50% cashback on a product which costs 10,000 (sorry, the maximum cashback is 1000)!

Isn’t this familiar to you? Haven’t you seen this at least a few times in the past few months?There seems to be a cashback frenzy all over India with the proliferation of eCommerce deals as well as the advent of these wallets – everyone (I mean banks, Apps) seems to have an in-built wallet these days (except me i.e. the poor customer!)

Now, the big question is: How ethical are these practices? Is the regulator even turning an eye towards such practices?

I’m one of those who has to book a flight ticket almost every couple of weeks to travel as part of my consulting work, so I probably see this more often.

It’s frustrating, but more than that it is deceptive marketing and I don’t think it’s ethically right either!

30% cashback on Flight booking on International Flights says the offer…

(The fine print says maximum cashback is Rs 3000).

Now, how many international flights would you be able to take which cost only Rs 10000 to get the maximum cashback of Rs 3000 at a 30% discount? You could probably count on your fingers! How would this benefit me when I’m booking a flight ticket which costs about Rs 50,000 to Rs 100,000? The cashback on offer is almost negligible. So, why say 30% or 50% discount when it is not truly that? The big “discount” on the tagline seems to be a way to lure you into booking the ticket.

70% or more discount in cashback on Hotels! This is almost a regular feature on Makemytrip, Cleartrip and other Apps! Which hotel on earth would be able to give you back 70% of the cost – they wouldn’t survive! The fine print again would show you that you probably would get 5-10% at most!

Now to the other side of the coin – the deal codes on these cashbacks and how they (don’t) work!

Somewhere it says if you don’t copy the deal code as-is, our systems won’t be able to detect the deal and we won’t be able to process the cashback. Sometimes, even if you copy the code, it won’t process the same and exclude it from the actual booking!

Some Apps restrict how you can use the cashback – there’s a limit per transaction, there’s a limit on what you can use it for and of course, there’s a restriction in some cases that this is just a “bonus” amount and you can’t actually withdraw this money into your bank account or credit card, there’s also an expiry date in many cases – if you don’t use the cash in the wallet within 3/6 months or so, it goes away.

All this seems to be a way to lure poor customers into a transaction with the promise that they will at some time in the future get some cash back into their account (and hence tap that emotional quotient that they are actually getting a discount), but there’s no guarantee that they will be able to get this in the first place and even if they do, there’s no guarantee that they will be able to use it for a future transaction!

Cashbacks remind me of the time when mail-in-rebates were prevalent on everything and anything in the USA in the mid-2000s. They were the most frustrating thing because you had to mail-in so many proofs and even if you did, sometimes you just wouldn’t get the rebate for a flimsy reason. I believe mail-in rebates got caught in a web of legal tangles and died their natural death.

I won’t be surprised if cashbacks and “wallets” head that way in the time to come!They are anything but a boon to the intelligent customer! However, I think even the eCommerce firms and Banks should exhibit an element of honesty and not mislead the customer with fine print. The customer shouldn’t have to delve into fine print to be served a fine product!

Jago grahak Jago!

Who monitors the MRP in the online market place?

In the midst of the battle for supremacy in the Indian online market, Amazon and Flipkart are leaving no stones un-turned to show who is numero uno! All’s well on that front and looks like they have moderated the discounts this year to quite some extent which should be a big win for the sellers in general.

I was curious about some of the pricing though.

Check this for a moment.

Product: Fitbit Charge HR

This is what is displayed on the Flipkart App:

Screenshot_2015-10-14-17-32-13

Flipkart says the original price is Rs 19990 and with a 37% discount, it is now Rs 12490.

Swipe your finger to the Amazon app and this is what you will see:

Screenshot_2015-10-14-17-30-46

The same product Fitbit Charge HR shows an original price of Rs 12,990 and with a discount of 20% is available for Rs 10,390.

Why is there such a big disparity in what is essentially the MRP of the product?

Disclaimer: I’m not taking any sides here and I do not stand for either Amazon or Flipkart (or any of the ecommerce companies out there), I just want to point out this fundamental flaw in the pricing that seems to be the norm everywhere in the online market place.

Let’s for a moment set aside who sets the MRP.

The pertinent point here is: who monitors the MRP set online?

The regulator has a much bigger role to play as a watchdog in such circumstances and either they seem to be poorly equipped or are happy turning a blind eye to such practices.

Jago grahak Jago!

We are a nation of “watchers”…

What’s the most common scene in a Bollywood or Tollywood movie?

A villain rampaging across and destroying everything and everyone in its path.

A crowd comprising of half the people in the village or town gathered around in a semi-circle or circle watching the “drama” unfold.

