Be Indian, buy all you can

It’s official. According to a global survey, middle class Indians with disposable incomes are spending on food, clothes and fast-moving consumer goods as if there is no tomorrow. Komal Vijay Singh looks at the spending fever that has gripped the Great Indian Middle Class

THAT the middle class Indian is rocking was never debatable. But now it has been proved by a global consumer confidence survey conducted online by the world’s leading marketing information company, AC Nielsen.

Brand India is riding high. For Indians with disposable income in their pockets, happy times are here. With the sun shining on them, thoughts of a rainy day have been banished. It’s a new mindset at play. Living for the day is the new motto. This translates into spending on a new home, a new car, the latest digital camera, appliances for the kitchen, home d`E9cor and what have you.

The ACNielsen survey, aimed at gauging consumers’ confidence levels, spending habits/ intentions and current major concerns reveals India has emerged on top of the heap in terms of an optimistic outlook. It has beaten the other Asian economic powerhouse of China to take the first spot.

That India has overtaken China and the rest of the world has been substantiated by the responses of the 21,000 respondents polled in 38 markets across the continents.

There was a time not long ago when the Indian was known for his frugal habits. The tide has turned and how. The same Indian, undergoing a stupendous metamorphosis, is now known for his penchant for splurging.

A generation back, saving for a rainy day was the usual practice. There was a clear line drawn between necessities, which could be counted on the fingertips of one hand, and luxuries. Loans were not forthcoming. Giving or taking one was frowned upon. Never borrow, never lend was the favourite theme. Make do with whatever you have, cut your coat according to your cloth were the anthems of the masses.

Shopping on credit

Today, the average, middle class Indian is proud to proclaim himself a shopaholic. Shopping malls are the favourite destination of Indians. Cutting across age barriers, supermarkets, restaurants and multiplexes are reaping the rewards of an unprecedented footfall.

Banks and credit card companies are vying with each other in offering loans to customers. The credit card business is booming. Indians were sold 45,000 credit cards a day last year and together they spent Rs 120 crore a day through credit cards during the year.

Airlines, hotels, FMCG companies, auto giants, retail chains, mobile phone companies are all reworking strategies and slashing prices to reach the low-end consumer in rural areas.

With the Indians’ enthusiasm for acquiring consumer goods showing no signs of abating, the much sought after neighbourhood mechanic may also become a rare breed.

Sonya Lakhanpal, a senior executive with an advertising firm, concedes when her barely six-year-old food processor and microwave oven started giving her trouble she passed them on to her maid. Not having the heart to spend time and money on repairs, she was much happier getting new ones. She asserts that the newer models and better deals facilitated her in making a wise decision.

Her husband, an engineer, had taken a loan to buy his second car, a Maruti Esteem, just three years back. He has now graduated to a Honda City after taking another car loan.

Lakhanpal is a typical example of the multitude for whom acquiring a house or car is not something that they have to slog for and buy at the fag-end of their careers. Thanks to the all too eager finance companies and flush-with-funds banks offering loans to suit one’s needs at attractive rates of interest, having a homestead and being on the move on flashy four wheels is something one does not need to wait and save for.

Eating out

The survey has revealed the urban Indian consumer is among the top 10 most frequent eaters of fast food. He makes a beeline for fast food faster than the American and the European.

Ajay Singh, a network administrator with Tata Interactive Systems, Mumbai, says good food earlier meant ghar ka khana. A family which was seen frequenting restaurants too often was deemed to have bad eating habits. Now, those who don’t go out much are considered staid folks missing out on the fun of eating out.

Not long back, the Indian showed his adventurous streak by hogging chowmein and pizzas. But the urban Indian has now acquired a taste for international cuisine. Be it a Mexican, Greek or Japanese eatery, if it is in India it’s sure to be a hit.

Jaya Sinha, a 20-something executive at a call centre, says cooking a full-fledged meal at home is a rarity for her. With a fast food joint at every corner and supermarket shelves awash with ready-to-eat food she does not feel the need to sweat it out in the kitchen.

Having a coffee more often than not translates into going to Barista or Caf`E9 Coffee Day.

Till last year, Mukesh Kohli of Lucknow rued the fact that his city did not have a McDonald’s outlet. His children, who studied in Delhi colleges, felt the absence of the fast food giant’s fare on their visit home. When McDonald’s opened an outlet at Lucknow’s most happening mall, Wave, Kohli heaved a huge sigh of relief. He is among a growing tribe of Indians who feel burger ho to McDonald’s ka, pizza ho to Pizza Hut ka, footlong ho to Subway ka.

