IRF 2011: The urban Indian consumer is ruthless in making choices

By Shibani Gharat , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | September 22, 2011
Day 1 of the two-day India Retail Forum (IRF) had a session on understanding the urban consuming class.

Knowing your consumer is the key to the success of any business. It especially holds true in the case of retail, a business that is directly in contact with consumers. The first day of India Retail Forum (IRF) 2011, held at Renaissance, Mumbai, had a session on consumer insights. The session, titled 'Understanding the Urban Consuming Class', had Rama Bijapurkar, one of India's leading market strategists and an expert on consumer behaviour as lead speaker.

Addressing a jam-packed session were panellists Ashutosh Garg, chairperson and managing director, Guardian Pharmacy, Niren Chaudhary, managing director, Indian subcontinent, Yum! Restaurants (India), Rahul Singh, founder and managing director, Golfworx, Rajiv Mehta, managing director, India and SAARC, Puma, Shailesh Chaturvedi, chief executive officer and executive director, Tommy Hilfiger India, and Tushar Dhingra, chief operating officer, Big Cinemas. Shruti Verma Singh from NDTV, moderated the session.

Each member on the panel came from a form of retail very different from the other. Hence, their respective consumers varied, too.

Bijapurkar opened the discussion by stating that the expectation spiral of the Indian consumer is going up. "Indian consumers have seen quality improving and prices coming down. They are expecting greater value from retailers," she added.

She also postulated that at the heart of strategy is sacrifice. "The idea of a brand and multiple audiences wanting multiple things is oxymoronic," she said.

Speaking about the consumers of Tommy Hilfiger, Chaturvedi said, "The consumers of Tommy Hilfiger are cash-rich. But still, the consumer varies per city. For example, in a city like Visakhapatnam, our consumers will wear Tommy Hilfiger clothing only on special occasions, but in a city like Mumbai and Delhi, they might wear a Tommy Hilfiger even while watching TV."

However, he added, the pressure is on value and pricing. Speaking about advertising, Chaturvedi said, "In my category, the shopping experience is far more important -- the way we dress our windows, the way clothes are kept, and the lighting in our store. It is not about advertising. For example, Tommy Hilfiger in Bengaluru has 2,000 consumers. If we advertise in a local newspaper, it will cost us a few lakh rupees, and will reach five lakh people, but my audience is only 2,000."

Dhingra of Big Cinemas said that in retail business, one has to be very specific. "Urban India has a lot of choices. Hence, they are ruthless in making their choices," he said. He added that in terms of cinema design, India is at the top of the world. "We offer a variety of entertainment and eating options, as compared to cinemas across the world," he said. "Retailing comes with a service," he added.

Garg of Guardian Pharmacy pronounced that there is a lot happening in the healthcare space. He said, "There are several lifestyle diseases like diabetes; there is also a significant increase in the demand for nutrition and a significant amount of money is being spent on healthcare." He declared that in medicine, consumers look for reliability.

Chaudhary of Yum! Restaurants claimed that consumers have become more vocal about their likes and dislikes. Citing KFC's example, he mentioned the branded service programme of offering various services such as 'Visit our canteen', 'Either tasty or free', and 'Chef of the day'. He also pointed out that Indian consumers want what is available internationally. "But, we give it an Indian twist," said Chaudhary. He added that it is important for a brand to deliver what it is promising.

Singh of Golfworx said that the Indian consumer stands for 'ABCD'-- Astrology, Bollywood, Cricket and Discount. He said that in India, there is no end to discounting.

"The consumer is also going online," said Mehta of Puma, citing an example of a boy who came with an image of a Puma shoe sold online and wanted the same model from a store in India.

Speaking about the price to value ratio, Mehta said that one has to always give a consumer his value. "A consumer should feel that whatever he is purchasing is worth the money and not over-priced," he stressed.

IRF 2011 sessions will deliberate on key issues confronting the Indian retail industry, from the macro-economic indicators and trends impacting the individual retail businesses to everything retailers want to know. Around 150 speakers will discuss a host of topics in this two-day event.

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