarily by women, but whose results are seen, experienced and felt by men too.

Next, what is with “Worth”?

Simply trying to associate the title name with the L’Oreal brand tagline “Because you’re worth it” is not just poor communication strategy. It’s downright lazy.

So, what happens to the women who got nominated, but did not win? Unworthy? It’s obvious that the communication and brand teams did not look at ‘Worth’ from all angles.

Ideally, the over-arching title Award name should not have an antonym. Examples:

Distinguished Leadership Award
Endeavour Postgraduate Awards
John Maxwell Leadership Award

In the case of ‘Worth’, the “unworthy” connotations that come immediately at the subliminal level are too strong to be ignored.


While we were still grappling with the unworthiness of the award title, the event added to the dissonance. The lineup of film stars and beauty queens at the gala nite completely diluted the purpose and vision of the awards. What were Aishwarya Rai, Katrina Kaif, Mandira Bedi and Sonam Kapoor doing there, other than making fashion/style statements, taking selfies and posing with their hands on hips?

While the line up of panelists to discuss the larger issue of women and their struggles was impressive, the core of the discussion was once again about ‘gender inequality’. The discussion was peppered with the usual suspect phrases “We, the Unequal”, “it’s time men listen to women”, “sports is a male bastion”and so on. The only sensible observation came from author and columnist Suhel Seth when he said – “There is no such thing as inequality. We live in individual silos. Sometimes activism around gender is the biggest hurdle in the way of gender neutrality.”

The opportunity to make the event really unique and memorable was tremendous. By not reducing it to a gender bias and female victory, and simply celebrating the achievement, L’Oreal and NDTV would have catapulted the award to new levels of aspiration for men and women. To dare, to dream and to do.

L’Oreal ‘Women of Worth’ Awards in partnership with NDTV is an example of perfect intentions going awry with poor brand vision and even poorer communication strategy. The powerful stories of those wonderful women got lost somewhere because some communication managers lost sight of the overall narrative.



The Power of Personalisation

As I swung my car into the driveway, our security guard ran up to hand me a thick manila envelope that had arrived by courier. The year was 2010.

I drew out a red cover on which was printed – “Wishing you a Happy New Year”. Inside was a desk calendar. The first leaf had an image of a neon light, on the front facade of a cinema house. The words said – “Now showing Guru. Premier Tonight. Azra Fathima in a Leading Role.”


“What’s this?” I was confused. And then, as I flipped through each leaf, I smiled. The smile and the wow grew bigger with each turn of the leaf.

Using a simple, time-tested formula, Airtel had reinforced the power of brand personalisation. Every calendar month had my name etched, glorified, immortalised in a series of well thought out
messages and complementing pictures.


Even as a dyed-in-the-wool marketing professional, I responded and reacted just like any other customer – absolute delight!

The warm glow of brand loyalty did not stop with me – softly, but surely spreading to my 11-year old, who has been showing off the calendar to just about anyone who’s been visiting home. No prizes again for guessing what will be her first choice, or at least the first brand in her consideration, when she starts to go mobile.


If the timing of sending this calendar has been part of the strategy, (and not a horribly gone wrong design-print-production delay), then it is brilliant. No one expects a calendar in April! Airtel combined the oddity of the timing with the awesome power of personalization. It’s precious, everlasting and forever. And it’s going to replace the nicest desktop calendar on my table.

Personalisation and customisation are age-old
and revered laws of marketing.
However, its implementation is a labour of love.
You have to be in love with the customer,
the recipient of your message, the person you love!
But first, you’ll have to take yourself out. When you do that and put the recipient in the centre of everything you want to say,
your brand, your message and ultimately – you, will be loved.
Paradoxical, but true.


Brand personalisation i.e., brand to customer / company to customer is not easy.

But personalising a message for a loved one i.e., person to person – whether a simple birthday wish, a congratulatory message or a difficult letter, is even more difficult.

Personalising a message for a loved one
requires an intimate understanding of the context
and the skill of a diamond-cutter

to present the ultimate message that touches the heart and soul.