If you have been reading the news around the economy, you are bound to feel confused about the bad state of affairs around us. If things are really so bad, I don’t see any reason for advertisers to be putting all their might into advertising their wares and offering goods on sale or with freebies attached to make them tempting. So, on a recent trip to a shopping mall, I was aghast at the rock bottom discount on so many items from stationary to clothes and so on. I even got pulled into an electronics showroom, where the excited salesman tried passing off some very strange looking gadget, which he told me was a foot massager.
I was given a try, I enjoyed the 10 minutes of free massage and then had to tell the chap that I did not have space for it at home and neither did I have any need for it. He did not stop at it, he started rattling about the many other benefits of the massager, till such time I had to literally free myself up from him and hunt for the exit sign. But, this experience gave me reasons to linger around a bit longer to see what the other customers actually did. As I had the time on hand to wait for a friend who was stuck with unexpected rains, the next 30-40 minutes were a first-hand experience on shopping and buyer’s psychology.
Sitting inside a multi-brand store, I could observe that most people were lapping on to goods more because it was on sale than their own need for it. For instance, I saw a middle-aged man collect 5 ties because it was on offer. By the looks of it, he did not come across as someone who would have worn them. As he was passing by, my doubts came true – he was telling someone on the other end of the phone, that he had managed a good deal for a Diwali gift for his boss and a couple of clients. I witnessed a mini-jam at the billing counter, because one gangly couple figured that if they added two more things, their bill would add up to Rs 50,000 which will entitle them to a free gift worth Rs 15,000.
I did not have the time to experience what they actually did to buy some more unwanted things, because it was available at a throw away price or it helped them qualify for some other free gift which may or may not have been useful. I know for one that shopping for many is a freedom of expression and freedom of choice. At the same time, it is also true that you can’t make people buy something they don’t want. But, you can make people buy things they don’t need. Every generation since the economic liberalisation has been through this phase at least once.
From a single TV home, we have TVs in every room. The same goes for washrooms, fridge, shoes that one owns, numerous dresses, cars and you name it. Yes, a lot of these things are signs of progress, but some of it is also signs of being trapped into matching up to the Joneses and here, everyone falls into the Joneses category. The most clouded judgement that most shoppers tend to make is to understand the difference between needs and wants. A little affordability results in most people assuming the two to be the same, which is where trouble begins.
Coming back to the economy, I had read Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist of Morgan Stanley Investment Management state that there was no connection between politics and economics, in the Indian context. He had written in the column that the outcome of elections remains irrelevant at least from an economic standpoint. This seems to be so true of the current phase of our economy and polity. As the festive season commences, I am sure everyone is making their way of creating some revival and may be you could contribute to the recovery of the economy by buying something this discount season. A word of caution: at least buy what you need and don’t be swayed by what sellers want you to buy.