Consumerism in India; The Indian consumer

01/09/2022 0 By indiafreenotes

The term ‘consumerism’ was first coined by businessmen in the mid-1960s as they thought consumer movement as another “ism” like socialism and communism threatening capitalism.

Consumerism is defined as social force designed to protect consumer interests in the marketplace by organising consumer pressures on business. Consumerism is a protest of consumers against unfair business practices and business injustices.

The idea of consumer supremacy and consumer sovereignty is definitely fallacious in a free market economy. In reality, consumer is not a king or queen. The manufacturer or the seller is dominant and his voice is all powerful. His interests normally prevail over the welfare of the consumer.

The root-cause of consumer movement or consumerism is ‘consumer dissonance’, as it has been so nicely termed. Dissonance means after purchase doubts, dissatisfaction, disillusion, disappointment. These are the sentiments of all dethroned sovereigns. But the consumer protection (the core of consumerism) is essential for a healthy economy.

The apparatus of consumer protection alone can give necessary strength to consumers in the market and restore the balance in the buyer-seller relationship. Basically, consumers are demanding four ‘rights’ from the company- Safety of products, full and accurate information about products and services (without which some articles may not be usable and may produce sales-resistance), a choice and a voice (redress).

Growth of consumer movement was a proof that business had not been practising the marketing concept but merely paying it lip sympathy. Drucker revealed that consumerism is “product-oriented marketing.” Consumer protection or consumerism will be redundant if business sincerely practices marketing concept, viz. customer-oriented marketing philosophy.

Kotler is one of the few marketing theorists to see that consumerism is the ultimate expression of the marketing concept because it forces product managers and marketers to look at things from consumer’s point of view. In other words the pressure of consumer protection really presents opportunities not challenges which, if seized upon by the marketers, can provide additional strength to their marketing effort.

Marketers should realise that only satisfied customers are the best business assets and they should not spare any efforts in obtaining as many as possible. This is the underlying spirit of marketing concept and if such a policy is executed not only in letter but also in spirit, there is no reason to have any additional constraint like consumerism or legislation.

Consumer Responsibilities

The rights and responsibilities being the two faces of the same coin, the IOCU has also drafted certain consumer responsibilities which are as follows:

(a) Critical Awareness: To be alert and questioning about the goods and services they use.

(b) Action: To act on fair and just demands.

(c) Social Responsibility: Consumers must be concerned about the impact of their consumption behaviour on other citizens, particularly on disadvantaged groups in the local, national or international community.

(d) Environmental Awareness: To be sensitive about what their consumption of goods does to the environment and not waste scarce natural resources or pollute the earth.

(e) Solidarity: To act together through the formulation of consumer groups which have the strength and influence to promote consumer interests.

Areas of Basic Rights of Consumers:

Consumers have “rights” which are important for all marketers to appreciate. Recently the UK government has encouraged the development of a citizen’s charter which includes a “Patient’s charter” for the National Health Service, a passenger’s charter for rail travellers, and various other customer-focused initiatives.

The real awakening of consumerism was in the USA. Before Nader’s book, President Kennedy highlighted the obligation on an organisation owes to its customers in his “Consumer Bill of Rights”.

This encompassed four main areas that should be basic rights for all consumers:

(1) The right to safety

(2) The right to be informed

(3) The right to choose

(4) The right to be heard.

The idea of rights can be traced back to the “inalienable rights” included in the US Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. The marketing profession of today must be aware of these rights and combine them where possible in any marketing plans for products and services. They form a good framework for considerations.

(1) The Right to Safety:

When a purchase is made, the consumer has the right to expect that it is safe to use. The product should be able to perform as promised and should not have false or misleading guarantees. This “right” is in fact a minefield for the marketing profession. Products which were at one time regarded as safe for use or consumption have subsequently been found by modern research not to be so.

There was a time when cigarettes were regarded as not being harmful to health, sugar in foods was not highlighted in television advertising as being bad for teeth, and the public were advised to “go to work on an egg”- in retrospect, was it safe to do so? Other examples are to be found in the medical field, such as the Thalidomide drug which caused deformity to children born to mothers who took his prescribed drug.

