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How fresh is Reliance Fresh?

Last updated on: October 06, 2009 21:15 IST
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Everything is a deal-breaker at Reliance Fresh, says Archana Jahagirdar.

Organised retail was supposed to make life easier and better for the consumer. But just a few years since the creation of this segment, that dream is increasingly looking like a pipe dream.

I decide to visit the Punjabi Bagh outlet of Reliance Fresh in New Delhi at about 10.30 on a Thursday morning. The first obstacle to entering the store are the nine steep steps that one needs to negotiate. The steps seem to be a test of fitness and anyone with even the slightest handicap would struggle to reach the doors to this temple of modern consumerism.

When I enter, three employees crowd the door chatting in a near-empty store. I start browsing, only to find that the trolleys are placed inconveniently behind the check-out counter. I have to ask one of the sales staff to retrieve one for me.

If you have ever been to a sabzi mandi or bought vegetables from a handcart, you will not be able to shop at Reliance Fresh. The vegetables look less than fresh. A stack of cauliflowers are in a dismal state. And, obviously, Reliance Fresh doesn't believe in offering its customers the full range of fruits and vegetables that are available.

Nonetheless, I stack up some vegetables on my cart and quickly reach the check-out counter. The speed with which I finish has nothing to do with my reluctance to shop, and everything to do with the size of this outlet. It's tiny.

The check-out counter is where I finally realise the futility of shopping at Reliance Fresh. I tell the clerk that I don't have a carry bag. He says that neither do they, and that the staff normally helps load theĀ  shopping into your car. I point out to this smiling gent that even small kirana stores now offer some environmentally friendly shopping bags. He agrees, and says he is aware of this because he himself shops elsewhere.

I stand my ground, he stands his, until he offers a solution in the shape of a paper bag, which he says I will be billed Rs 7 for. But no store charges for providing shopping bags, I say. He again agrees with me, but says that this is the policy of the store.

What could be the revenue generated from charging Rs 7 from customers for a carry bag? Will organised retail now start charging entry ticket for entering an outlet? Creative revenue streams rather than flawless service, fair trade practices and a good choice of products seems to be the mantra. I leave without buying anything. The check-out clerk shrugs as I flounce out empty-handed.

Score: 3/10.

Rotten buys: To our grocery shopper go Reliance's spoils, writes Kishore Singh.

A minor kerfuffle has broken out at the Reliance hypermart in Mayur Vihar, where my wife and I are grocery shopping. My wife has plastic-bagged brinjals (Rs 9.99 a kilo) and okra (Rs 11.99), cabbage (Rs 16), cauliflower (Rs 24.99) and capsicum (Rs 50), remarking that the prices are lower and the quality better than that of comparable vegetables at vendor carts in the market.

She adds Kullu apples (Rs 59.99) and corn (Rs 14) to her list, I help out with a tray of sliced pineapple rings (Rs 25 for 200 gm) and another of miscellaneous cut vegetables (Rs 20 for 250 gm).

But you also gets what you pays - I spot a tray of spoilt guavas for Rs 30 and pick some in a bag, to which I add, from the marked down section, sponge gourd or tori (reduced from Rs 28 to Rs 5 per kg), golden apple (Rs 10 from Rs 60), chikoo (Rs 6 a kg), and onions for Rs 13.99 a kilo.

Problem is, the gentleman at the counter who weighs our vegetables refuses to bill us for the samples, not because they aren't for sale, but because he suspects the intent of a well-dressed, English-speaking couple wanting to purchase what are rotten vegetables and fruit.

These are for poor people, he says. I'd like to buy them, I say. Mumbai hasn't sent the day's price for them, he counters. I tell him the prices are labelled. He removes the labels, and says fresh prices will take a half-hour.

I carry my bag of rotten vegetables to the check-out counter and ask for a bill. The man at the counter who takes them to the grocery section returns without the bag.

I ask for the store manager; an assistant comes forward to help. I tell her I need my bag of vegetables and bill; she examines the spoils from the counter, asks me to wait.

The manager comes over, asks me if there is a problem. No, I say, I just need my vegetables and my bill. These are for vendors, he points to the shelves of priced-down vegetables. If they're for sale, I want them, I insist.

They confabulate some more, looking uneasy, but I'm finally billed for my rotten produce, the prices now knocked down to Rs 2.97 a kg for the onions, Rs 3.03 for the gourd, Rs 3.03 for the apples, Rs 3 for the guavas, and Rs 3.06 for the chikoo.

Score: 0/10. Despite their excellent prices, for the contempt in which they hold the poor, Reliance deserves our contempt too.

Mystery Guest is a reality consumer survey in which Business Standard reporters analyse a service anonymously.

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