Nepali Times
Kathmandu’s super-shoppers


All the department stores claim that there is not much difference in their pricing consumers ,however ,tell a different story and insist that bhatbhateni's prices are the lowest.

Gone are the shopping days that took you on the Bhotahiti-Asan-Indrachowk-New Road circuit. For a Kathmandu middle class with a visibly increasing purchasing power, there is nothing more convenient than to walk into a department store and buy anything from aftershave to cooking pans, masala to vanity cases, French wine to swimming trunks, all under the same roof.

The consumer is king, so far as the choices go. And all because of the department stores that have cropped up all over town.

The first in the scene was Bluebird Departmental Stores, which was opened in 1985. Bluebird, a subsidiary of Hotel Blue Star, has not looked back since and now even has a branch at Lazimpat.

But it was only after the arrival of Bhatbhateni Supermarket in the early 1990s that the middle class discovered the convenience of shopping at departmental stores.

Bhatbhateni was different because shoppers who generally felt overwhelmed to walk into the imposing Bluebird did not have the same diffidence when it came to shopping there. This was primarily because Bhatbhateni started as an unassuming single-storey general store which priced its goods very reasonably. The prices were often lower than what the neighbourhood shop would charge.

No wonder that although Bhatbhateni has grown into a multi-storeyed complex now, the consumer profile remains more or less the same, comfortable middle class. More than 700 people visit the store daily to sample its wide range of goods, which include fresh fruit, jewellery and electronic appliances. "I\'ve been coming here for the last two years. One can buy everything here," says shopper Jyotika Shrestha.

Selling brand names like Marks and Spencer, Bluebird\'s clientele is still significantly the well-heeled. The crown prince and other members of the royalty are regulars, as are expatriates and Indian tourists. But customers at this huge store are no longer the super rich only. "Earlier, there were very few middle class Nepalis who to come here for shopping," says Ram Kazi Shrestha of Bluebird. "These days both our businesses in Tripureshwor and Lazimpat rely heavily on the middle class Nepalis."

There are three other department stores that have branched out-Namaste, Gemini and Park \'n\' Shop.

Namaste Supermarket from Pulchowk has been in business for the last 10 years. It initially started out with grocery items, and gradually came into it\'s present status of a department store. Its second outlet is at Maharajgunj.

Grocery tops the list of items sold at both the Jawalakhel and Baudha outlets of Gemimi Grocers. Thamel\'s Sales Mart started three years ago, and services the foreign tourists. Its Khichapokhari branch Park \'n\' Shop is a big hit with women who go there for cosmetics.

All the department stores claim that there is not much difference in their pricing. Consumers, however, tell a different story and insist that Bhatbhateni\'s prices are the lowest.

Operating up to 12 hours a day, the peak hours at these stores is from 4 pm onwards. Competition between them is stiff. Various schemes have been launched to draw the customer. Bluebird has a gift voucher offer, besides the weekly in-house promotion during which they give special attention to two items. Similarly, Park \'n\' Shop has a 10 percent discount on garments.

Not all the stores have fared well though. Most noteworthy was the closure last year of Anand Departmental Store at Lazimpat which was geared to serve the foreign expats living in the Maharajgunj area.

The success of these department stores lie not only in their offering a wide variety of goods but also has a lot to do with their marketing strategy, that is targetting the middle class. And for the growing number of professionals who have even less time to do their shopping, the opportunity to buy everything at one place is proving quite a blessing.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)