New Indian consumer: Caught between tech and tradition
New Delhi: The Indian market is high on growth and consumer confidence but mythology still rules Indian consumption that is still rooted in `existential fear`.
They are still governed by traditions in their fundamental choices in life, but they now want to be identified on the internet and are used to quality goods at a cheaper price because of the growing economies of scale for the masses to compete in a globalised economy, they said at a literary forum in the capital.
"I think the new Indian consumer is absolutely terrifying. They are monster consumers. They have got used to the prices of everything coming down and quality of the goods going up," Rama Bijapurkar, the author of "Winning in the Indian Market" and "We Are Like That Only: Understanding the Logic of Consumer India".
They want "hi-touch and hi-tech" and they want to "be identified on the internet," Bijapurkar said, placing the new Indian consumer under a microscope at the ongoing Spring Fever literary festival here.
"These are new Indian consumers one has to deal with," the writer said at the forum.
Bijapurkar in her book, "We Are Like That Only: Understanding the Logic of Consumer India", contends that "India is undeniably an important future growth market of the world, it is young (with over 450 million people below the age of 21) and it is just beginning its consumption journey".
Bijapurkar says consumer India is a market where the average per capita incomes have increased more than five times since 1991. The market is high on consumer confidence and aspiration that believes "it is ok to spend today because tomorrow is better".
Author V. Raghunathan, co-author of the new book, "Ganesha On the Dashboard", argues that the lack of scientific temperament of Indians influences their behaviour - even as consumers. Indians still believe in the "karma theory" that what one does today will do the person good in the next life. "Part of this exercise is superstition," the writer said.
"My take is essentially on the Indianness of an Indian - the lack of scientific temperaments and beliefs which cannot be explained in the physical. It certainly does impact us as people. Religion is 5,000 years old and science is 500 years old," Raghunathan told reporters.
The author of the bestselling book, "Games Indians Play", said the country`s education system has to instil in students the tendency to "question and question" right from the primary level. Raghunathan supported his view with an example.
A father was letting his minor son drive his brand new car. And the car ran into two-three accidents. The father maintained that the "numerology of the number plate was wrong because it was not adding up to nine and was causing accidents".
The father is ready to pay any amount to get the number right. "In Ludhiana, people were willing to pay Rs.15 lakh for the right numbers," he said.
Vaastu items sold well because consumers were still guided by superstition while building their homes despite the fact that "if one opens a window, polluted air comes in", Raghunathan said about the "dichotomy of the new Indian consumer".
Consumption is rooted in an existential fear, said writer of mythological books and brand observer Devdutt Pattanaik.
"As long as I am frightened, luxury will thrive. Somebody told me that if I buy a Mont Blanc pen for Rs.100,000 `meri aukaat unchi hai (I have elevated status). Lakshmi ayegi, kalaha hoga (Lakshmi will come, bicker) but consumption will increase," Pattanaik told reporters.
All advertisements on television are talking about consumption - "yug badal gaya par aap ka avatar nahin badla (times have changed, but the Indian avatar has not changed", Pattanaik said.
"There has been no shift at all, mythology still rules the trends in Indian consumption. The local `kirana` shops sell most during festival times. Change has to come at a fundamental level," Pattanaik said.
The Indian mindset is contextual unlike the Western model which is de-contextual, he said, adding only in India the popular perception to material plenty is "if you are poor, you are happy - Lakshmi se bach ke rehna (stay away from the goddess of wealth)".