Legislation which highlights “Products liability” has been introduced in several countries. This has forced suppliers to consider their responsibility. But should companies go further in a positive rather than a negative way? It could be said that this right will be closely linked to legislation and it is obvious that this right will be closely linked to legislation and it is obvious that marketers who fail to protect consumers do so at their peril.

(2) The Right to be informed:

The right to be informed has far-reaching consequences – it encompasses false or misleading advertising, insufficient information about ingredients in products, insufficient information on product use and operating instructions, and information which is deceptive about pricing or credit terms. But this adopts a negative approach. Avoiding trouble is not sufficient.

Any market should take advantage of every opportunity to communicate with consumers and to inform them about the benefits and features of the product offered. It should be no protection to claim that consumers fail to read instructions. Marketers must ensure fully effective communications between consumer and supplier.

But this ‘right’ determines that customers should be given adequate information in order to implement the next right-the right to choose.

(3) The Right to Choose:

The consumer has the right to choose and, of course, marketing does try to influence that choice. But, in most western markets competition is encouraged and products should not confuse consumers.

As an example, it has been suggested that to make this right easier to attain, packaging should be changed so that similar products from different firms are packaged in exactly the same quantities, or at least use both metric and imperial weights/ measures and so make value comparisons easier for the customer.

In fact, Sainsbury provide this comparative information on shelf tickets, but Tesco do not. The unanswered question remains; Do consumers use this information in making choices, or do they use other criteria?

(4) The Right to be Heard:

The right of free speech is present in all western countries. However, do organisations listen to consumers? In a well-focused marketing organisation such feedback should be encouraged, and it should be treated as a key input for the future. This right allows consumers to express their views after a purchase, especially if it is not satisfactory. When anything goes wrong with a purchase the customer should expect that any complaint should be fairly and speedily dealt with.

Consumerism and Marketing

All consumer groups affect the marketing environment in which organisations operate. In addition, it should be realised that individual pressure groups are each ‘marketing’ their ideas, but this is not considered here. Pressure groups can be considered as one way of receiving feedback from consumers.

By working with such groups marketers can gain increased influence, and this can be reflected in additional exposure as the pressure groups can generate positive. PR for cooperative suppliers. Where it is an area of individual consumer taste, such as; beer, the Campaign for Real Ale successfully encouraged suppliers to meet demands.

So marketers need to work with organised consumer groups and understand the power of such groups in reflecting consumer attitudes and in shaping demand. The consumers of today can vote with their spending power.

There is a growing realisation that this is happening. Companies that recognise this and comply with such expectations hold a strong marketing advantage over their unaware competitors. In 1991 The Times reported:

‘Stop drinking Nescafe for the sake of babies in Brazil’, the General Synod (of the Church of England) told us this week. But as far as the Church the England’s legislators are concerned, we may continue to enjoy Rowntrees’ sweets, Eindus fish fingers and Cross & Blackwell soup-our babies may continue to sup breast milk substitutes.

Yet these are also products of the Nestle group, which, campaigners claim, promotes bottle feeding in third world countries, encouraging mothers to give up breast-feeding, and increasing the risk of disease. Nestle says that it is acting in accordance with a World Health Organisation code of 1981; the campaigners retort that it is breaching rules added to the code in 1986.

We chose not to target baby milk, because it seemed inappropriate to boycott a product that some child might genuinely need/ says Patti Rundall, the national coordinator of Baby Milk Action, the pressure group that inspired the motion passed by the synod. ‘Nescafe is Nestle” s highest profile brand and the company can well afford to lose some of its market share without its affecting jobs.’

Campaigners do not necessarily measure effectiveness only in terms of policies reversed and products withdrawn. There is little doubt that numerically more boycotts fail than succeed, the magazine The Ethical Consumer said last year, adding – ‘Even an “unsuccessful” boycott can be a useful campaigning tool.’

However, when the Avon cosmetics group announced in June 1989 that it was giving up animal-testing, a spokesman admitted that consumer boycotts had influenced the decision. A similar animal testing campaign against Boots. The Chemist, has been less successful. The campaign is directed at Boots shops, but its targets include drug-testing by Boots Pharmaceuticals.

The point is that Nestle are being made a target for consumer action aimed at their top selling product, even though the behaviour being attacked is taking place with another product (dried baby milk) in another country (Brazil).