Out steps the hero to stop the villain and puts in a super human effort to get past a 100 guns, 200 axes and 500 knives to knock out the villain and his army.

Cut back to reality. Here’s the sequence:

A villain rampaging across and destroying everything and everyone in its path.

A crowd comprising of half the people in the village or town gathered around in a semi-circle or circle watching the “real drama” unfold.

There is no real third scene in real life, the super hero stays in the shadows, never to emerge.

However, what is poignant and very real is the crowd of “watchers” – their job is just to watch and it’s more real than it is even shown in the movies.

Yes, it’s time to accept that we are a nation of watchers – people who love to get involved – in watching that is, and little else.

Often times, it is the fear of the known – the fear of getting slaughtered by the villain in real life, but also the fear of the unknown (or partially known) – the harassment you might have to endure with the police and government authorities for trying to be the savior.

How many times have you witnessed an accident victim lying in a pool of blood on the road, with these “watchers” just staring at what happened, without taking action – not even calling for an ambulance? Those precious initial minutes would save the life in most cases. There is the fear of the medico-legal case again and having to endure going to the hospital/police station and answering a zillion questions. So, we do nothing – which is the easiest route out.

So, it’s no surprise that the poor farmer, who hung himself at the AAP rally, was just “watched” till he was no more. That’s what we are good at, unfortunately – “watching”.

(God forbid, if he did accidentally hang himself while trying to threaten to do so, as some reports have suggested).

Whatever the case, we just “watched” and did nothing – again. Can we move on to some real action the next time? I doubt it, because some habits die hard.

Cutting off the very hand that feeds us

Yet another farmer’s death – but this time in full view of the public at a rally where some of the most important politicians of the land were.

Shocking.

The rally continued following the person being moved to hospital.

Disrespectful.

Now, there is a lot of mudslinging and debate among all the political parties with the media and all hounding them.

Temporal.

That’s where the problem lies – this will die down a few days later when the media glare stops. This time around it was in the full view of everyone, so it garners more attention. But, how many farmers have been dying silently across the country for years? Who even cares about their plight? Certainly doesn’t seem like the Government (or any politician outside the Government) does – if anything it is like crocodile tears, in an effort to gain votes in the next round of the circus called an election.

For years, we have known of farmer suicides in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh and they have continued unabated – despite the Government’s tall claims to prioritize agriculture.

We can gain all the money we want in the world, but we can’t do anything with it if we do not have the food to eat – that’s the stark truth. Also, none of us want to pay much for the food – a large part of us want it subsidized and the poor farmers grow it for free for these subsidies to be doled out. The farmers are caught in a spiral of more poverty, arising out of these subsidies. If anything, there should be a subsidy to produce, not to consume! Even in some of the most prosperous nations in the world, farming is an unsustainable profession with the advent of other more lucrative professions. No country can afford food to be expensive, so even the powerful economies like the US subsidize farming in a big way. They also have effective controls and restrictions to prevent their farming from being hijacked. In India, we just don’t seem to care about the farmer, as long as the free food is being doled out at every meal.

Another big, big obstacle for farmers earning a livelihood is the notorious middleman, who pockets all the big gains, while the farmer struggles to make a penny. Who is this notorious middleman, a good friend of our dear politician – no wonder! By now, we all know that there will be a month or two in the year when onions and tomatoes will touch Rs 80-100 a kilo and then there will be a few days when it will drop below Rs 10. What explains this huge disparity? The farmer still gets the meagre Rs 1 or Rs 5 a kilo, irrespective of the price in the retail market. It’s the middleman who pockets it, of course, and goes around in the expensive Audi or Mercedes or BMW SUV with the local goons to meet the politician who has just got off the chartered plane and has reached the uber luxurious state palace or 5 star hotel.

So, where is the case for the farmer to survive? There seem to be only 2 choices – either give up their profession or their life.

Shameful.

Not to the farmers, but everyone who exploits their innocence and hard work.

Period.

“Politicise”?

I had to look up what the word “politics” actually meant as per the dictionary (not that I didn’t know, it seemed so obvious, but maybe my impression of what it actually meant got numbed by years of hearing it in a negative context) – I googled and took the reference from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/politics:

: activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government

: the work or job of people (such as elected officials) who are part of a government

: the opinions that someone has about what should be done by governments : a person’s political thoughts and opinions

I had to refer to this in the context of the unfortunate death of the farmer in the AAP rally and in the aftermath a number of people (from across the political spectrum of parties – including the ruling parties in Delhi, the AAP and at the centre, the BJP) are asking for the issue not be “politicised”. Of course, this is not the first time and certainly will not be the last when we hear an appeal not to “politicise” something.

