Now & then: Here’s how contemporary consumers behaved a decade ago

12 Nov,2014


By Devendra Chawla


Consumers of today have evolved into a hyper active multi-taskers, constantly squeezing the 25th hour out of a regular day. Here are some of the most radical changes between contemporary consumers and how they behaved as recently as a decade ago.


In this article, Devendra Chawla, CEO, Food Bazaar, chronicles the many shifts in consumer behaviour and attitude over the last decade.


The star of a movie called ‘me.’

Indian consumers are a liberated lot. It’s not hard to spot a 40-plus man in a colourful ensemble; green or red trousers, if you please. Women no more need male or peer endorsement as approval of what they wear or how they look. They expresses beauty in their own way – via choice of apparel and personal grooming.


There’s friction building between conformity on one side and self identity on the other, as consumers see themselves as stars of their own movie. They want to play multiple roles and make many appearances.


Hair streaking, frowned upon once, is now a style statement. So are male grooming products. Consumers can now choose facial structure, shape of nose, and skin type thanks to contact lenses, plastic surgery, botox jabs, etc.


Yes, people do look up to trendsetters, but instead of aping them, prefer to create their own sense of style. Brands can no longer feed on the fear, insecurity, or preaching. This generation of consumers will make allies of brands that allow self-expression.


They are a product of abundance unlike yesterday’s consumer, who was born in scarcity. And yes, today’s consumer may reject brands that claim to help one find a groom or a job based on the colour of skin.


Zero to best in 2 seconds

Upgrading sequentially from good to better and better to best stands disrupted. Now consumers parachute into the best of one category while at same time making a trade off in other categories for value deals. This approach sees many youth opting for a top of the line smartphone at the start of their careers, while eating at budget restaurants.


Unlike the past, where category upgrades coincided with a change in income, now they make a trade off, choosing most premium in the category where they want the best and settling for good or better than average in others.


What else can your product do?

From a mere mode of communication, the mobile phone is a life supporting system including a music player, a portable gaming console, weight loss monitor, camera and most recently a shopping basket given the mania for e-tailing.


An unlikely category like food is starting to take a few cues. While consumers sweat it out in gyms and perform yoga, food brands have been stretching from the role of satiating hunger to manage and support functions like weight management, stress and hypertension management, brain, muscle and bone development, height gain, etc via ingredients like Omega-3, vitamin and mineral premixes, co-enzyme Q10, etc.


Products that provide convenience and perform with speed are much in demand. A case in point is the emergence of multigrain, multivitamin, multimineral food across the spectrum. Expect food to multitask more and provide more benefits.


Back of the pack

In a world where “you are what you eat”, consumers want to know what are they eating. The attention has shifted from the front to the back of the pack, an uncommon phenomenon 10 years ago. They are checking for ingredients, potential allergic reactions, gluten as well as carb, protein and energy values. Expect back of pack to become more engaging than just being statutory information.


Even home food gets ‘outsourced’

Banks have outsourced many functions, opting for a tight focus on the core. And so, even if a consumer calls a BPO, they are still dealing with the bank brand. The same applies for telecom operators and many other industries. As more women step out to realise their ambitions, they’ve kept the flag flying for home cooked meals.


What has been outsourced here is preparatory functions like cutting vegetables; either left to the maid or the supermarkets which stock precut veggies. This has also given rise to fruit platters, ready batters, pastes, mixes, powders, etc.


The last mile is where the lady of the house has her hands and eyes, converting all these first stage conveniences to home cooked food, thus serving as the gateway for customised meals. The kitchen is a food factory with multiple gadgets and ingredients allowing even the time pressed lady to convert the dining table into a “food court at home on demand.”


Again an uncommon phenomenon 10 years ago. Here each family member can have different cuisine sitting next to each other, yet with the final touch of it all being home cooked food.


Cooking is the new golf

From provider to a nurturer – the role of the man is undergoing a radical change. The kitchen is his new golf course, even if occasionally, these activities compete with each other. As more women step out, men find themselves taking care of the house, children and the kitchen.


Punishments works better than complaints

Reactions to brands have never been so quick, personal and unique. The old cliché about a happy customer telling three people and an unhappy one telling ten has been unimaginably amplified in a world powered by social media where consumers routinely pour out their emotions to hundreds or maybe even thousands of friends and followers. The power of an organisation or brand is all but equal to one consumer’s tweet or Facebook or YouTube post.


Remember, “United breaks guitars”, by Canadian country band Sons of Maxwell? A complaint song about a broken guitar on a United Airlines flight has grossed 14,299,132 views on YouTube at last count.


Brands must prepare to listen to consumers 24/7 specially when it comes to grievances. As consumers do things they never imagined they could and experimentation is order of the day, they are moving from transactions to experiences. While consumers have been upgrading, its time for marketers to upgrade more often.


Source:The Economic Times

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