Shopping with your senses

WHAT is the magic of Odel? Any visit to Colombo is not worth its salt if one has not visited this shopping mall. I hope that does not sound like an advertisement for Odel -but it is a fact that this one mall in Colombo has proven irresistible to most; I have had visitors from abroad come to Sri Lanka saying "where is Odel, I want to go there." And I say how about the Zoo or the Museum....but no it's this shopping spot at Lipton Circus that they want to visit.

09 Jun 2011 0 comment

Why? Probably because Odel caters to that modern day (internationally recognised) past time - shopping. I don't mean buying as in entering a shop where goods are stored until they can be exchanged for money, not as a mere transaction, sale or ordinary trade. I mean shopping in the modern sense of the word in all its self-indulgent glory.

After reading a book written by Paco Underhill on 'Why We Buy- The Science of Shopping', I begin to figure that shopping in places like Odel is more than the simple, dutiful acquisition of whatever is absolutely necessary for one's life. It is more than what one may call the 'grab and go' attitude.

For example there are some shops which probably have the same range of clothes as Odel (I am not very sure of the quality) which operate on the 'grab and go' theory where masses of shoppers are in a stuffy environment with oxygen levels at an all time low, virtually in a tug-of-war, grabbing clothes and chucking them into bags in the hopes of getting great bargains. But Odel is simply different.

It is the Shangri-la of the sensual shopper. As Paco Underhill says in his book "The kind of activity I mean involves experiencing that portion of the world that has been deemed for sale using our senses- sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing - as the basis of choosing this or rejecting that" That's what Odel provides; the differnt sights and smells, mouth watering aromas from the bakery, mingled with scents of brewing coffee, potpourri, new leather and perfumed soaps and creams coupled with the wine and sushi bars, foot massage parlour and the beautiful but sometimes totally frivolous things on offer - it's all designed to stimulate the senses and make shopping a sensual experience.

I am often told by my wife that I am too shabbily dressed when I am at Odel's and that is true. For everyone seems to be so well turned out when shopping there. It seems to me they even walk differently and talk differently.

I often sit at the table on the ground floor (while my wife does the shopping) munching on some manioc chips, observing the people going through this vast experience of sensuous shopping so to speak, buying things as they smell, touch and taste.

My sixth sense may tell me this is all a ruse to get you to shop, but I too am caught up in it. I cannot resist buying the Odel branded t-shirts with the monkeys, crocodiles and porcupines on them. Like an alcoholic going for that drink I always give myself the excuse that I need one more.

The Odel brand and its store is something that came out of the situation in Sri Lanka some 20 years ago, when our overheated garment industry had nowhere to off-load their rejects and it spilled over to the local market. Many shops bloomed at that time and some faded away. But in the years from a little shop down Dickman's Road Odel has evolved into an international brand. The Odel brand and its store is something that came out of the situation in Sri Lanka some 20 years ago, when our overheated garment industry had nowhere to off-load their rejects and it spilled over to the local market.

Many shops bloomed at that time and some faded away. But in the years from a little shop down Dickman's Road Odel has evolved into an international brand.

How if one asks, the answer might be that the owner Otara herself has become the brand. Not only her, even her dog has become a sub brand; And that is the essence of Odel's success in creating that unique character in all what it sells. The Odel brand draws us to the store and latches us on to its products.

There are some who tell me that they can get the same stuff at half the price elsewhere. But then I ask them the question -why do you keep going there over and over again.

The Embark CSR project, initiated by Otara, deals with improving the wellbeing of stray dogs, reducing their population through sterilisation and preventing rabies. What is good about the branded t-shirts sold on the Embark CSR project at the store is that they are of high quality and provide value for money; it is not like one is getting ripped off in the name of a social responsibility project.

For me what symbolises the Odel brand is the shopping experience it affords which goes beyond the mere acquisition of goods or services. And a Sri Lankan brand that we can be all proud of.

(The writer, a PR consultant and head of Media360, was previously a mainstream journalist in print and electronic media. He also edits a new media website)

 Leda cho