Where do women stand when it comes to consumption? Here's a planner’s insights based on several hundred hours of fieldwork, as well as reports on women.
There are several simplistic, yet handy, descriptors associated with women as shoppers. Shopaholics, retail therapy, or simply the “shopping jana hai’’ refrain. Most of them ring true at some level. However, there is much more to women as shoppers now. Particularly with the evolution of women’s purchasing power, brand awareness and financial savviness, the arc of this article is towards providing a complementary nudge to what is influencing women’s practical shopping priorities.
This is a brief pause to examine women as sophisticated and discerning buyers. A snapshot on how far they have evolved, in terms of categories, influence and roles in buying. (This is based on several hundred hours of fieldwork, as well as WT reports on women like 'Female Tribes' and 'What Women Want'.)
Women buying more: Having a say
The degree may vary, however, the impact and role of women across a broad range of buying is evidently increasing. The range includes regular purchases to special purchases, low cost purchases to high cost purchases, necessities to indulgences. Women are becoming key decision-makers and influencers for categories like technology and financial products, education, even jewellery. These are significant categories, in addition to beauty and food, that women have historically been buying. Women are also increasingly influencing travel and leisure. The sentiment ‘nothing comes into this house whether it is gadgets or weekly goods, without my having a say in it’ is echoed across homes increasingly.
Women changing as consumers and influencers: “List hai, 1, 2, 3”
In participating in a greater width and depth of purchasing, women have evolved, in many ways, as consumers and influencers. One thing that stands out is that women have changed in terms of becoming more specific, or explicit, which in turn, is a signal of aspiring more. Years ago, if women were asked, what are your aspirations, they would shrug their shoulders, in a somewhat sacrificial way, shyly smile and say all is fine, hope my family is fine and happy, that is the ultimate aspiration for me, after all. Today, if women are asked, what are your aspirations, they almost belt out their shortlist, verbally, often in the blink of an eye.
That this is spoken out without hesitation and fumbling means their “shortlist” is always on their mind and clearly thought through, as well. For instance, one woman, on being asked about her aspirations, immediately said she aspires for, one, a bigger home, second, a car, and third, travelling outside India. It is not so much the items wished for alone that stand out, but the robust sense of entitlement and the explicit expression of it, evident in women now. This shift has cascading impact on women as consumers and their evolving role in purchases.
Women's evolving role in purchasing: Invests in her expanding role
Women’s internal awareness and aspiration are also complemented by an evolving external awareness and discernment of value. Women are well informed (sometimes looking up 5-7 sources before making a purchase). They are better connected socially and physically (due to proximity, mobility, communities). Many are better educated, too. In several cases, women are more financially savvy now than generations before (example, women, in addition to managing the home, also does banking, part-time work, commutes/drives on her own).
All these factors, compounded, make women discerning consumers, who not only seek, but demand value. Their internal and external awareness, and sense of aspiration also makes them the “mini diva influencers” within their immediate social circle. A social position, albeit an informal one, they take pride in flexing, as evident from self-identity descriptors like “everyone asks me”, “I am the first in my group to do this or that”, “others look up to me”.
The emotional rewards of being a mini diva influencer, in turn, spurs them to maintain themselves in a virtuous cycle of always being ahead of the curve through their resourcefulness and tastefulness. “My sister-in-law is more well off, she wears expensive outfits, but everyone compliments me on how fashionably I dress.” Women are investing their time and energy in keeping abreast of what is latest and best, when and where it is accessible for them. Women mention going “just for browsing” or “window shopping” very often, sometimes every week.
“Kitney mein liya”, “kidhar se liya”, "kabhi liya” are shopping master tactics, and the woman shopper of today is a master, or at least a brown belt at her game, and she knows it. Two cartoon captures these shifts, a lighter vein, “shopping is an art, respect please” and “women shopping, danger ahead”. There is no mistaking that women with their totes, on shopping missions, are a force to reckon with, every day, every month.
(The author is national planning director, Wunderman Thompson India.)