Indians are such massive discount-hunters that the Covid-induced economic downfall may just see a swift V-shaped recovery. All thanks to lockdown ‘bumper’ sales. After all, we Indians are known for sniffing out the best deals and discounts are our kryptonite. Remember the iconic Sarabhai vs Sarabhai character Monisha, the bargain-obsessed ‘middle class’ woman who still continues to inspire memes?
While everyone has been self-quarantining at home, daydreaming of when they will be able to go out, I have been silently but diligently scouring through my favourite online stores, making mental lists of all that I’d like to purchase post-lockdown. And I am not alone. Brick-and-mortar stores, malls and e-commerce operations have been mostly frozen, barring for essential items, for most of the lockdown. With widespread economic uncertainty, job losses, pay cuts and furloughs looming over our heads, it’s probably wise to keep our purses shut tight. But once stores, virtual or physical, open their doors, they’re bound to announce generous and hard-to-miss sales to balance their losses. That’s exactly when over-eager consumers, like myself, swoop in.
As predicted, e-commerce sites, big and small, are now (mostly) functional and have immediately begun to lure in middle-class Indians with mega sales. From Flipkart’s heavily discounted cooling appliances to attract buyers in this sweltering summer, to stores like Nykaa admitting to their neglected warehouses through ‘restock sales’, they have it all. Many sites also say — order now, will ship when lockdown ends.
And so we wait, for the gratification of a steal-deal and a parcel again.
For the nation
Many e-commerce behemoths are subconsciously spreading a larger but self-serving message — shop and save the economy, or rather India. Flipkart has patriotically rebranded itself as ‘FlipkartforIndia’, spinning the recurrent #Stayathome hashtag to a more commerce friendly #Shopathome.
Amazon, apart from flashing all the ways it is supporting relief funds like PM CARES, is using its website to spread awareness, redirecting users to the Ministry of Home Affairs website, which is filled with Covid-19 updates. Many sites like Myntra have also added a feature that immediately lets you check whether delivery is possible based on your zip code when you open the site, making you pity those in containment zones for a whole new set of reasons. Even the automobile sector, which has been embracing the virtual more than ever, has gotten on the bandwagon, with Mercedes Benz unveiling its #MercFromHome online sale and service initiatives, and BMW retailers in the national capital offering a flat cash discount of Rs 2 lakh.
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“Pucker up for a virtual date night” reads an ad for Nykaa’s 40 per cent sale on lipsticks, similar to Forever21’s reminder to “look extra for your virtual date night & dress to WOW”, reminding customers that just because they’re sitting at home, doesn’t mean they will let go of capitalist and patriarchal beauty standards.
Other platforms rather not acknowledge the Covid-19 pandemic at all and act as if it’s just another regular summer — see Ajio’s ‘The Great Fashion Weekend’, Marks and Spencer UK’s ‘Rainbow Sale’, or H&M’s home page banner that just says ‘Yes, we’re open!’ and proceeds to inform you about all the discounts on offer.
A click away
While a lot of analysts predict reduced consumer demand and spending, the Indian middle class is highly unlikely to pass big-enough discounts — even if we happen to be in the middle of a global pandemic. But do you blame us? The mantra of cheaper-the-better has literally been hardwired into our brains since we were born. No one can deny the thrill of opening a carefully curated ‘wishlist’ to see strikethroughs across prices of all the items you have been vying for, now available at a fraction of their original cost.
As Supriya Shashidhar, Qualitative Research Executive Director at Nielsen pointed out during a webinar on ‘COVID-19 Evolving Consumer Trends’, people’s habits of going to local markets or malls has been broken during the lockdown. But a new routine or set of habits has emerged — doing chores, office work, and then settling in with family at the end of the day with a nice meal or a good Netflix show as a reward. For many Indians, the opening up of shops can be a means to ‘reward’ themselves for getting through the last four lockdowns, by finally buying things that are non-essential. (Yes, capitalism can be shallow, but I didn’t invent this system). Considering that about 93 per cent of e-commerce in India aims at non-essential goods, this is crucial for their revival.
Additionally, just because certain consumer habits may have broken, it doesn’t mean the value of brands dropped. Brands, small and independent or large retailers, have been more virtually active and aggressive than ever. Many have realised that in order to stay relevant, they must build loyal audiences through relatable content. Fashion brands, for instance, have been trying to build a sense of ‘community’ through virtual gatherings, Instagram lives, creative social media challenges, and sharing engaging content to keep their audiences hooked. Ikea’s former digital head Valdsgaard said it best when he explained that “customers won’t need to be bribed for an excuse to get out of the house” once lockdowns end. Retailers have worked hard to use the channels they had at their disposal to retain customers – their websites and social media accounts. The next few weeks will reveal if brands have succeeded in keeping buyers interested, and whether discounts can really act as ammunition for the retail sector to fire up the economy once again.
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