Landmark under Tata ownership slips on efficiency

Landmark, the bookstore that has sadly morphed into a leisure store selling everything from jewellery and trinkets to cutlery and plasticky trash, opened in Apex Plaza, Nungambakkam, Chennai to great acclaim two decades ago. It was a refreshing change from the stifling culture of Higginbothams, where one had to buy a book summarily without reading even the jacket information. Now, having changed hands, Landmark has gradually descended into a congested, noisy and crass ambience, where serious browsing is no longer possible.

Just as the Tatas have been juggling their Tata-Sky DTH offerings to their benefit, ripping off consumers, the Landmark outlets have been packed with so many shelves that it is impossible to browse without being asked to move every 15 seconds.

But I find that the rot is far more serious. The old staff who were eager to sell books and were well-regarded for their knowledge of the literature on sale, are now replaced by vacuous, indifferent and bored staffers (an indication of nepotism and cronyism?). One gets the feeling of having stepped into a fish market, as perfume sellers and others hawking goods such as watches begin to hustle you. Besides surveillance cameras (which are less intrusive), uneducated security personnel hover around, watching over you.

Glassware is precariously kept in the pathway of shoppers who have only a few inches between shelves to manoeuvre with the stark warning placed on the shelves : Good to see, nice to hold, if broken, consider sold. That seems a nice way to rake in the cash in a store where breakages are bound to happen given the present conditions, more so with children running around.

Such is the indifference of the staff that they even fail to cancel the magnetic security tags at purchase, and the alarm at the gate starts beeping. On Sunday, September 7, the store was chock full of books and the rest of the trashy stuff for the annual sale. After having paid a bill for Rs. 941.50 by cash (No. 8/CS/120254), as my companion was exiting the gate, the security alarm beeped. The security stopped us and sent the bag in for search, after ensuring that the person was “clean” (you must pass separate from the bag).

The staff thought that to be the most normal thing to happen because they routinely fail to detag the purchase by removing the magnetic tag. “It happens all the time,” the staff said without remorse.

There is no sense of shame here for such lethargy and arrogance. The security staff said “sorry” after we objected, and the manager, Ms. Jyothi (who was contacted telephonically) said she would ask the senior manager to talk to us (he never did). Later, when we contacted him, he first claimed to have sent an SMS and even tried calling (both claims fake) and that he was himself faced with a similar situation at one time! He of course said “sorry.” But there is little point in apologising for a system that is not likely to be corrected, one in which such occurrences are treated as “routine.” Come on, Mr. Tata, you should know that’s not normal.

With every such incident, variously involving Tata-Sky DTH (changing channel packages without notice), the avaricious, land-hungry Nano enterprise in Singur (putting farmers on the backfoot in their own land), a long line of failing automobiles (some of the worst manufacturing quality) and the packing of their roster with unprofessional employees (Landmark), one can only conclude that the Tata brand has always been hyped and overvalued. It does not help that India has always had weak consumer laws.

I would seriously urge travellers to Chennai and also local book lovers to give Landmark a miss, unless they want to participate in a sort of jamboree. There is also the prospect of being stopped at the gate despite paying for  purchases. It might be a better option, I think, to check out other stores such as Odyssey (Adyar), Crossword (Venkatnarayana Road, T.Nagar) or even the somewhat sparse Oxford bookstore on Haddows Road.

Landmark is not Waterstones, Barnes and Noble, WH Smith and so on. In fact, with their muddled sense of book browsing, Landmark under Tata Trent have created the space for a serious new bookstore chain in Chennai. Time for someone to step in and fill it.

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