consumers, who have umpteen number of brands to choose from, have devised
their own strategies for shopping, writes Mohan Babu
perhaps the most consumerist nation in the world. Being consumerist is a
double-edged sword. On one hand, Americans who love the latest, greatest
products get what they want, but in the process, the choices overwhelm many
consumers. In any consumer driven market, the main beneficiaries are the
producers and companies that sell the services.
manager will tell you that choice is good, and that it helps individuals
feel better about the products they are buying, and give a touch of
individualism. Of course what they don’t tell is: more choice means more
products in the market, which in turn helps the companies producing these
products. The fact remains that a mature free market leads to a
proliferation of goods and services, leading to the survival of the fittest.
However it also leaves a lot of room for second and third rung product that
manage to find a niche.
didn’t always have the kind of choices, especially when it comes to consumer
goods and products. Even the previous generation had to be content with a
few generic brands of most products, the same kind that Jones’s next door
were getting. Henry Ford, the legendary founder of the Ford motor company
reportedly once said, “Give them any colour (car) as long as they are
black”. Needless to say, America has come a long way since Mr Ford’s
proclamation sometime in 1906. The choices, when it comes to cars are
astounding, almost mind blowing. The same goes for every other consumer
product — from cereals to cell phones, TVs to trucks — consumers have the
kind of choices, which are unimaginable in many other parts of the world.
Take a walk
down any supermarket aisle and choices immediately confront you. Getting a
gallon of milk from the dairy section may not be as simple as it sounds,
especially since milk comes in over a dozen varieties ranging from zero fat
to extra rich (and a few varieties in between). The same goes for yoghurt —
that ranges from plain, cultured, flavoured, half fat, zero fat made by
different brands, in different packages and sizes.
the first time I went a supermarket to buy some breakfast cereal. I hadn’t
gone with any particular brand or category in mind since I was used to
‘Kellogg’s’ back in India. Most supermarkets have a whole isles dedicated to
the display of cereals and they carry at least half a dozen brands including
national brands like Kellogg’s and Post. Each brand in turn will have a slew
of varieties including honey, crunchy, barn, oats etc etc.
How does one
go about deciding what the best brand out there is? Tough! Trial and error
is perhaps one way to do it — go about sampling one brand at a time and with
any luck you will find a brand (or kind) that you may like. However, just as
you get comfortable with your brand of cereal, the marketing gods might
decide to change the packaging and flavour just a bit, enough to make you
want to start the process again. If you thought deciding on a brand of
cereals is not the biggest problem in life, you probably are right. But of
course, for everything that you want to shop for, you are going to face a
similar challenge. Before you know, the choices can become overwhelming.
The issue of
choices, when it comes to shopping is exacerbated by the fact that there is
no uniformity or even rhyme or reason behind pricing. Almost everyone here
lives with the nagging fear that they will end up paying more than Jones or
the neighbour-next-door. We are eternally looking for the ‘right deal’ and
sales, stocking stuff we don’t even need. Because of the wide array of
products and variations being provided by marketers, they have devised
clever pricing plans, bundling in discretionary promotions and discounts.
The end result? The same box of cereal will not cost the same in two
different supermarkets down the road.
of choices available to us was brought home one recent evening when my
friend and I, currently in the market for a used car, decided to brainstorm
over a cup of coffee (Starbucks, latte with extra cream and sugar, in case
you were wondering). In the back of my mind, I knew that we had come a long
way since Mr Ford made his pronouncement over a century ago, but still, the
availability of brands, models and makes, with the variations in features,
not to mention the colours and prices, did not cease to amaze. I am glad
that we had decided to rule out new, ex-showroom cars from our already
complicated search algorithm. Of course, we might reconsider our decision,
especially in light of the ‘Zero percent interest’ offers being doled out by
the big three American automakers.
consumers have realised that there is a method in the madness and
individuals device their own strategies for shopping — some focus on pricing
and others on convenience. There is ample scope for everyone to experiment
and come up with their individual strategies. As you may expect, there are a
number of magazines, websites, radio and TV shows dedicated to educating and
informing consumers. The dotcom, at least the business-to-consumer side of
dotcom promised us convenience, trying to be everything to everyone.
Of course as
the short history of dotcoms have proven, not all consumers are willing to
sit in front of their PC and order groceries and other consumer goods. Going
to the mall or supermarket is still a welcome diversion to most of us, even
if it means using the grey cells to do some calculative shopping. One thing
is certain; it pays to shop, caveat emptor — buyer beware.