There was a time when I enjoyed going to the market to buy things from the ‘brick and mortar’ shops but now I have almost stopped doing so; unless if it is for the rarest or the most banal stuff which is not yet available online on digital bazaars.
Let me share my reasons for shifting to buying with a click of the mouse and paying with e-wallets. With the proliferation of innumerable malls and departmental stores; shopping today is no longer the personal, pleasurable and private experience that it once was. All the stuff is now displayed in racks and counters with liveried salespeople hovering around inconspicuously. The moment you pause in front of merchandise a sales guy or girl will materialize around you and attempt to coax your choice. This kind of pushy salesperson are an instant put off and whatever little chance I had of buying the stuff vanishes as I move on swiftly to escape their silky sales pitch.
Indeed I have noticed distinct types of salespersons at different outlets of shopping plazas. The most irritating are the live wire types who obviously have targets to meet or earn commission and hence the desperation to hard sell. Another annoying type is indifferent sales man or woman who is busy talking and giggling with co-workers sotto voce while attending to buyers. The smart phone zombie is another kind who is constantly hooked up to the virtual world with slyly plugged in Bluetooth earpiece.
I like to believe that the customer is king and deserves undivided attention and service. I remember a short story The Needle by Isaac Bashevis Singer which was in our tenth syllabus. In the story a wealthy but wise Jewish mother chooses a suitable bride for her studious son by going shopping for just a needle. A shrewd sales girl who gets irritated by her customer’s demand for just a needle is rejected in favour of the polite one who patiently serves her and is in turn selected to be the prize bride. The lesson here is about mindfulness in doing your duty.
Near the billing counter or exit points lurks another type of predator - the supersaver holiday scheme seller. They approach you with the friendly smile of a long lost cousin and thrust a form at you to fill up. At the moment all they need is your phone number. In a matter of hours an exuberant tele-caller will call you up to inform that you have won a lottery or an exotic holiday package and just a nominal membership sign up fees is required. Caveat emptor.
In such a scenario I felt happy to read the news today about the launch of a cashier and staff free shop in Kochi. Watasale is the latest gift from artificial intelligence stable which promises to enhance the solo shopping experience. Watasale outlet in Kochi launched a fully automated cashier free shop in the Gold Souk Grande Mall. It is modeled on the Amazon Go stores in the US, HyperCity cashierless stores in Hyderabad and the Chinese BingoBox cashier less stores. A customer just has to download the Watasale app onto his mobile, register with email and scan the QR code only once while entering the store. The apt app then takes care of the rest - purchase, billing and payment seamlessly. With the advent of such AI powered shopping assistant apps there is hope for reclusive shoppers like me. I am hoping that Watasale spreads quickly to all other cities in our country and maybe once again I can go out shopping in peace.