If you’ve got it, then flaunt it. That seems to be the motto of Indian shoppers. But the question is what to flaunt; the brand you own or the price at which you owned the brand?
Indians have always been known to haggle for prices. It is seen as a skill which is essential to survive and succeed in this world or at least in India. The famous dhania example of Santosh Desai is actually true across all income segments. But when it comes to branded and expensive items, behaviours change. The rich aunt would flaunt the latest saree bought from Benaras with a certain price tag. She would also invite you to eat ice-cream made in her recently bought refrigerator. In the pre 90s, buying a refrigerator, owning a house phone, buying a car, travelling in a flight were signifiers of ‘being rich’ and the price tag attached to it was an integral part of the aspiration quotient.
With the growth in the GDP and the spurt in disposable incomes, consumer confidence became upbeat as they saw visible improvement in their standard of living. The change in economy also brought about a change in the way consumers were shopping. They had more disposable money but they also became smarter in the way they spent. They looked for deals in everything - airline tickets, clothes, cars, consumer durable et al.
The desire to own and experience exclusive international brands grew. In the larger family, everyone now owns a ‘Gucci’ or some other expensive branded items. Owning an international brand is no more a differentiator or a signature of being rich. While consumers do want to try these brands and flaunt them, the real differentiator lies in the ability to do smart shopping by finding the best available deal.
As we enter the digital era, the Indian consumers’ desire to find deals has soared. The trend is fuelled with the advent of e-commerce with all the required information being available 24/7 at the click of a button. Everything from price comparisons and customer reviews to suggested pairings (shoppers who bought this also bought…) are an integral part of the online purchase process. The debate about prices, offerings, services and quality has moved online with millions of consumers joining the conversations. No wonder that the in-store shoppers are researching the prices online before they set out to buy them offline.
There can be no better time for this new class of discerning Indian shoppers. ‘Sale’ has become a quarterly phenomenon in the swanky malls. To catch a deal for that expensive perfume, shoes and bags is no more a challenge. Consumers are equipped with the latest gadgets (bought at another deal) and have access to social networking sites where people keep posting about their ‘catch of the day’. While Carrey Bradshaw of Sex and the City would give an arm and leg for owning the latest Blahnik, the Indian shopper will wait for a ‘discount’ and strut those shoes with envying eyes following her. The better the deal or discount you can get, the smarter you are.
The ball for ‘deal hunting’ was set rolling with the dynamic pricing of airline tickets by Air Deccan, India’s first low cost airline. Tickets were available at a low of Rs 500 and people clamored for seats. Predictably, other airlines too started changing their pricing technique and many more people started flying instead of travelling by train. That was in 2003. In 2013, Air Deccan does not exist and the company to which they were sold is almost closing. Yet, the pricing strategy stayed with the likes of popular travel portals who today, offer deals not only on air tickets, but also on hotels. This has led to major changes in consumer attitudes to discounts and deals. Obviously, consumers love getting good deals always, but rather than having to hide one’s haggling, securing the best deal is now being admired by friends and family. In fact, it’s now more than just about saving money; it’s the excitement, the chase, the sense of control, the perceived smartness, and thus, one more way to highlight your stature. And this phenomenon is only going to get bigger and bigger from here.
The lesson for the marketer from consumers basking in the thrill of grabbing a deal, is to ‘Avoid getting trapped in the commoditization syndrome’ and be involved with ‘him’: Let him feel special, let him customise and even co-create products.
Marketers may follow three simple steps to be ahead of the deal hunting consumer:
- Be accessible, be available, be omnipresent: Customers are now equipped with latest technologies. Time is the new currency. So marketers need to be present in all forms of media so that you are there, wherever your customer is.
- Be transparent: Be true to the products that are on deal. The consumer is smart and confident and will do his research well before he actually buys.
- Create an experience: The brand needs to move beyond product and price to create a more holistic experience including service and post purchase engagement.
At some level, the Indian shopper still has a ‘free dhania’ mindset. Only that the phenomenon has climbed the ladder and has reached all aspects of his shopping agenda. In a way, the Indian consumers can be defined as a ‘mosaic of tradition and modernity’.
(The author is director and chief marketing officer, Max Life Insurance. Views expressed are personal.)