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Aggressive comparative advertising by largest retail chain

March 16, 2007

Today malls and supermarkets dot all Indian cities and with more joining in the fray, competition is fierce. This is the first time that any supermarket (review tagged at the end) has advertised itself so aggressively though. At first I watched the TV commercials with amusement. Determined people marching in hordes to Subhiksha, saying that Bachat hamara hak hai (Saving is our right). Hits home and is aimed to relieve us of any guilt about giving the neighborhood kirana (grocery) shop a miss. What in the world was Subhiksha I wondered, a trifle snobbishly. I preferred D-Mart or perhaps Shop-Rite.

However today Subhiksha has gone all out with this full page newspaper ad:

A comparative price list. And plus the results of an IMRB survey:

And then I did some research and found out that Subhiksha, is a Chennai based ten year old retail chain which has 500 outlets outlets already. I had seen the shop ofcourse and mostly ignored it. Had no idea that it was so big! 500 shops all over India and these are to double by the year end. The guy who started it, R Subramanian, happens to be from one of India’s premier educational institutes (engineering from IIT Chennai and an MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad) and a long time ago he made a decision to stay back in India and contribute. And he’s done more than that. He has built India’s biggest retail chain!

His advertising aggression is clearly related to the entry of multinational companies and that of Reliance in the retail space. And also to fight Big Bazaar which has always claimed that it is the cheapest supermarket. I go to Big Bazaar fairly often and the prices are the lowest I have seen anywhere, and this results in a stampede at times. Nowadays I avoid Big Bazaar (though I love bargains) not only because I don’t like to be pushed, but also because the supermarket is badly organised and cluttered. Every inch of space has been filled up by stacks of goods and I can never find anything. Well, Subhiksha is saying they are cheaper than Big Bazaar. Guess I’ll go and see if they are also better organised.

Update and Review: I visited Subhiksha today. Its nothing much, just an extension of the next door kirana (gocery) shop. Its definitely not a supermarket and is more like Apna Bazaar. Comparing itself to Big Bazaar like it did in the advertisement is absolutely misleading. Its a small little shop and the manager told me that all their shops are like this, thats the policy. I guess to keep the costs down. Well, this is not a shop that one can do one’s shopping in as most things were not available. Unless ofcourse you want to buy your rice and wheat. But even then the choice was limited. This particular outlet I visited was next to the bigger Tru-Mart and not far from D-Mart. No wonder it was deserted. The advertising is nothing but hype. I would not visit again.

Related Reading: Vegetable and Dal Noodles are not as healthy as the ads claim
Surrogate advertising in India
Do we really need all those consumer durables?
Is the Beauty Care Industry a fraud?
Self regulation by food manufacturers in 2008
Large Supermarkets are necessary for the economy

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Dev permalink
    March 21, 2007 8:44 am

    I think most of the retail chains in India lack basic customer service. I mean, selling at low prices is not an USP, anyone can replicate it. I for one would prefer customised service, clean, easy to use and access stores and polite staff

    Subhiksha is usually located in crowded places with no parking facilities, over crowded, bad accessibility ( some of these stores are on the upper floors without elevators )and sometimes stock goods way beyond their expiry dates. The staff, the less said the better

  2. mayur ghai permalink
    March 27, 2007 1:08 pm

    my self mayur ghai. i want to know about can i take the franchise of subhiksha.what is the terms and conditions?
    i have place.i am already in business.

    • deepee permalink
      March 7, 2009 9:44 pm

      dear friend,
      subhiksha already wen t for toss, its windup its operation…

  3. March 27, 2007 3:09 pm

    Mayurji, you had given your cell number which I deleted. It is better not to give a cell number here. If you want to do business with Subhiksha, it is best that you visit a shop and talk to the manager there.

  4. Hemal permalink
    April 14, 2007 3:48 pm

    could someone tell me which retail store has the maximum number of stores in India. It can include any retail format i mean even franchising could be taken into consideration.

  5. ABHISHEK SINGH permalink
    April 28, 2007 12:11 pm


  6. Shashi permalink
    May 15, 2007 6:13 pm

    I would rather recommend them to re-name their stores “DURBHIKSHA” instead of SUBHIKSHA because 8 out of 10 times I have visited them, I have not got what I was looking for. Their Pharma is even worse. In fact the guy in the pharma had given me wrong tablets inspite of showing him the presciption & letting him know that I did not want substitue. The customer service is not worth a mention.The subhiksha store I am referring to is in Vijaynagar, Bangalore (near HDFC bank).

  7. sunayna khurana permalink
    May 19, 2007 10:21 am

    I have good commercial place in hisar ,Haryana. I want to give this lace on lease/rent to any retain chain/banks .Pease tell me the procedure to cotact them

  8. vinay permalink
    September 8, 2007 1:21 am

    hey nita can u help me out im doing a project on subhiksha so can u help me out with so relavent matter wat so ever if u have say the histroyhistroy compitetion and development plans chain of stores etc.It will b a great help u can mail me on my id as i have given it over here.waiting for ur reply.THANKS………….

  9. September 8, 2007 1:25 am

    Vinay, I am a writer, not an academic. The only information I have on subhiksa is on this page.

