In their book, Convergence Marketing, Jerry Wind and Vijay Mahajan argue that at the end of the 90s, marketing was taken up by the dominance of Internet marketing with a cyber consumer and the death of traditional marketing. But the cyber consumer was, largely, a myth.  Consumers are a combination of traditional and cyber, rational and emotional, wired and physical. They are a hybrid, like the centaur of Greek mythology – running with the rapid feet of new technology yet carrying the same ancient and unpredictable human heart. With very low PC penetration, India is far from this consumer using online and off line marketing.  But do we have a hybrid consumer in any sense of the term. Here are some notes from Kamla’s diary:

A day in the life of Kamla;  She wakes up at 6:30 but enjoys lazing in bed for another half hour as breakfast and packing tiffins will hardly take any time at all.  She remembers struggling to make hot breakfast for her husband and two children while packing their lunch as well. Now Sanju will just pour himself some fresh orange drink and she will make him hot toast with some Kissan fruit jam. Gita will heat a mug of cold milk in the microwave oven for 30 seconds, mix some Horlicks and she is ready for the day. Her husband will go for a walk in the park next door, come back and listen to the news on seven to eight different channels on TV as he gets dressed. He will then use the cold milk on his Kellogg’s cornflakes as she has her first cup of tea for the day. Breakfast will be wheat flakes with cold milk. She is the one who is going to be standing at the door giving them their daily spoonful of Chyavanprash. She herself is going to take Calcium Sandoz tablet – a new one that the doctor has recommended. She will make their lunch a little later and send them with the dabbawala.

But first she will sort out the clothes that must be washed by hand and those that can safely be put into the machine. Sakubai comes by 9am sweeps, swobs, washes the clothes, cleans the dishes and chops the vegetables for Kamla and makes the chapattis. Saku is very unreliable and Kamla looks more and more for clothes that can go into the washing machine. Dhobi round the corner still takes clothes for ironing. The shopkeeper told her that she can wash even her silk saris in the washing machine but she is too afraid to try. She has bought a small vaccuum cleaner and uses it herself on days Sakubai does not show up.

She opens her Samsung and is spoilt for choice. What should she cook for lunch and dinner. Just yesterday she had been to the supermarket and got fresh vegetables and at bargain prices. She does not feel like cooking as she has a deadline to meet. So opens the freezer and brings out some curry and two vegetables she had cooked sometime ago when friends had come home for dinner. She warms them in the microwave and packs them in 3 hot cases.  Yesterday she had thoroughly enjoyed herself at the shopping mall where she had gone with her friend and neighbour Gauri who worked in a bank and is very smart. They had taken a bus and done the entire month’s grocery shopping and carried everything back in a cab. They also went around other stores where she had bought attractive laminated table-mats made in China. You could clean them with a wet wipe and they were so cheap.  Gauri had bought machine washable, embroidered, brightly coloured cushions. Bargain hunting was fun and you just did not know what you might get. There was no point planning your purchases. She had seen some nice tops for Gita and jeans for Sanju. But those two only shopped on Fashion Street. Sometimes she approved because they would come back with jeans and tops for Rs.100 and all the latest designs as well. She knew because she used to flip through Femina, Elle and Cosmoploitan at the Chinese Beauty parlour down the street as she was waiting for a hair trim or a facial. Her children often laughed at her Brahmi Amla oil and Shikakai soap and she had to buy Clinic shampoo for them. She had grown up on Colgate but they wanted Gels. She used Pond’s face cream but Gita wanted Fair and Lovely.

She had seen some foreign shampoos from Korea in the supermarket and though they were cheap but she relied on the consultant from Amway to tell her about toileteries and cosmetics. The cosultant always gave her good advice.

