Ma­te­rial World

Mod­ern re­tail wouldn’t have grown if In­di­ans hadn’t be­come less spir­i­tual.

Progressive Grocer (India) - - Memory Lane -

What puts pres­sure for de­vel­op­ment to hap­pen? It is a na­tion’s pop­u­lace who do this, not through a revo­lu­tion or a mass upris­ing, but through their be­hav­iour. Con­sumer wants and de­sires in­flu­ence what man­u­fac­tur­ers make and mar­ket, and how re­tail­ers even­tu­ally reach them to homes, of­fices, and wal­lets.

This fun­da­men­tal fact of re­tail­ing is im­por­tant to un­der­stand the con­trast be­tween the west­ern model of re­tail de­vel­op­ment and the tra­di­tional In­dian sce­nario. In the West, re­tail pro­gressed from the Souk to the Cen­tral Mar­ket to the Shop­ping Cen­tre to the Mall and on to the Re­tail Vil­lage. Spa­ces ex­panded hor­i­zon­tally as the need for re­tail space grew, and as the hy­per­mar­ket and the big box phe­nom­e­non took birth. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, in­fra­struc­ture grew to sup­port the re­tail de­vel­op­ment.

In­dia, on the other hand, has never known a Souk con­cept. The de­vel­op­ment of re­tail in In­dia has al­ways been cu­bic rather than lat­eral. Struc­tures have grown ver­ti­cally, as the avail­abil­ity of real es­tate in ur­ban cen­tres has con­sis­tently di­min­ished. Typ­i­cally, shops would come up in the ground floors of multi sto­ried struc­tures, the up­per lev­els hous­ing ei­ther of­fices or homes. Nat­u­rally, this led to a hap­haz­ard and skewed dis­per­sion of re­tail spa­ces; and also ex­plains why In­dian cities do not of­fer qual­ity high street spa­ces. Bar­ring Ban­ga­lore’s MG Road and 100 feet Road, the Sec­tor 17 in Chandi­garh and per­haps Link­ing Road in Mum­bai, there are not many reg­u­lated high streets the coun­try has to of­fer.

Of course, the world knows by now that In­dia’s model of re­tail de­vel­op­ment is very un­like what de­vel­oped coun­tries have un­der­gone. But, what may not be as well pub­li­cised are the rea­sons for that dis­tinc­tive pat­tern to have oc­curred.

The In­dian is, by na­ture, an emo­tional be­ing. Our movies are lib­er­ally ac­ces­sorised by song and dance, our homes very of­ten in­flu­enced by re­li­gious con­sid­er­a­tions. In­di­ans nat­u­rally lean to­wards things that are fa­mil­iar and ac­ces­si­ble, if some­what chaotic and dis­or­gan­ised, rather than those that are stan­dard­ised and reg­u­lated. In­dian con­sumers like to be able to dis­cuss the fam­ily’s eat­ing habits with the lo­cal gro­cer, while the lat­ter en­joys be­ing able to ad­vise on al­ter­na­tive goods or cost-sav­ing deals to the neigh­bour­hood house­wives. It’s a bond that is built in a ‘friendly neigh­bour­hood’ spirit, if you like.

Needs vs wants

Now let’s come to the fac­tors that in­flu­ence shop­ping pat­terns. The In­dia of old had a sim­plis­tic – al­most spir­i­tual – way of life. Pur­chases were al­most com­pletely de­ter­mined by needs. Food, cloth­ing and shel­ter were the pri­mal needs, and all pur­chases were struc­tured to meet th­ese needs. Food­grains and pulses were of­ten bought by the ki­los and of­ten for an en­tire year. They came home in large gunny sacks, which were then stored in the large fam­ily kitchens or even un­der beds and set­tees. Cloth­ing items were bought as per per­sonal taste and con­ve­nience. The rich In­dian tex­tile her­itage meant there were op­tions to choose from for oc­ca­sion wear – heavy silks, bro­cades and sump­tu­ously em­broi­dered fab­rics were fairly easy to ac­cess. Bolts of cloth were or­dered from the mar­ket, and then for­warded on to the fam­ily tai­lor to be stitched. Ready to wear and brand­ing were un­heard of con­cepts.

This was true for even the most well-heeled of fam­i­lies – of course, they could in­vest in pricier fab­rics, have them em­bel­lished by pre­cious or semi pre­cious rocks, and cus­tom tai­lored by up­per crust drap­ers. Clearly, pride and hon­our were above ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions. Pos­ses­sions did not de­ter­mine re­spect in so­ci­ety.

Cut to In­dia of the new mil­len­nium. Lib­er­al­i­sa­tion changed the way In­di­ans val­ued their ex­is­tence. They grad­u­ally came to ac­knowl­edge a bet­ter way of life – in terms of con­ve­nience, greater choice and a new need aris­ing out of “peer pres­sure/ self es­teem”. This char­ac­ter­is­tic has re­ally de­fined the re­tail revo­lu­tion in In­dia. More and more In­di­ans now know that a higher qual­ity of life is wait­ing out there to be grabbed. While In­di­ans of the 40s, 50s and even 60s be­lieved that wealth was meant to be put away in banks or fi­nan­cial in­stru­ments for a rainy day, the In­di­ans of to­day be­lieve in the adage “You only live once”.

The mod­ern In­dian’s self es­teem needs now drive his as­pi­ra­tion to be a smart, con­scious shop­per – in any­thing from fash­ion to au­to­mo­biles to con­sumer durables, and in even some­thing as ba­sic as food. In a strange twist, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, he also has lesser and lesser time to ac­quire th­ese prod­ucts.

En­ter the mall and the hy­per­mar­ket. The ad­jec­tive “one-stop” is now at­tached to most re­tail­ers’ value propo­si­tions. The hy­per­mar­ket and large box con­cept is de­signed to ap­peal to the mod­ern In­dian con­sumer’s most pri­mal de­mands – that of wide choice, a world class shop­ping en­vi­ron­ment, but a re­tailer who is still will­ing to work to­wards sav­ing the shop­per’s bucks. The sav­ings will then be in­vested on ac­quir­ing the good life – fine din­ing, over­seas hol­i­days, ex­pen­sive per­sonal ac­ces­sories, and above all, ‘la­bels’. Af­ter all, noth­ing per­haps an­nounces one’s ar­rival into the big league as ac­quir­ing an ‘aspi­ra­tional’ la­bel does.

In­dian con­sumers like to be able to dis­cuss the fam­ily’s eat­ing habits with the lo­cal gro­cer, while the lat­ter en­joys be­ing able to ad­vise on al­ter­na­tive goods or cost-sav­ing deals to the neigh­bour­hood house­wives.

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