Has “politics” now become so full of filth that it is used only in a derogatory context?

If you look at the definition above, a lot of it is about the positive side “actions”, “policies”, “governance”, “work”, “job”, “opinions” etc.

In saying “politicise” aren’t our honourable politicians subconsciously criticising their own bread and butter? Isn’t that the game they know only too well or in fact, the only game they know?

We often complain about work place “politics”, so we don’t have a good impression of that at work either – in fact the ones who grow up the chain are the ones to master this political game.

With time, somewhere down the line the true essence of the word politics and it’s good intent has been lost – maybe forever.

Maybe it is time to bring back a semblance of civility to this world and ban the word “politics” altogether! Because “politics” seems to be helping no one, in any field!  (except politicians, of course!)

How secure are we in the online and mobile world?

Are you sure that an online post or a message sent on a mobile, Whatsapp, Facebook etc. or even an email has really been sent by the person who is the owner of that account?

What firmly connects the account and the individual? It is quite easy to create any account you want with any name you want, isn’t it?

I do not want to jump the law or pass a judgement here, but I was reading about a very high profile IAS officer’s death and it’s hard to fully believe what I see/read in the media. Is it just possible that someone was using this person’s Whatsapp account to malign the individual and set up the case? The media immediately tends to jump onto whatever they can find in this age of sensationalism. Has the media done any kind of background investigation about the account itself and verified its authenticity before widely publishing the story? Security is becoming an even bigger menace day by day in this age – if you lose your mobile phone and/or SIM, just be very careful! I recollect a few years ago, there was the case of a lost SIM that was then used for anti-social activities – the blame directly fell on what seemed to be an innocent man, the original owner of that SIM, who had no clue what happened to it after he lost it! It has just become so easy to exploit someone else’s identity – without their knowledge. Surely identity threat is one of the biggest crimes – it’s like a part of you (or rather the full YOU) is being taken away from you without your consent! However, I doubt if any of the modern laws are comprehensive enough to recognize this as a crime and ensuring that stringent action is taken about people who fit into others’ virtual skins online!

That raises the question – do we need to make the process of creating mobile and online accounts more stringent and not free for all and unregulated? Maybe we should – there should be some way to tie it in to an official form of identification. If we can enforce that for bank accounts, surely we can do that for the social media forums as well.Where there is a will, there is a way. Where there is a problem, there should be a foolproof solution! I’m against curtailing freedom of speech and freedom to post online, but at least there should be some way to recognize who is doing it! That would make a lot of doubters like me more confident that what I see is what is right!

Watching an artist at work – Live – my best memories!

Continuing on the topic of watching an event live, here are some of my best memories (in no particular order of ranking, though some of them are ordered by dates):

(1) My first cricket match live – at the old Indira Priyadarshini Stadium in Vizag – Rest of India vs West Indies XI in 1988 – Best memory: Viv Richards in person! He hit a big six and fell shortly after. There were other West Indian greats of the era too in that team!

(I also watched an India vs New Zealand one day game at the same ground a year or so later, but can’t remember much – except that Kris Srikkanth took a five for as a bowler!)

(2) West Indies vs India live in 1994 (November 7th) – One day International in Vizag.

Sitting almost next to the players box – a young Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and many more. Watching the legend Gary Sobers in person a few feet away from me. Taking autographs of Sunil Gavaskar, Kris Srikkanth etc. An amazing innings from Carl Hooper in vain, so many sixes landed in our area!

(3) US Open Final Live in Flushing Meadows – September 12, 2004 – Roger Federer vs Lleyton Hewitt – What a performance from the Maestro, who was almost at his best!

(4) Brian Adams Live in Hyderabad – 16th February, 2011 – Wow! From the first row all the way!

(5) Sydney Cricket Ground – India vs Australia – 2nd Cricket Test Match – 1st day – January 3rd, 2013 – Watching legends like Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Zaheer, Clarke, Ponting in action – on a largely forgettable day for the Indians.

(6) Yanni Live in Chennai, April 14th, 2014 at the Jawaharlal Indoor Stadium

(7) KennyG live in Colombo, November 15th, 2014 at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre

(8) Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt playing his Mohan veena, mesmerizing! (Indian School of Business Graduation Day, April 12th, 2003)

Regrets: I went to both the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Australian Open Tennis Centre (Rod Laver Arena and others) at a time when there were no matches on, wish I could have gone during live matches. There are a few other stadiums that I have gone on a non-match day, it is just not the same!

I’m sure all of you have your own list of Memorable-LIVEs!