The story of McDonald’s fortune-building in India is being replicated by other fast food chains as well. The presence of Pizza Hut, Dominos, KFC, Ruby Tuesday in cities and towns, the food courts at shopping malls have all encouraged the eating out habit.

A few years back, the TV held pride of place in the drawing room while the fridge was another prized commodity. Both were diligently taken care of by covering them with plastic or dainty, lace-edged covers. They were both expected to be functional for decades.

The television has made a quiet exit from the drawing room. There are more often than not as many TVs as the number of bedrooms in the house. Those who don’t have a Home Theatre already have it on their things to buy list. The fridge shares space in the kitchen with an array of appliances. The smoky, oily-spewing kitchens have been spruced up with a designer look and state-of-the-art functionality.

Whereas earlier homemakers could never think of making the acquaintance of architects, now, they are in demand. The general prosperity has left its mark on Indian homes. Home d`E9cor stores are patronised by buyers keen to pick up colour-coordinated furnishings, linen and even accessories for the bathroom.

Radhika Mittal, who runs the Eurokids branch in Noida, says, "Why should the bathrooms in my house not look and smell like five-star ones?" A major portion of her not too big bedroom is taken up by a Sony Home Theatre. She watches the latest DVDs with her husband in the privacy of their room. The children’s bedroom next door has a smaller TV (25-inch one). If Mickey and Minnie Mouse can be seen frolicking on the bedspread on the bunk beds, the drapes have Pooh, Tigger and their gang.

Pictures of devout Hindus, attired in Reebok and Nike tees with vessels containing Gangajal on their head, are the best advertisement for the success and widespread reach of international clothing brands.

Not long ago, the Indian middle class man used to buy shirt and suit pieces and have them stitched to his requirement from the helpful darzi nearby. In tandem with the changing times, the brand-conscious Indian man has let the designer take over from the darzi. With the snazziest international brands at his doorstep, he has even traded his conservative look and taste for a hip and happening avatar. Most men, whether in college or with a job, at a board meeting or just holidaying, are quite proud of being called fashion plates. The Indian man is certainly not averse to spending a healthy sum of his pay packet on clothes, designer shoes, glares and accessories.

Sanjay Vij, a father of two, who works for a Japanese multinational, has a penchant for buying kurtis and embroidered shirts along with the checks and stripes. He keeps himself abreast of the latest trends thanks to the ad explosions on TV and in magazines. It is the large majority of men like him along with their female counterparts who have made India attractive for international brands.

The cityscapes have changed dramatically. Mammoth, gleaming malls, chock-a-block with flagship stores are springing up everywhere. The multiplexes are thronged by movie buffs wanting to catch the latest Hollywood flick. With land being plentiful, even small towns are playing host to the mall revolution.

Go to Ansal Plaza, the first mall to come up in Delhi way back in 1999, or Fun Republic in Mani Majra over the weekend and you will have to jostle past the crowds hanging around there.

Cool bargains

Kalpana Sharad, who teaches at a playschool in Delhi, claims an outing at the mall is an enriching experience. She elaborates that with the scores of brands available under the same roof she can save time and money by making a comparative cost analysis.

Tinkle Gill, an interior designer in Panchkula, says: "Besides, the interiors, the ambience, the quick-at-hand food outlets, the playing area for kids, the bargains on offer make for an ideal time-out."

The success-driven Indians don’t have to wait for opportunity to knock at their doors. It is all around them and in plenty. With a job scene that is booming a host of avenues are open to even college grads. A slew of industries that had almost no presence in the country a few moons back are dishing out jobs in plenty. Call centres, retail chains, mobile phone companies, data processing firms have all contributed to the job explosion.

It is advantage India with foreign businesses tapping the low-cost, highly educated, English speaking pool of human talent. Home-grown companies, on the other hand, are making waves internationally.

With the country developing at a galloping rate compared to the trots of a majority of countries, the better off sections in India are the most gung-ho about the state of their finances and the country’s economy.

While 83 per cent of the Indians surveyed feel that employment prospects will be good, 85 per cent believe their finances will be in a solid position. A large number think the next 12 months are good for a shopping spree. They are raring to loosen their purse strings like never before. Even as consumers globally play safe and adopt a cautious outlook, Indians are splurging on everything that God and man made. From splashing out on new clothes to spending money on entertainment, eating out, vacationing, giving a makeover to the home, acquiring the latest feature-rich mobile phone, a snazzy car, Indians are going the whole hog for all this and more.

— Photos by Pradeep Tewari