  10. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 8, 2007 8:42 am


    Five out of the nine posts above are from people seeking information that will help them make money. Seems there is a market for this. Have you considered starting a paid online information service? I am good at sourcing information, and would be happy to help out for a consideration — how about 25%? πŸ™‚

  11. September 8, 2007 8:50 am

    And you should see the spam mail I get, as well as direct to my email id! Business offers! Unfortunately, making money is not my forte! I admire those who do, but I am but a writer! Guess if I were a man, I would make my family starve!! πŸ™‚

  12. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 11, 2007 5:57 am


    I came back here via the “surprise post” button, and as there was nothing new since my last visit, I took the time to go through the initial article as well as the posts other than those seeking advice on extracting business opportunities for themselves out of Subhiksha and other retail chains.

    I went into Subhiksha only once, with my wife who, trained as a journalist, has an investigative instinct that surfaces everytime she sees something new. I went in with her because I could not find a shaded parking space, and was also curious about a supposedly “happening” retail outlet sporting such a “deshi”–and so Sanskritised at that–name.

    Also, it was that narrow window in the annual cycle when the market offers a rich choice between Ratnagiri Hapus, Payari, Rajapuri, Valsad Hapus, Kesar and Baganpalle; and the invasion from the north of Dashehari and Langda is yet to begin. Few things can seduce me so thoroughly as mangoes.

    Both my wife and I were quite disappointed. The vegetables and fruits were stale, the staff was inadequate in numbers as well as capability, and the stocks were conspicuous by the number of items that were absent. We decide never to come back.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Dev and Shashi. I also feel vindicated in my belief that retail chains have no business elbowing out the small businessman, in whose realm the retailing of fruits, vegetables, grains, drugs etc, belongs.

    Not only Subhiksha but 99.9999 %retail chains will, I hope collapse under the weight of their own contradictions. Their staff are insensitive to custormer needs and preferences, ignorant of their own inventories, cannot understand if you ask for anything either by its generic name or by a brand name which they are unfamiliar with (imagine not being aware of something over which smartass marketing and advertising people have spent so much expensive time!). And they think no end of themselves because they belong to such-and-such big-name corporate entity. They are willing accomplices in the restrictive trade practices dictated by their suppliers (that is probably the wrong word to use in marketing terms, but I refuse to let MBAs take over the management of language).

    May all corporate retail chains perish!

  13. September 11, 2007 8:07 am

    Vivek, I guess there are a lot of people who prefer the smaller, more personal service of the kiranas. So why should you want to elbow the retail chains out? Let the market decide.
    I do not like Subhiksha either but I do not consider it as a representative of the large retailers. I consider it a hybrid, neither here nor there.
    There are a lot of good big retailer in Mumbai, like D-Mart and Shoprite. Fresh stock and friendly staff.
    There are some bad ones like Tru-Mart…they are usually deserted. There is sure to be a shake-out soon.
    Talking purely as a consumer, I prefer the larger retail chains as as I find the staff is respectful (even if ignorant), and most importantly, they don’t cheat. If there is one thing I HATE is vegetable sellers and fruit sellers cheating and lying and they do it all the time. When I think of the nightmarish experiences I have had as a consumer buying veggies and fruits, I am thankful to the retail chains. One-stop shops, friendly staff, availability of fresh, well priced goods. The problem is that there is not a single store like that in Pune. I lived there for several years (2001-2002) and suffered similar experiences like you did. Finally had to depend on the next door shops.
    But I never felt that retail chains were bad, because when we lived in Africa I had experienced first hand the fantastic conviniences of a good retail chain…I simply mourned the fact that we in India didn’t have that.
    Now I am satisfied. In the last 2 years, a lot of good chains have come up. Oh yes, there’s Big Bazaar too. Not my favourite as there is a mad rush there, but you can see from the faces of people how much they love it.

  14. Harsh permalink
    September 26, 2007 1:46 am

    Hi Nita,

    I was just reading your comments above regarding Subhiskha Franchise. I was also interested in this but got a stubborn reply from them that they don’t give Franchisees. they are totally uncooperative. If you can help all people with some useful info you have, that would help.


    I wish I could help you Harsh, but I have no more info on this- Nita.

  15. ashvin permalink
    March 5, 2008 6:45 pm


    Good post Nita, however some of the dumb idiots think this is a Subhikhsa site and want a franchisee, how lame can people get. Anyway no other supermart can compare the price and quality of Dmart. I mean the prices are amazing. Big bazar is just big hype their prices are not at all lower. As a matter of fact they sell everything at the MRP. There are however a FEW products which are cheap however the overall stuff out there is costly. Those in mulund (mumbai) also can go to SHoprite hyper at Nirmal Lifestyle it also has lower prices it has a amazing bakery and resto section they are lip smacking. Now after 4 years I am back in Pune and there are no Dmart stores around and I miss them. There are lot many Big Bazar, they suck. Waiting for Dmart to be in Pune.

    Thanks Ashvin. You know I still get comments asking for a franchise but I have stopped publishing them! πŸ™‚ I go to big bazaar and they do have some good discounts but I find it too crowded and service poor. Shoprite is excellent, just wish there were more of them! And Dmart is good too…I go to D Mart a lot. – Nita.

  16. praveen permalink
    March 26, 2008 9:36 pm

    subhiksha is very good for middle class people .to purchase stuff in very low price compare to other store ex:- more . reliance fresh . i feel proud to be a customer of subhiksha of salunkhe vihar store pune
    all the best

    thanks & regards

    praveen k

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