Wheres the rule book for television home-shopping

Written by fe Bureau | Updated: Mar 3 2011, 08:10am hrs
The Economist magazines occasional publication, strategy+business, Issue 61 (Winter 2010) carries an article entitled The Good, the Bad and the Trustworthy, that quotes the 2010 Trust Barometer survey by public relations PR firm Edelman. This study found that people believe that trust, transparency, and honest business practices influence corporate reputation more than the quality of products and services or financial performance.

Consumers, investors, regulators and the broad civil society have witnessed an ugly efflorescence of individual and corporate mendacity over the last few years. Coming as it has, in tandem with a tough economic environment and strained personal circumstances for most people, broad swathes of the corporate sector have haemorrhaged credibility and trustworthiness.

Over the last decade or perhaps more, Indian consumers have been deluged by the growth of innumerable, so called teleshopping businesses. Products offered on these virtual store-fronts have little in common with what you would expect to find on the high street. Some actual product related quotes follow:

Nazar Suraksha Kawach is blessed with so much extraordinary energy and power that it can guard and protect your family against the strongest supernatural forces, negative powers and evil looks.

Our dr. Slimming tea is an ayurvedic herbal tea which helps to cleanse the body of harmful fats and disease causing free radicals while promoting healthy weight loss. The dr. Slimming tea weight loss system is the total weight loss program complete with 100% natural and safe weight loss products that total fitness formula (sic).

Firozagemstone protects the married couple from any sorts of misunderstanding and clash of opinions.The family disputes never dare to knock the doors of wearer. Also it strengthens the love between husband and wife (sic).

Blood Circular Massagervibrates the entire body of the user. It neither put any stress on the muscles nor it cause any harm to the body. The blood circular massager is a circulatory massager device which sends sinusoidal in the body (sic).

Height Increaser: Your growth potential reduces especially after puberty because your pituitary gland becomes inactive. With Height Increaser you can reactivate your pituitary gland. Besides using Height Increaser to stimulate your pituitary gland, it is also important for you to rejuvenate and revitalize your growth plate to increase your metabolism rate at the same time.

If you were to look for a single theme that runs through all the products and claims that we have just seen above it is this. The consumer is plagued by a set of adverse circumstances that have proven insurmountable. The vendor offers a magical remedy that will make these adverse circumstances disappear. We have a term for such behaviour: Predatory Marketing. The vendor is nothing less than a ruthless predator, unencumbered by ethics and accountability and a cynical adherent of the Barnum aphorism, Theres a sucker born every minute. It does not matter to this vendor that no buyer will ever come back to shop with him again. After all, theres always another who will fall for the siren song of his miracle-wielding wares. Years of being subject to such barefaced dishonesty in business practices has left the Indian consumer incredibly wary of shopping on TV and who could fault her for that

As new businesses from the organized sector begin to enter the television home-shopping market, they must begin a process of mending this yawning trust deficit.

We will briefly turn attention to mainstream TV to understand the sea changes that are in play right now.

After several years of being reviled for being sensationalist, tabloidesque, exploitative, biased and inaccurate, the Indian news television broadcasters got together under the aegis of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) to introspect about the genres follies and foibles and to develop a roadmap for fixing them. A near identical process is now afoot across the Indian entertainment TV industry.

Keep in mind that entertainment and news television do not actually enter into any direct, commercial transaction with the consumer. Any exploit -ation is, to that extent, largely devoid of a direct economic impact on the viewer. How different from the shopping television genre where the consumer actually pays her hard-earned money only to receive a useless, or worse, damaging, product.

While this essay cannot pretend to lay out the detailed roadmap to a code of conduct and ethics for the genre, here are the broad areas that it will necessarily have to address:

* Content

Verifiability of all claims in recognized, scientific, replicable protocols

Personal testimonial bearers willing to provide affidavits and subject their testimony to legal scrutiny

Demonstrations of claims and benefits free of hyperbole or over-claim

* Product

Complies with nationally recognized safety standards for the category

Complies with legally prescribed labeling standards for the category:

Manufacturer Ingredient declaration

Legal metrology and Standards of Weights and Measures Maximum retail price

* Protection of consumer rights

Enforceable warranties /guarantees

Fair and transparent complaint redressal mechanisms- at the manufacturer and industry levels

Rigorous compliance by manufacturers / sellers with all local, state and national laws, statutes and regulations

In many ways, teleshopping in India today is an Augean Stable. It needs a torrential onrush of transparency and honest business practices in the form of a competent and enduring self-regulation model to clean the years of accumulated filth and give the Indian consumer what she fully deserves: A transparent and trustworthy television home-shopping sector.

The author is CEO of Star CJ Alive, a television home-shopping channel