Urban Indian Consumer - From Practical To Flamboyant In A Span Of A Decade

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 1603 , Published on 29 October 2013

The urban consumer in India arrived post the economic reforms in 1991. Until then, there was precious little to differentiate between rural and urban consumers in the country though one could safely argue that the larger chunk of the urban population had more disposable income. With the ushering in of the threesome: Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalization, India especially urban India was set to change.

In the early 90’s, the urban consumer was practical. He was concerned about the kind of spending he was involved in and stayed away from reckless spending. Flamboyancy was a taboo word for the average urban consumer. With the ushering in of the software era in the new millennium, the practical aspect was thrown out of the windows (pun intended). The birth of the new millennium also brought with it the brash, risk taking, lavish lifestyle seeking and cash rich young Indian.

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The urban consumer is never cash strapped; even if he is, he has his credit card to bail him out. He has a taste for costly goods that can be flaunted and wants to be looked at in awe. It is highly probable that he may shun what is called aam admi’s choices. There was a time when Fair & Lovely was ruling the roost in India but now the situation has changed. The urban Indian wants something more costly and classier. Hence, the likes of L’Oreal and Garnier have stepped in to serve the affluent urban consumer.

These brands are over three times costlier than the humble Fair & Lovely but the consumer feels that the costlier the product the better it is.

Value for money is a difficult proposition to decipher for an urban consumer. He operates in a different mode: the costlier and flashier, the better the product. HUL has introduced its Magnum Brand of Ice cream in the cities and it is selling quick and fast. The brand is a richer cousin of the humble Kwality Wall’s Feast. While Magnum sells at Rs. 75, the maximum a Feast can fetch is only Rs. 30. While one can argue that Magnum is all about the “Royal Experience”, Belgium Chocolate and all the frills, one cannot argue that it is just a costlier version of Feast. It is highly improbable that HUL would sell them in the rural markets or for that sake, they wouldn’t have even dreamt of bringing it into the Indian market even a decade ago. Urban consumer wants all the luxuries that the world can offer. They do not have a problem in shelling out a few extra bucks for that.

Brand loyalty has died, argue the many researchers who study the urban consumer. But, it is impossible not to look at the other angles to this story. Loyalty to Indian brands like TATA, Amul and any Indian clothing brand is on the wane; one can count on his fingers the brand loyalists for these desi brands in an urban crowd. The consumer is quick and fast moving towards the likes of Hush Puppies, Tissot, Levi’s, Pepe, UCB and the many others. There are people loyal to each of these brands; it’s just that he is also loyal to a lot many more brands. It would not be difficult to find youngsters in the city wear UCB but he would also wear Levi’s but the chances of seeing him in a Bombay Dyeing’s Vivaldi range is an improbable thing. He would be an active brand loyalist for all the brands he wears.

The message from the urban consumer is clear, they only want foreign brands and they are not swayed by the “be Indian” and all the other nostalgic tags the brands like Tata subliminally propagate. It is amply clear that the urban consumer is moving away from Indian brands. There is always a bee line to buy foreign brands. The Indian brands seem to have understood this and have tried to adapt to it. The names of deo brands seem to be a testimony to this ploy by Indian manufacturers. The brands like Addiction, Denver, Cobra, Fogg and Wildstone are all Indian brands that have their names in such a way that they get a foreign feel in them. Most of the ads of these perfume brands-even HUL’s AXE have foreign actors and foreign locations. The latest ad from Cadbury Bournville, “Too much sweet can be dangerous” also exploits this trend.

There is very minimal involvement form the family members in making a choice compared to a rural household. The consumer interacts with the internet much more than his family or friends before making a purchase. The virtual space is loaded with people voicing their opinion about the various brands in the market. The prospect for an impulse purchase is also much higher in the urban space owing to the fact that they have higher purchase power and the amount of money that have in their hand is not seasonal.

Unlike the rural consumer who is still sceptical about certain products, the urban consumer is always ready to take a plunge and try out the new product. The innovativeness levels in the urban consumer are quite high. This might be one of the reasons for most of the products catering to both rural and urban markets being tested in the urban markets.

Urban consumers want a slice of everything. He does not want to be held back and crave for a unique experience each time. There was a time when even for the urban consumer a vacation meant going to one’s village and spending a few days there. The trend has completely changed. The number of vacations taken every year has increased in every urban household and the locations are no longer the humble Kulu Manali or Kodaikanal, it’s to the Middle East, Europe, the Americas and many other exotic locations. This trend again reaffirms the fact that the urban consumer has graduated to a new level.

With both parents working, the dynamics of home has also changed. Eating out or ordering food has become a daily phenomenon in many houses. The consumer isnot bothered about spending a bit more as he does not have time to “waste” cooking. This has also given rise to the “Ready to cook” processed food market in the cities. Companies like Venky’s, McCain, ITC, Nestle and MTR are trying to exploit this sphere.

Everybody wants to be pampered; the urban consumer wants to be pampered like a child. There was a time when movies and eating out were a luxury and going to a movie was a grand occasion. The trend has completely changed. Going to movies have become much tamer affair and everything is served up to the consumer. Every theatre in the cities has an online booking facility, hence no more standing in queues or fearing not getting a ticket. Also the theatre has doubled as an eat-out. An average consumer spends more on his snacks at a theatre than the movie tickets. To make things a bit more convenient, most multiplexes are located close to a mall in it. This gives the consumer a chance to eat, shop and make merry after a movie.

It is inevitable to not note that the urban consumer in India has changed over the decade. However, with the rural consumer also becoming empowered and having access to money in most cases, the lines seem to be thinning though at a slower pace. It is possible to find individuals that behave like urban consumers in the rural set up and vice versa. However, the majority of the population in each of the set up behave in a distinct way.

This article has been authored by Eldho K Poulose from LIBA


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