Home Progressive Grocer Evolution of Consumer Behaviour in India: from Offline to Online

Evolution of Consumer Behaviour in India: from Offline to Online


Contrary to popular belief, the online is not the enemy of the offline: both channels are absolutely complementary from the consumer’s point of view as he uses them according to his needs or at the right moment.

The “traditional” F&G retailers fear the scale up of pure players as they imagine ungrateful consumers taking advantage of their aisles to do some spotting before rushing to go buy products online to benefit from the most enticing prices.

The practice of showrooming, if it is truly real, will not precipitate the end of physical commerce. Especially because the F&G retailers, in turn, know how to take position on the online and build a real success there, by using the expertise gained in contact with the client. The important thing isn’t to know what channel should take precedence over the other, but to focus on the one and the same consumer.

The consumer no longer thinks “channel”, he first thinks “shopping experience”. If the consumer’s understanding, from an economic-sociological point of view, is a fundamental data to optimize the marketing of conquest, it is especially important to understand his behaviour during the actual purchase of F&G products, online and offline.

An analysis of the Indian consumer’s behaviour during his act of purchase in the traditional F&G retail store In the beginning, the marketing conceives the consumer in the light of the knowledge issued from micro-economy, traditionally seen as the function of utility maximization for the consumer, and from behavioural psychology through psychoanalysis and behaviourism.

The consumer is perceived in the micro-economic models as a black box whose decisions are based on the assumption of rationality. He is a homo oeconomicus, who makes rational and therefore modelled choices. This is the edifice of the economic theory that has historically laid the hypothesis of a rational economic agent reasoning in accordance with probabilities and which is the target of marketing, advertising and modern business strategies, especially for the F&B segment.

The advantage is obvious! A rational consumer decides to buy a particular product in a predictable way, which is by judging its characteristics, its variety in terms of price, value, use, quality…

It is from this behavioural code that the standards of consumption patterns on the Indian market were established. As foundation, they had to consider that the consumer was rational in a given market.

With the evolution of behavioural studies, the rationality of this homo oeconomicus has been put to test to describe it as a homo sociologicus, subjected in his selection with sociological and social criteria that guide his choices.

Several economists have shown that consumers tend to mobilize personal perceptions and ideas when they are in the purchase decision phase. Following this analysis, somatic-cognitive theories of emotions consider that these are consisted of axiological judgments or beliefs that give emotions an important role in the explanation of the buying process.

These images can just as well be directly perceptive as they can be imaginary, and associated to emotional manifestations, therefore to our emotions. These, as such, are either positive or negative, meaning that they are either pleasant or unpleasant just like joy and fear, respectively. This bipolarity is thus directly correlated to the content of our representations.

One of the codes was to consider emotion as a vector of practical rationality; that is to say that our purchasing decisions are based on our emotions.

Researchers have highlighted the deep role of empathy to bring forth an applicable code that generates market standards. This was followed by the discovery of mirror neurons that activate when we do a particular act, when we imagine doing it or even when we see it being accomplished by others, and which would be the support of empathy and learning through imitation. The standard that emerges is that any product’s presentation in a F&B store must be made in a situation where an active user is present so that the mirror neurons of the one looking can be activated as though the gesture has been performed. This motor empathy would be more persuasive than the simple visualisation of the product.

Thus, thanks to the economic-sociological theory of the consumers’ behaviour, F&B companies have been able to build marketing strategies to entice these consumers towards their products.

If today the traditional channel of retail still dominates the trade scene, the online channel is taking more and more space in the Indian market, which implies a change in the purchasing behaviours of the consumers.

If each channel was originally intended for a specific customer segment and managed independently, it is clear that new management constraints are emerging today, facing a consumer who has recaptured the system and no longer hesitate to migrate from one channel to another to solve his consumption issues.

From multi-channel, the distribution becomes “cross-channel”.  By re-approaching the virtual and real spheres of the same brand, the consumer lives a singular experience migrating from one channel to another in his buying process.

Why is the Indian consumer buying F&G online?

Some consumers use the Internet as an exploration tool for offers, comparisons and evaluations of commercial alternatives.

The research of pre-purchase information seems to be triggered when the consequences of the choices require further information processing and/or stronger motivations in regards to shopping, especially for utilitarian shopping such as F&G products.

Forsythe, Liu, Shannon, Gardner in “Development of a scale to measure the perceived benefits and risks of online shopping” have identified the benefits associated with Internet browsing. They have highlighted the functionality character of this channel, which may explain, beyond the purchase, why customers use their decision process upstream or downstream.

