MICA Professor, Anita Basalingappa, recently completed a paper exploring the impact of customer relationships in a rural setting. This study was conducted across 4 states of Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala by Prof. Anita of MICA, Ahmedabad and Professor M S Subhas of Karnatak University Dharwad with the field research assistance from Ms Ankita Doneriya and Sheena Anns Roy, (earlier Research Associates at MICA). Interviews were conducted across 45 retail outlets covering 12 villages in the 4 states mentioned above.
Their recently published paper on ‘Understanding relationships between customers and rural retail outlets’ attempts to address, the importance of strong personal relationships between customers and retail outlet owners . Hence, there exists a high degree of loyalty towards the retail outlet. Customers are attitudinally and behaviourally loyal to the retailer. This is the strength of rural retail outlets. Social and customization bonds are effortlessly intertwined in their lives to attract and retain customers. The relationships are more personal than commercial. The commercial consequences just follow sequentially.
Customer relationships developed are an asset for retailers, which can be positively used by companies providing new and better products and services. Reputation of the retail outlet is important as customers are acquired and retained primarily through word-of-mouth. Customer experiences and positive interactions must be continued to be nurtured to enhance the reputation of the retail outlet. Growth in consumption needs and market growth will provide ample opportunity to rural retail to grow and enhance value for their customers.
The penetration of technology in rural India seems promising. At the moment, one end of successful initiatives such as ITC’s e-Choupal clearly indicates the potential of sophisticated technology in rural India. The other end is the increasing interest in use of mobile phones and electronic gadgets in villages. Given the acceptance of mobile phones and technology intrusion, efforts can be made by companies to structurally bond with rural retail for mutual benefit.
The research revealed that to harness the potential strength of customer relationships of rural retail, it is important for companies to partner with retail outlets and the rural community. The underlying bases of customer relationships in rural retail are a) community living, b) sensing each other’s needs on an ongoing basis and c) long term orientation. Villages are rich natural resources culturally and otherwise. Government and private companies can assist rural India in income generating activities to strengthen their current occupation without harming the ecology in the villages.
Professor Basalingappa’s research not only benefits students of MICA, studying marketing under her tutelage but also various organizations, who are keen to know how rural retail operates and the opportunities that are available to overcome challenges.
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