The National Retail Summit 2010 was organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry in Mumbai on January 11. In the first session of the day, experts discussed the key trends in consumer behaviour in a panel discussion titled 'Understanding the Indian Consumer'.
The discussion was chaired by Puneet Avasthi, vice-president, retail, IMRB International. The panellists were Sukanya Kripalu, strategic marketing consultant; Tim Eynon, partner and director, Dickenson Associates; Alex Joseph, national head, retail, Outlook Group; Satendra Aggarwal, chief executive officer, supermarkets division, Aditya Birla Retail and Umesh Shrikhande, chief executive officer, Contract Advertising.
"The Indian consumer is perfectly okay with buying designer clothes but at the same time, will not be willing to pay Rs 50 for one kilogram of tomato. Every consumer loves a bargain," she said.
She added that consumers have become more demanding about the services than the products and refuses to remain quiet if any service is found to be unsatisfactory. She also observed that consumers are getting increasingly time conscious. Both trends, she said, will have telling implications for the retail industry.
Eynon followed Kripalu with his observations. He noted that a large section of the Indian consumers are young. He spoke of how there is a bubble emerging in the middle class, whose spending power is increasing steadily. He also said that credit today is being made available readily and the consumer, too, is opening up to accepting it.
The trend, according to Eynon, has shifted from 'earn and save' to 'earn and spend'. "The Indian consumer is much more value conscious, challenging and questioning that most," Eynon said.
Joseph spoke of the importance of engaging the consumers by retailers. Representing a magazine group, he noted that magazine as a category has helped modern trade in recent times to influence the spending behaviour of the consumer.
"If consumers are engaged, their aspiration levels will rise, as will their spending levels," Joseph said.
Aggarwal delved into history to bring out how, over the past decade, India is going through a transition phase. "Has India ever had it so good like in the past 12 years? The last the country saw such glorious times was in the Mughal age," he said.
He said that the Indian consumers are far more discerning than their western counterparts.
"It is important to understand the changes in the consumers' minds in the last 10 years. The Indian consumer is very resilient," he added.
He emphasised the significance of category insights, citing examples from the FMCG sector.
Shrikhande observed how most brands, in a bid to achieve the desired quantitative results, are ignoring the realities of consumer behaviour. He noted how consumers are evolving from buyers to being shoppers and said that their need states must not be ignored by retailers.
"The consumer is looking for experience and for the brand to teach him a thing or two. Brands must get excited about qualitative results rather than numbers," Shrikhande said.
After the floor was opened for questions from the audience, the discussion was closed with Aggarwal emphasising on the significance of customer management.
"It is important to take loyalty programmes seriously. It does deliver value and bring out important consumer trends. It holds tremendous value for manufacturers," he concluded.