The saving of time, convenience, ability to purchase from home and self-control are essential motivations for its use. However, the financial gain, thanks to price comparisons, comprises a motivation to go on the net. Finally, other reasons related to the context of purchase are also raised.

Thus information, absence of pressure, expert references and access to the opinions of others are all reasons to go on the net to prepare your F&G purchase or complete it.

The new behaviour of the Indian consumer in F&G segment: from shopping to cross-channel foraging Attracted by different channels throughout their decision-making process, based on the goals they are pursuing, there are more and more numerous consumers who initiate an experience on the “web” to buy their F&G products, experience that can be extended in stores unless it is the opposite.

The buyer is also no longer reluctant to navigate between channels to find the product of his desires and then, he engages in a “cross-channel shopping” behaviour.

Beyond an intention to purchase, the buyer can navigate between channels simply to review a product, whether for informational or recreational purposes, which, in accordance with the concept defined in the physical world is like shopping, which in turn, becomes cross-channel.

This shopping sometimes transform itself into a cross-channel foraging when the recreational purpose in this navigation between channels takes precedence over informational purposes, like the behaviour of the consumers in F&G stores.

This behaviour can therefore enhance the experience that the consumer lives throughout the buying process.

Internet use can exacerbate the experience of the consumer through his influence on the cognitive sphere, where the learning and discovery of the F&G product takes place, the emotional sphere which refers to the feelings of frustration (which arise from the power play with the sellers) and pleasures (that provide the game and the pleasure of buying) and finally, the economic sphere that compels the buyer according to his own financial constraints.

Navigating between channels during a single shopping experience in order to search for information or to find pleasure becomes shopping and cross-channel foraging. The challenge is to find what is the value associated with such behaviour into the F&G segment.

The explanations of this new behaviour: from the purchasing process to real life experience This enriched process and act of consumption vision considers the consumer as a person, certainly rational and seeking to optimize his resources, but also in search of pleasure and finding meaning to his consumption.

The consumer is therefore sensitive to emotions, stimulations and sensations that consumption can provide him.

What is at the centre of the consumers’ behaviour is therefore no longer the F&G product but the personal experience of the consumer throughout his consumption process, whether it is intellectual, emotional, sensory, social, physical or spiritual.

Due to the successive use of different distribution channels during a journey of cross-channel shopping, it is likely that each steps of the experiment is impacted: before, during and after-experience.

The utility that provides a visit, to a physical or virtual store, cannot be limited to a simple utility estimated on the basis of a cost/benefit comparison. The act of shopping should not only be seen as a disutility but also as a source of hedonic gratification.

The utility value refers to shopping with the goal of purchasing; the purchase is then apprehended as a mission to accomplish.

This value reflects the desire of the individual to act as efficiently as possible by maximizing his utility. The hedonic value associated to a visit at a point of sale, however, is more personal and subjective. It refers to the playful, emotional and intangible character associated with the visit of F&G shops.

The various components of the consumption’s value contribute to the formation of the global value via the sum of the perceived benefits.
Determining the relative weights of different sources of the offer’s valorisation becomes therefore essential to elaborate multi-channel strategies that allows the customers to live the most optimal experience of cross-channel shopping possible into the F&G segment.
Positioning oneself on several sources of value allows increasing the overall value perceived by the customer during the cross-channel shopping experience.

The migration of the offline to the online and vice versa enhances the shopping experience.

Beyond these utilitarian benefits, the cross-channel shopping experience appears richer because it generates fun and hedonic benefits.
Some consumers take a real pleasure navigating between channels and extending their shopping experience by stretching it in time.
A cross-channel journey allows you to let yourself be submerged and seduced by the F&G product.

The discovery of an offer in a physical store, even in a virtual one, leads to a desire of ownership.

At home, we let ourselves be subjugated by an offer that awaits us, just us, and on which we will be able to dream.

The possession becomes virtual, enjoyable like a possible appetizer. The product is magnified and the admirer revels in his discovery, virtually projecting his potential possession before returning to the point of sale to magnify even more the F&G product of his desires. In addition, the consumption experience itself becomes more intense because it is more multidimensional.

Beyond the mere provision of multiple distribution channels, F&G retailers must develop flexible paths so that each customer can choose the channels that he wants to mobilize, the order in which he wishes to use them and that the offer is thus ad hoc, adapted to the age, the level of expertise and expectations of everyone.

In this space of choice, isn’t the Indian consumer starting to slowly mutate into a super-consumer by making him believe that his happiness lies in this abundance?