You are probably aware that McDonald’s is closing down many of its stores. The consumers have once again exercised their choice. Most marketers are always aware of the ‘make and break’ power of the consumer. If the consumer has decided that burgers are not a healthy option, they can force a business to close down.

Some time in the past, there was a move amongst consumers and celebrities to boycott fur to protect animals. But for whatever reason, fur is back in fashion. The stores are full of it, the real thing, and the catwalks are groaning under their weight. There is also a big move among celebrities to own eco friendly cars to make a statement about danger to the environment only made worse with the big gas guzzlers they are usually seen in. Surely it adds to their image as responsible citizens and makes the cash registers sing for them. Fizzy drinks have been guillotined often and now Cadbury’s is under attack for making advertisements to seduce and lure children to eat their products that we are told are not good for their health.
Recently in the UK, it is mandatory for food labels to carry colour coding that tells the consumer the level of junk food (read unhealthy) she is buying. Contrary to expectations, latest research reports suggest that consuming natural foods and vegetables does not lower the risk of cancer.
Consumers wield the ultimate power over brands and today consumers are flooded with information and choices.

With rise in incomes, growing awareness regarding environment and health issues and more and more information available at the touch of a button, I believe, consumers’ quotient of aesthetics, health and spirituality is on the rise. They are looking for a different kind of value not necessarily one that comes at an inflated price.

Abroad Zara, Topshop are singular examples of designer quality at High Street prices. MFI and DIY gave way to IKEA and this in turn is giving way to Habitat and Heals – Sir Terence Conran’s designer stores. Wal Mart, the biggest supermarket in the US has both the rich and the poor shopping there. In fact it is a matter of great pride for the well- heeled to be seen there. Harrods I am told is opening 20 to 30 convenience stores in the UK. Think washing up in gloves from Harrods or the Harrods toilet bowl cleaner, it allows the not so well heeled to get a piece of the action without making a serious dent in the wallet.

Closer home, tailors gave way to designer wear in garages and small home boutiques and now designers are giving us prêt-a-porter.
As home loans get cheaper and the average age of a first time home buyer comes down, the number of home stores selling knick knacks is going up. Earlier I always had to buy candles for my dining table from abroad, but now I have a store just down the street where I live and there are bigger boutiques. Looking at the durables market – products are not just sold on features, in fact those have become mere hygiene factors and it is all about aesthetics and styling and colours. Manufacturers have to constantly produce better styled products at reasonable prices.

Bono, the singer who is committed to causes in Africa, is about to launch a brand called Red. Other brands will produce co-branded goods ( Nike for Red) or (Gap for Red) and the sales will be split across Bono’s company, the brand contributing the goods and for charities in Africa. Research studies show that consumers are happy to buy goods that they know will help someone, somewhere. The projected sales volumes for Red are huge.
In India, we may not donate heavily for Africa but our spiritual quotient is well manifested in the kind of offerings made at Shri Siddhi Vinayak Mandir and Tirupati. You can go to the site and order online Tirupati coins, statues and other sanctified offerings. The same is probably true for Siddhi Vinayak. Both these are well run corporations and the brand image is handled better than it is for most brands we know of.

Taj Mahal Hotel has recently launched a chain of budget hotels. They offer 5 star conveniences at budget prices. Virgin and Jet Airways are offering flights and services at a fraction of British Airways rates. Ryanair, EasyJet and Kingfisher are changing people’s ability to fly.

The consumer’s appetite is growing not for big, bigger and biggest but for good, better and best all without dramatic price tags.