Retail in Asia

In Markets

Foreign brands: a way of Indian life

This article written by Sunil Sethi points out that regardless of protests against the entry of multi-brand foreign retail chains, the big brands are a way of Indian life. 

On a recent afternoon I went round to my local opticians’ to order a new pair of reading glasses. It used to be a typical "daddy-beta" store in a middle-class neighbourhood – the choice of frames limited but reasonably priced, with a friendly, attentive staff and a modest man at his desk punctiliously sizing up apertures and alignments. Over the years it has become depressingly "Armanised"–not just in its product line but in its lashings of glitz. The display cases are now backed with mirrored glass, like something out of Mughal-e-Azam, and customers pore over samples in velvet-lined trays as if they were choosing Golconda diamonds.

In the hope of easy parking and a quick, quiet purchase I went on Sunday but the place was heaving, a club minus the bouncers, buzzing with smart young customers trying on rainbow-coloured shades from Ray-Ban, titanium-tinted aviators and the latest balloon-shaped retro eyewear from Prada. Spotting me after 20 minutes, the proprietor was all apologies. "So sorry, summer’s here and everyone wants the latest designs. There’s not much of a market for reading glasses. Most people now have contacts or laser implants." Myopia notwithstanding, the price tags rendered me goggle-eyed: between INR12,000 (USD224) and INR24,000 for a pair of fancy dark glasses.