On the Consumption Trail

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The Indian consumer has evolved from a simple buyer driven by a seller’s market to a ‘spoilt for choice’, informed, entity. STOrai speaks to marketing experts to profile the change consumers have undergone over the years.

In the words of Philip Kotler, “We are living in a world that is no longer facing shortage of goods, but shortage of customers.” Amidst this global shortage, India is haven for marketers. India is likely to be the world’s largest consumer market by 2030. With current aggregate spending of USD 3 Trillion it will surpass economies like China and US.  To get to the projected USD 3 trillion level, consumer spending in India is likely to quadruple – with housing, consumer durables, education and leisure seeing the highest percentage expansion.

So where did it all start? The explosion of middle class consumer power took shape during the 1990’s, following trade liberalization in 1991, an increase in foreign direct investment and the proliferation of information technology exports.

Indian Consumer Adjectively Adjudged:
“The consumer has changed, and yet has not. In terms of being rooted to reality, there is a shake-up. In 1990 there was a certain rootedness, which has now been shaken and stirred. .” says Harish Bijoor, Brand Expert & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults.

Cover_Story_2There has been a sea change in the profile and attitude of the Indian consumer over the last 20+ years. The consumer of 1990, was a prudent, option starved consumer.

“From then, this consumer has come a long way. Led by the dismantling of import barriers, invasion of international brands and upgrading of quality and choice within the Indian consumer market; the consumer has become demanding and the table stakes have increased. Rising media penetration and consequent consumer awareness, accompanying the increase in choice and availability has created a new breed of consumers. The youth of today who have been born post 1990, cannot even fathom a market situation of the ’90s. Driven by easy availability of credit, shopping is no longer confined to seasons but by occasions and need, Correspondingly, brand and store loyalty has also declined.” says Bijou Kurien.

Cover_Story_3Adding on the same lines Sanjay Badhe an expert in Marketing & Retail strategy says, “The move from a ‘resource starved’ economy to a growing, more globalised  economy (multiple choice, better availability of products and brands ), along with social and media changes has resulted in a changing consumer. Whether it’s eating habits (‘Chinese food sold in dhabhas’ and ‘Jain Italian’), dressing (‘Indo Western wear for women’), shopping habits and, most important changes in behaviour (from men doing housework to transparency looked for in politicians) – there is an openness about the consumer.”

The emergence of the impulse buyer
Classical behavioral theory holds that consumers buy when they feel confident about their prospects, have a need and have money in their pockets. Today’s consumer is driven as much by mood as by wallet. Welcome to the era of a new consumer – the impulsive spender.

Cover_Story_4Brands of Change
Some of the iconic brands today came of age, during this period between 1990 and 2010 when the Indian consumer was morphing into being.  Each of them was / is iconic in their category – because they changed cultural thought processes.

Who and what is the Indian Consumer today?
The new Indian consumer is an interesting animal. The best way to describe him would be to consider him as the epitome of the classic line used to describe India as a market- ‘unity in diversity’.

Cover_Story_5Brand loyalty is passé today. The new reality that marketers need to grapple is “Brand Promiscuity”. “Brands need to offer variants and new brands that are able to up-grade, down-grade and even laterally move the consumer. The consumer is shouting from the rooftop, “When you cannot remain married to one another for more than 8 years at a stretch, how can you stay married to a brand of shoe for longer, or even that long?” says Harish.

Cover_Story_6“The Indian consumer today, at least the Indian urban consumer, is no longer in what used to be defined as ‘the evolving’ stage. I feel that the consumer is now at different stages of using brands- Indian consumers are fairly serious when it comes to its consumption & knowledge, and they possess an increased understanding of what these brands mean, in terms of values, imagery, etc. But on the other fronts like shopping and brand experience while shopping it is still early days. And the weak link in the Indian retail system is still ‘service’.” Sanjay says.

Cover_Story_7The Demographic Dimension:
India’s ‘demographic dividend’ is in play. 53 per cent of the country is below the age of 25 and 74 per cent of the country is below the age of 35.

“Marketers find the young to be impatient. This is a multi-tasking generation with a low span of attention. Marketers therefore need to un-learn and re-learn.” says Harish.

Adding another dimension Bijou says, “The younger Indian is more homogenous in terms of needs and attitudes than their forefathers. They are also more willing to spend impulsively and yearn for better designs and the latest fashions. This attitude is prevalent across income and economic groups.”

Cover_Story_8The Social Dimension
Socially, things have changed – but certain cultural norms prevail. The young still defer to their elders – but are impatient with stereotypes. “Consumers are getting more and more tolerant of behavior that is different. India has possibly demonstrated this in its protest at the recent Supreme Court order on Article 377. The consumer is saying it loud and clear: ‘I am not gay, but I have nothing against those that are!’” says Harish.

Cover_Story_9“The consumer is more accepting of those who are different  – but is not necessarily socially conscious. There is a level of self-interest that is unparalleled to date. The “I, me and myself” centricity is deepening.  Yes, it has in its ambit the “I, me, and myself and my family of 4” in it as an inclusive element, but that’s as far as the consumer goes. Inclusiveness at a societal level is low”.

Cover_Story_10Brands have changed consumption habits. “There have been brands who have not only established themselves, they have also opened up the market for a range of other products and in fact entire categories (e.g. Processed food etc.) as well as opening up new ways of presenting these to the consumer (e.g. in retailing with Titan Stores; new ideas and strong POS for Maggi in Kiraana stores etc.), apart from creating whole new categories for the consumer.” Sanjay says.

Will recession impact consumption?
“In a mood of uncertainty, both economic and political, consumers are deferring purchase and are more careful about how they spend their money. This has affected consumption and influenced categories differently. The auto sector has seen continuous declines over the last year, except for an occasional month. Consumption growths have slowed down. High ticket purchases for the home have been affected. And till the pall of uncertainty lifts, I do not expect any significant improvement. I don’t foresee this changing for the next 12 months.” says Bijou.

On the same line, Sanjay says, “Consumption will slow during recessions, but in the long run, it is difficult to ‘ratchet back’ once the consumer has tasted change. So while overall consumption might slow down,  there are a range of brands / promotions / strategies (value brands, trade promotions , private labels)  to deal with the consumption slowdown.”
New structures such as discount stores, group buying are likely to evolve in recessionary times. Recession gives retailers and consumers a chance to de-bottleneck and focus on efficiency. New channels of consumer interaction (online and e-commerce, cash and carry retailers, brands investing in retailing, personal networks to directly sell to consumers, selling across borders through the internet) are likely to emerge. The market ‘sifts’ and brands adjust.

In direct counterpoint to this – Harish says, “Recession will not at all effect consumption. India is a large nation. We are 1.2 Billion bellies and bladders that seek food and beverage. Amidst it all we have every other body part a world citizen has. There is a need, want, desire and aspiration that are burning in India. Penetration and percolation of products and services are still very low. The future can just go one way for marketing and marketers: up and ahead!”

Cover_Story_11Do remember also the fact that 69 per cent of India lives in its villages. This is an insulated part of our economy. This will contribute to robust insulated growth. Growth so robust that the salivating marketer from both India and indeed all over the world will rush to our Jhumri Talaiyas and Peddapallis!’

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