She had enjoyed her burger at McDonald’s with Gauri. Normally they went for dosas or chhole bhature when all four of them went out. She must bring Sanju and Gita here. She was eyeing a dish-washer so she would not be at Sakubai’s mercy and the kitchen would look so much cleaner. Already the blue Samsung fridge had changed how even Saku treated the kitchen.  Sanju and Gita were always asking for new things to eat so she bought an Italian and a Thai cookery book at half price in a book shop with a sign saying SALE outside. In the afternoons she made it a point to see Khana Khazana with Sanjeev Kapoor on TV. Soon after she found a beautiful, blue crockery set made in Taiwan.

She was worried that she was getting carried away and that Ram would be upset with all her purchases. But when she thought of her new bank account, a rush of excitement went through her. Only yesterday, the exporter for whom she did beautiful embroidery work had sent her a cheque. Earlier, Gauri had helped her open a bank account and she had deposited her cheque in the ATM next door. Next week somebody was coming to give her a credit card. She loved it when Ram gave out his credit card in the shop or at the restaurant. She felt very proud. Of late something had been bothering her. She wanted Ram to replace his two-wheeler with a new Maruti car. She had checked all the new cars within their budget. The children had helped her by taking her to the Maruti and other web sites on the computer. She knew all the prices and the EMI plans available. The computer never failed to amaze her. The other day she had with the help of the children worked out the most nutritious and healthy diet plan for herself and for Ram. She had decided to follow it too.
She had enjoyed her day at the mall. She had decided she would go to the supermarket in the mall every month. Things were cheaper, you got to see new products and you could touch and feel everything.  At home she found she had run out of some masalas and sevai and forgotten to order extra milk for the kheer she had promised the kids. She rang up Manilal, their local bania and he sent everthing in 30 minutes. The milk was in a carton with a label ‘long life milk’. Kamla was upset with the carton milk but the kheer turned out the best she had ever made.

In the evening after dinner, they all sat and watched television and the only decision to make was which channel to watch. She loved some of the ads, particularly for Travera, a car for the whole family with the lady of the house putting a ‘tika’ on the car. Sanju loved the Scorpio – coming out so stylishly from the airplane.

Lessons in Consumer Behaviour

In a larger sense, this is a hybrid household with hybrid consumers. The old continues with the new.
1. The decision making process has changed – From sources of information, influences to brand choice, there are more alternatives. From traditional sources of awareness like media, friends and relatives there are now sources of information – shopping mall format, Internet, direct marketing company network.
Companies need to have multiple channels where information is disseminated consistently.

2. The purchase process now depends on the context or the shopping experience – Home ware may not necessarily be a planned purchase but depend on how good a bargain you are getting. This has been made possible because of the one stop shop -shopping mall format where you can find almost everything under one roof. Unknown brands also come into the consideration set as the choice is more and the shopping mall offers a certain amount of confidence in the products that are to be found there.

3. She will upgrade for certain products and happily downgrade for others- She settles for the new technology and the aesthetic appeal of the Samsung fridge. This makes her feel modern which has a domino effect in other things she wants to buy for the kitchen. She has no benchmark for evaluating the value of the table mats from China and the crockery set from Taiwan but they seem right for the new image of the house without making her feel too worried about buying them. And of course the mats are easy to maintain, long lasting and the crockery set is unbreakable and can be put in the oven. But when it comes to clothes for the children, export rejects, seconds and cheap imitaions are fine. Her family status comes from household goods and not what the children wear. She is more careful about her own appearance and Ram’s clothes.

4. She is both traditional and modern – While she continues to use her old brands and colours her hair with local henna at home, she does go to the beauty parlour and talks to the Amway consultant. She gives her family Chyavanprash but also takes the Calcium tablets for herself. It would be wrong to pigeon hole her into ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ consumer – she is a hybrid.

5. Her desire for convenience even though it is driven by how it would help her family and home has changed the entire breakfast ritual to one being that of cereal and juice, and milk. The large Samsung fridge ensures that she does not go out into the heat and traffic to shop every day and the microwave makes heating quick and even the children and Ram can have a warm meal. She need not drop everything to rush home to feed them. And yet she must make the kheer even after a full day.

6. Despite the foreign brands she buys, she loves the age old customs, rituals and traditions. How she wished that Travera ad was done for Maruti.