This was a business book launch that was billed as the big debate between retailers and e-tailers. On one side was Karan Mehrotra, co-founder and CEO of . At the other end was Damodar Mall, CEO, value format at Reliance Retail, who was present in his role as the author of Supermarketwala, secrets to winning consumer Indi a. Keeping things from escalating into an exchange of blows was B S Nagesh, Indian organised retail’s original poster boy, who was moderating the book launch-based discussion. As the debate progressed, Nagesh suggested that the delivery boys had a large role to play in the overall retail experience. Especially, in the case of e-tailers, they were the face of the brand, he said. There were suggestions that companies could work harder at bring in the ‘wow-factor’ at the last mile.

Sitting in the audience amidst CEOs and commoners was Amish Tripathi, the author of the highly successful Shiva Trilogy who was soon going to be launching his next series focused on Lord Rama. Exactly a week later when Amish’s book launched at the same venue, it seemed like someone was all ears when Nagesh was speaking a few days back. During the deliveries of the book that began from midnight, e-tailing giant Amazon got Amish to personally deliver copies to some of their lucky customers who had pre-ordered the book. “Some came to receive the book in their nightwear and quickly went in to change and come back to take the delivery,” says Tripathi. Ask him whether the idea emerged from the discussion a week back, and Tripathi a former CMO from the financial sector takes no credit for it. “To be honest, it was Amazon’s idea,” he says.

Some laud Amazon’s idea, others are quick to dismiss it as a marketing gimmick. However, there is one thing that cannot be denied. Amazon went to an area where few retailers dare, to create a difference at the point of delivery. Increasingly as e-tailing boils down only to the lowest price, this is one area where many could make a difference in the times to come. As Tripathi points out, “Because of social media customers share such experiences with their friends and it goes viral. It also adds a positive atmosphere to the delivery and the product.”

Delight and customer loyalty

A report titled Insights Into Exemplary Customer Service , by customer loyalty experts AIMIA and TRRAIN (Trust for retailers and retail associates of India) highlights the fact that “in a typical market environment, exceptional levels of customer service are a defining condition for exceptional levels of customer loyalty.”

Still, instances like the Amazon are far and few in between. Ever here, it is difficult for retailers to replicate the experience if the deliveries run into thousands, if not lakhs. Then you just have an army of delivery boys doing the same plain vanilla job. In the AIMIA and TRRAIN report, industry experts like Ajay Kaul, CEO, Jubilant FoodWorks, that manages the Domino’s and Dunkin Donuts franchise in India says, “Our consumer facing staff are literally our soldiers at the front, at the moment of truth. But they also end up being unsung heroes as they tend to get lost in the numbers and hierarchy.” Retail industry experts like Devangshu Dutta, founder, Third Eyesight, a Delhi-based consultancy point out that given all the constraints that the retail industry faces, due to infrastructure hurdles or otherwise, most companies are merely focusing on making their product or service deliveries friction free. “As of now just achieving friction free deliveries itself is a wow,” he says. Unfortunately that’s a medium goal, but unless that service standard becomes the norm, companies will not push themselves out of the comfort zone and go for the wow. He adds that most companies are now only striving for least-time and least-cost based delivery parameters.

But it is not that retail associates are going to remain unsung heroes for a long time. Nagesh’s TRRAIN has an annual awards to honour excellence at the retail level. Then companies also have their own recognition. Dev Amritesh, president and COO, Dunkin’ Donuts India points out that his chain celebrates birthdays of its store employees every month and every person entering a new role is given a symbolic “key to show that there is a new opportunity waiting to be unlocked”. New employees are treated to lunch by seniors in the first day of their job and so on, he says. But as Dutta points out, ultimately exceptional levels of service happens out of a delivery boy/girl’s personal willingness to go beyond the call of duty. Certainly, no one will debate that.