Why is Myntra’s app-only communication lacking empathy?

Retail chains usually advertise about opening new stores (near a new locality) so that people in that locality may benefit from the proximity of the new store.

Is there ever a case where a retail brand advertised that they are shutting down stores? And such shutting down is (somehow) good for customers?

Yes, we do have such a case now. Myntra.

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Myntra had 3 stores till May 14th – desktop, mobile web and mobile app. Starting May 15th, they shut down desktop and mobile web and have only mobile app.

Considering I have written about this intriguing move many times, let me address a slightly tangential angle of the same move.

If you are steering the communication around such a user-limiting move, how will you handle it?

I mean, it is easy to outrage as a common man, or annoyed customer that this limits users’ choice to access a retail store. What is not easy is the fact that the brand – despite what people may think – still agreed to do this (for whatever reason) and has the unenviable task of communicating this move to customers. It’s easy to communicate this in advertising – it’s one way communication and the brand can say whatever it wants. It is far more difficult to communicate with 2-way communication media like talking to mainstream media and social media.

Now, I do not want to talk about the kind of communication vehicles that are available to Myntra to talk about this difficult (for customers; not Myntra) move. I’m talking about the messaging behind communicating this move. What sould be the crux of Myntra’s arguments while dealing with mainstream media and people in general, online?

It is rather easy to approach the messaging from the brand’s perspective.
1. That 90% of our traffic and 70% of our sales comes from mobile app, so this move is beneficial for us.
2. That we’ll be able to dedicate resources really well (though, it beats me that a firm that well funded as the combined Myntra-Flipkart entity is unable to find resources to manage the other two outlets. Here is Cleartrip’s point of view on this) and hence the overall user experience in the app will be far superior to other options you may be used to, but cannot use anymore.
3. That we can reduce our marketing spends in other forms of media and focus more on in-app communication. We’d hence be able to convert browsers into buyers faster, better and turn profitable. This is important for the Indian e-commerce story.

Now, let’s try this from a customer’s point of view.
1. If we shut our other stores and you allow us to manage only this store, we will be able to address you personally, by your name and by your preferences. We’d know you well and would be able to use that personalisation to serve you far better.
2. By better, we mean customized offers and deals to you – no more generic deals. We’d know you well enough to customize the offers that come your way.
(3. What if you don’t care for all this personalization and prefer using our website merely transactionally – just drop in, buy and move on? Well, sorry – it was nice knowing you!)

So far, from what I have seen, Myntra (and Flipkart) has used all these points quite appropriately, across the communication vehicles at their disposal. There were print ads in front pages. There was a media interaction. There is a revamped home page for Myntra that uses – pretty well, I should add – a combination of messages from the brand and from people (as tweets) to announce the move. There are messages on social media. There was even an attempt to open up conversations on social media using social media influencers.

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And all these efforts used the 5 points above in varying degrees and assorted frameworks.

What I felt was perhaps lacking is empathy. Empathy for not just customers who may be annoyed with this limiting move – and this may be a very tiny segment, for all you may care – but for ‘customers’ as a segment in general.

Myntra is a retail store. It is not part of our families – it is a business and we transact with it when we need to. And we are its customers, whether we buy from desktop, or mobile web or mobile app. I wouldn’t become an ex-customer just because I don’t have their app after buying from┬ádesktop website. If need be and I find a good enough deal for what I want, I’d install the app and buy it off Myntra. So, from both positive and negative perspectives, if it helps me and I gain something (in terms of range, price, timing), I’d – as a customer – buy from Myntra. To use their own catch-phrase for this announcement, #ItsNotPersonal.

So why empathy? Because ‘customers’ is one large gooey segment. People get in and people get out, but they are all customers (or potential customers). And a move like this is limiting and reducing the choice offered to customers, no matter what your perspective to this is.

You may not have liked surfing Myntra on desktop (or, don’t have a desktop and always used mobile web), but you can use only app now.

You may have preferred only desktop and now are forced to use app, and have no qualms about it.

You may not prefer to use app, but find a good enough deal on Myntra that you install app and buy it, ranting about lack of choice.

Whichever segment you belong to, you are still part of the large customer base.

And I don’t hear even one word of empathy from Myntra’s assorted communication. It always seems like how they did something for their own benefit and as a result there is something good for customers too. Almost as if it is incidental.

The closest emotion-led words I recall reading in all the communication from Myntra was Sachin Bansal saying, ‘whole team at Myntra is actually going into this little bit cautiously nervous, but very very optimistic‘.

But again, those words, ‘cautiously nervous‘ is about Myntra employees. Not customers. But yes, ‘cautiously nervous’ at least indicates that they do care that people may have mixed opinions about this limiting move, though it stops being empathetic when it connects to, ‘we’re very optimistic‘.

An acknowledgement of what the customers’ perspective is likely to be (mixed, given that it removes user choice, beyond all clinical big data analysis) is a first step to building a communication framework, particularly for a difficult announcement like this. Beyond transaction (and incidental) benefits like personalization, I do not recall seeing any empathy in Myntra’s communication.

There was never a ‘Yes, we see how this may inconvenience you, but trust us, you’d definitely like what you’d encounter in the app – we’ve put in a lot of effort into making sure you find the transition beneficial in every way‘.

It always was, ‘our numbers show…’, ‘this is a world’s first’, ‘this and that study says’, ‘9 million app downloads’ and so on. In essence, it has always been about what Myntra is going through, not what customers may consider or think about this.

Prempting and making assumptions of the scenarios for that is step number one in communicatons. Merely framing points from what the brand has to offer, as justifications, is just one side of the communications effort. A classic, more common example of this aspect is how brands apologize after a gaffe, or goof-up. The first step is to acknowledge, and think it through from a listener’s perspective and assuage their feelings. Then move on to the business in hand – to apologize with facts.

An indirect way Myntra’s communications alluded to the notion that this decision was based on feedback from customers themselves (who did not ask Myntra to shut the desktop and mobile web versions, though) was,

If you look at it, consumers are asking us to do this. 90% of time spent on the Internet is on mobile. 90% of time spent on Myntra is on mobile. That?s where the consumers are basically shifting

and,

Desktop versus mobile is a very different decision from mobile vs mobile app. That?s a decision that we took in March, when we decided to off the web on the mobile. The experience on the mobile web was really bad. The engagement rates, the bounce rates, the user repeat rates, the user satisfaction feedback was bad. The mobile browsers are much less powerful than the app. The challenge for us is to deliver an almost local/native experience on the mobile‘. (Source: Medianama)

But this is still arriving at something based on user actions (or the lack of it) and deciding the course of next action by and for the brand. There is no empathy here – it is a cold, clinical data-driven business decision. Or, optimization, as the jargon goes.

I completely understand the optimization, profitability, GMV stories. It is business and businesses need to make decisions that are in its best interest. This is, at least based on current clinical numbers.

But communicating that is a different story. Communications cannot be clinical and self-centered. Communications is a story-framing and story-telling exercise. It could use clinical data at its base to craft the story, but the delivery cannot afford to be clinical or self-centered, to win over listeners (users). Story-telling needs to help people relate to and resonate with the narration. And take decisions based not just on value-benefit analyses, but also some emotion. If not for emotion, brands would be merely listing functional, cost benefits in their communications and remove all ‘fluff’ to build resonance around the brand.

I would have loved to see Myntra acknowledge potential and existing user sentiments, take them head on and build the communication of app-exclusivity from there onwards. Not merely start with what they stand to gain and end it with what customers may incidentally gain too.

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