Why is Sri Lankan Retail So Bad?

I write this after having bad service at a premier tea center. This was easily preventable and was due to the staff. I refrain from naming the place as they are the sorts to infer this article as a testament to their exclusivity. They took a long time to serve me and didn’t give me what I ordered. This is however not an isolated experience as Sri Lanka in general has a very bad retail culture. It is incredibly odd as we are a major export base of labor for the hospitality sector. I believe there are two main reasons for this. One is that we don’t understand retail. The second is that we are a culture that is either at your feet or your throat. Simple cultural reform will help us accumulate easy foreign exchange.

To understand retail, we must think of it socially. What is retail? It is an experience. People are buying social status, interaction, something to talk about, and a product. Most people can live without the things that these shops are trying to sell. The job of an assistant is to guide the consumer through this experience. High end retail is also about socially perceived value. On odd occasions poorer people may enter your stores and this is of immense value to your brand. Why? Because poorer people will enter but then leave building the aura of exclusivity. They will know that something that they cannot have exists. The sign of good retail is in the manner you turn away unsightly customers. You must be a pre-1970’s Ladies College girl as opposed to a contemporary one. In other words, you must make them work for even limited access to your institution. Long waiting times, high prices, reservations, cover charges, and memberships are brilliant obstacles that help your institution build the aura of exclusivity. Your staff and institution are both prevented from ever having to be rude and can also place a higher premium on special treatment through these practices. Being overtly rude is something that is just not done.

Notice the snarl. 0:10-0:15

What if your brand is ultra-exclusive? The thin line between an exclusive establishment and an unpopular one is price. If a poor person does decide to come into your store the damage to the brand should be built into the price. Therefore, dictators can own ultra-exclusive vehicles.

What is wrong with our culture?

To put it simply we are either slave like or incredibly combative. Our amazing hospitality is limited to resort hotels and tour guides. Look at street sellers and touts. They are incredibly nice when they ask you if you need to change money and are then excessively rude if you do not need to. They do not show any interest in what the tourist wants. There is a simple fix. Teach them to ask the tourist what it is that they are looking for in a sincere tone. Direct them to what the tourist wants and not just what they have to sell. Develop a tout fee structure. Maintain rapport.

The other problem is that we are socially inept. We still depend heavily on our colonial past to interact with Western tourists. We do not know how to deal with the Chinese and Indians. When I see Chinese tourists purchase items I always feel that they receive little guidance. Sri Lankan retail can be likened to a person who is the first in their family to speak English. This person would have no cousins or relatives upon whom they can absorb pronunciation from. They can choose to be adaptive and sound like the people they are speaking to or go down the path of the British School of Colombo and put on some godforsaken accent. They can choose to be understanding of the other person or incredibly insecure.

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