Driving Factors behind Retailers and E-tailers: N. Chandramouli

Any brand’s personality is the combination of the way a brand speaks to its audience and reaches out to them, and how it represents itself. So, how are the mass retailer and the e-tailer different? What characteristic behavior patterns of the two are the drivers of their businesses? We look at these two channels and compare the reasons behind their successes and study their behaviours based on TRA’s proprietary ‘Buying Propensity’ Model – a model which studies the Trust and Attractiveness quotient of any brand or category.

The brand personality of Retailers and e-tailers that make up the Buying Propensity of each is given below:

Brand Personality



Brand Trust

Commanding Respect

Commanding Respect

Outward Appearance

Non-Threatening Ambience

Shared Interest

Guiding and Helping

Brand Attractiveness




Conscious Effort


Social Maturity


There are two common brand behaviours that traverse both the Retailer and e-tailer categories –Commanding Respect and Oration. These two are the basic prerequisites before for any brand to be successful in either of the two categories, and the former precedes the latter in this. To elaborate, Respect is a responsive feeling that brings attention, deference, valuing and acknowledgement. Commanding Respect is much more though – it is generated when the brand evokes this feeling from a significant number of followers. Oration, the ability of a brand to communicate well, is intrinsic to the Communications Appeal of a brand, and the more natural, unpretentious it is, the better the effect on Buying Propensity.  Both Retailers and e-tailers which are sought after, have these two essential elements.

On Gaining the Consumer’s Attention

However there are several unique differentiators between the two formats. For a Retailer, what stands out is Outward Appearance, by its sheer ability to have a physical presence –the shop down the road or the outlet in the mall which one can visit and physically experience is more real than the flat structure of an online shopping portal.

In contrast, the e-tailer relies on its Non-Threatening Ambience, when the consumer is able to approach the brand without being self-conscious or feel in any way intimidated. The e-tailer’s ability to be accessible anywhere, everywhere, goes towards building this essential element of Trust. Despite having a flat non-physical interface, the e-tailer uses the advantage of being incognito to attain the otherwise ‘reluctant to shop’ consumer’s attention.

On Educating the Consumer

We intrinsically understand the Trust in a Retailer to be higher than that in an e-tailer. Though we may understand this innately, the articulation requires us to bring in the theory of trust. The Retailer by virtue of its very format has the ability to encourages the consumer to experience the product before it is bought – thereby fulfilling the Shared Interest of the consumer to experience the product through tactile means. This display of understanding lends to a higher transactional predictability and better outcome expectations, thus reinforcing Trust environment.

Although there is no such teasing of the senses involved in online shopping, the e-tailer compensates by undertaking the role of a guide. Online shopping websites are replete with all the possible product-related information at the consumer’s fingertips. In most cases the consumer can even use the online information available to compare products and make the best possible purchase decision for himself, thereby highlighting the e-tailer’s Guiding and Helping approach, making it more amenable to the consumer’s trust.

On The Nature of Business

One unique concept, that of Self-Control, a part of Aspirational Appeal in creating Attraction, goes in the favour of Retailers. The Retailer has enormous limitations in terms of what to display, how much to display, pricing etc. since the costs of space and logistics are more or less fixed. Hence, Self-Control is a characteristic imbibed in the retailer’s business ethic.

On the other hand, for a e-tailer, the high intensity of Conscious Effort, a part of Rational Appeal (which contributes to Brand Attraction), that is required by virtue of operating in a highly competitive space with low differentiators, to stay on top of the consumer’s mind makes the category’s Buying Propensity high.

On Engaging with the Consumer

Retailers show high energy, enthusiasm, full concentration and alertness to material situations – traits of Positivity, an aspect which is crucial to engage its audience. The manner in which a store attendant greets you with a warm smile, the suggestions and advice that he imparts while you walk around at your own pace, the new products that he tells you about before requesting to talk to you – these experiences can occur only in physical spaces.

E-tailers, on comparison, have inadvertently set themselves up to building and preserving a new culture of sit-at-home (or office) shoppers. The idea of shopping is no longer uncomfortable. E-tailers showcase the traits of Social Maturity – humility, community participation and socialization which appeal to a new set of shoppers.

About the author: N. Chandramouli, CEO, TRA,

N. Chandramouli, a Chemical Engineer turned Communicator who began his entrepreneurial journey straight after his engineering in 1990. In the last decade of his career, he has promoted 6 different communication companies under the Comniscient Group umbrella. Chandramouli lectures in several communication colleges and is also the author of The Brand Trust Report, India Study, India’s Most Attractive Brands (2013 and 2015), India’s Most Trusted Educational Institutions (2014) and Decoding Communication.

* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors



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