Consumerism Vs Austerity


These days the domestic market in India is driven by unabashed consumerism. It appears that the foreign brands in clothing, hand bags, personal accessories, spectacles, watches, et al, are very well established and entrenched in consumer’s psyche. The brands to beat are these foreign brands.

Of course, there are Indian brands which are also doing well, but only after they have upgraded their design to suit the rapidly changing consumer tastes and vastly improved their marketing and consumer reach. The international brands in any category are more expensive to be in sync with their brand proposition and positioning in the market. If a locally made watch from a premium, well established brand costs INR 6,000, you can be sure that a similar-looking, well-positioned international watch from the average brand category (I am not talking about the Omegas or Breitlings here) would cost in the range of 40 to 50% more. People pay for these brands due to their international brand appeal.

One needs to just walk into one of these new malls and observe what is going on. Previously and even today, there are still window-shoppers, who spend time browsing around and rarely spend. However, you would be surprised to find “focus” shoppers who come in looking for one specific brand of something, do not care about the price tag, buy it and walk out. These are the well-educated, well-informed, focused shoppers who do not wish to waste time in comparison shopping.

I wanted to write this piece more because “austerity” as a virtue is disappearing. The Gandhian virtue of making do with scarcity in some innovative manner, has all but disappeared these days. If we want to write something, we pull out a clean sheet of white paper even at home, or go to a new page of our diaries. There is no re-use of anything, nowadays you just get rid of something which has been used. And, we buy a new laptop, or a new watch, even if we already have a good laptop or a good watch. This overuse of resources by individuals and communities will eventually lead to over consumption of available materials. You can extend this concept to food, water, clothing, housing, etc.,

I am not recommending anything here – a gleaming new car, or an Apple laptop, is always a better thing to have. But the thought process behind making that choice needs to be strengthened and fine-tuned. I do not wish to belittle the same as “succumbing to temptations of the new and better”. It is just that, “are we spending some time analysing the need for something new, while we do have something similar already working well”. Or, “are we planning to gift to charity what we do have, when we are replacing the same with an extra consumption of something new”.

Well, youngsters these days do not think along these lines. It is too much of unnecessary analysis in their opinion probably. If you want something, just go and get it. It is funny that when I went recently to get a new wallet, the one that really met my requirement for storing all my “cards” and stuff turned out to cost twice than what I was prepared to spend. So, I suspended the purchase, thinking let me look around more later on. What is the urgency – no one really looks at the brand of my wallet. It needs to meet my expectations first !

While austerity as a concept is now lost in the Gandhian era, with India having reached the fast highways of consumerism and consumption, it would be worthwhile to make an assessment however quickly, to determine the need and criticality of the purchase. There is no harm in going forward after that analysis, either with an Indian or an international brand of choice. But let us first think whether something is really needed, and also reflect on our origins sometimes……though it is difficult for youngsters to do that having no comparable benchmarks ! However, for guys like me, there is always a reference point which existed even 10 or 20 years ago. So, it is always a comparison in the mind between couple of data points !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
25th July 2010
Mumbai

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2 comments

  1. Atticus

    Hi Vijay, I happen to stumble across your blog and enjoyed reading this post.

    The message is a thought-provoking one for today’s global and globalised citizens. As you said, ‘the fast highways of consumerism and consumption’ is unsustainable and at some stage or another will revert to a law of diminishing returns.

    Unfortunately, these hedonistic lifestyle choices (built on material wealth) will only fracture society further along the lines of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, especially in developing countries like India where the gap between the rich and the poor is ever widening.

  2. invest liberty reserve

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