Friday, July 20, 2007

from the "deconstructing Melcom" dept.

The shopping process in Takoradi, Ghana is generally the same as everywhere in the world.

You walk into a store, grab an item, hand over some cash, get some change, and continue on your way. Simple.

But there is one shop in Takoradi that sets the standard for what is likely the most complex shopping experience ever.

Welcome to Melcom.

Billed as the place "Where Ghana Shops," they really mean that they sell a bunch of overpriced cheap imported knock-offs and crap. Not only that, they make it nearly impossible to buy anything.

Here's how it works:

You walk in to the store, competing for precious door and aisle space with stock boys loading in huge boxes of overpriced cheap imported knock-offs and crap.

The aisles are crammed with unopened boxes of stock, shoppers, and staff. Lots and lots of staff. Things using power and edible items are located on the bottom floor. Things made of plastic and textiles are on the upper.

After zeroing in on the item you wish to purchase, say that Mosque-shaped alarm clock that goes off five times a day, you walk to the cashier to pay for the item, tripping over stock and staff along the way.

You have to fight for cashier's attention (let's call her Staffer One) because there isn't an orderly queue at the till. It is at this point you discover that you can't pay yet. There is a mysterious system that you have to learn first. So... it's back to the shelf where you picked up your alarm clock to start anew.

Luckily there is a staff member sitting on an unopened box nearby. You tell her, let's call her Staffer Two, that you want to buy the Mosque alarm clock.

Barely moving enough to for the dust to fall off her body, she points to Staffer Three.

Staffer Three holds the ticket book. You tell Staffer Three that you wish to buy the fancy alarm clock. She writes a jumble of letters and numbers on a small piece of gray paper, using carbon so she retains a copy of the secret code. After thrusting the paper in your face, Staffer Three walks off without another word.

Then you navigate the aisles crammed with stock and staff, back towards the till. If you need additional items, say a toilet brush or a wheel of Happy Cow cheese, you have to repeat the ticket process each time.

After fighting your way to the non-queue at the register, you come face to face with Staffer One again. She looks at your tickets, not your items.

A new currency has been introduced in Ghana and the cashier has absolutely no idea of its value in relation to the old, despite the fact that the computerized till is telling her it's 10,000 to 1.

After solving the currency problem with the assistance of a half-dozen other customers you are given your receipt, but no bag for your purchases. If you have lots of items, you have to carry them in your arms as you proceed to the next stage in the Melcom adventure: trying to leave.

First you have to go to a long table by the main entrance where three people sit motionless. A fourth, Staffer Four, is checking the jumble of products precariously balanced in your arms against your receipt. At this point you are granted a bag. But the fun isn't over yet.

Just before walking into the bright sunlight and tripping over a jumble of boxes that have yet to be loaded into the store, you have to visit Staffer Five.

It is Staffer Five's job to take your receipt and stamp it, like a passport. With that, you're on your way having experienced shopping the Melcom way.

I should note that Melcom has launched a series of TV ads, replacing the "Where Ghana Shops" slogan.

The new slogan? "Melcom - Making Life Easy."

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