Pandemic Created Three Types Of Consumers. Here’s How Businesses Can Serve Them: Rama Bijapurkar
A customer shops for garments during the festival of Dhanteras at the Lajpat Nagar market in New Delhi, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanthan/Bloomberg)

Pandemic Created Three Types Of Consumers. Here’s How Businesses Can Serve Them: Rama Bijapurkar

When coronavirus hit India in March 2020, the reaction of fear and uncertainty was present among most of its 1.3 billion consumers. As months went by, first in lockdown and then in reopening the economy, the constant trickle of knowledge and developments led to a shift in consumer mood. With the year nearly at its end, Indian businesses are facing three types of consumers: the paranoid, the pragmatic and the bindass—the fearless with swagger.

That’s according to Rama Bijapurkar, one of the country’s foremost consumption strategists, who believes she herself is part paranoid and part pragmatic.

“You can see the bindass on the road with the mask decorating the chins. Paranoids are some building societies and friends that we have,” she said during a panel for the ASCENT eConclave 2020. “Pragmatic, and I believe majority fall under this category, are people who say ‘we have to do what we have to do but we have to do it carefully’.”

Bijapurkar has served as an independent director on the boards of several of India’s blue-chip companies such as Infosys Ltd., Axis Bank Ltd., Bharat Petroleum Corp., National Payment Corporation of India, Crisil Ltd., among others. At present, she serves on the boards of Nestle India Ltd., ICICI Bank Ltd. and Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services Ltd.

Consumer surveys in May showed that 70% of the rich and 60% of the poor would rather stay indoors and be safe. However, this flipped once the pandemic entered July and people were eager to get back to leading normal lives, according to the author and consultant. Bijapurkar cited her astonishment when an acquaintance showed her data on the increase in sales of loose cigarettes. ITC Ltd., the largest manufacturer of tobacco in India, also reported a better-than-expected recovery in cigarette sales in the quarter ended September.

“To which I was witheringly told that other than the white-collared rich, everyone’s back to work,” she said.

How To Serve The New Consumer

The lesson of the hour remains that Indian businesses need to use their imagination and provide solutions for the unique problems of the pandemic.

The pandemic has acted as a “forced” large-scale consumer experiment like no other, according to Bijapurkar and businesses need to study consumer mood in detail instead of making assumptions. “The question here is what are the consumers in the mood for,” she said, acknowledging that what they will actually do is a function of what suppliers provide. Businesses need to revert to the basic principles of value addition, she said.

“So the only question people should be asking is how do I add value to consumers now?”

Here are some of the pointers Bijapurkar gave for Indian businesses:

  • Focus on supply solutions instead of “gazing at them (consumers) and looking for them for inspiration”.
  • “Get your digital act together if you haven’t yet.” Companies need to ensure they have all their options - book, rent or return - available digitally.
  • They need to signal trust the way Swiggy and cloud kitchens did by showing the deliverer’s body temperature.
  • Travel portals need to figure out how to cater to a group of people who have been safe, and solo travelers. Hotels, too, must signal and earn trust.
  • The wedding industry can come up with new ways of spending money considering people won’t have to spend on things like imported flowers.
You can only have a wedding for 50 people and you can’t fly in orchids from Thailand, so where do you spend that money? Maybe give diamond rings as return gifts.
Rama Bijapurkar, Independent Consultant, Author, Strategist  

Watch the full conversation here:

Also read: Harsh Mariwala Wants Firms To Connect With Customers, Reinvent And Survive The Pandemic

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