After witnessing the recent marketing blitz by Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon and Myntra,I was reminded of a rather well known saying in retailing, “If people went to stores only when they needed to buy and bought only what they needed, the economy would collapse.” While this was originally coined for brick & mortar retail, it has now manifested itself for E-commerce in India.
The unprecedented revenues that the players in this marketing jamboree are claiming and the jaw dropping figures they are quoting, tells us two things: one, that E-commerce in India has come of age and two, the India consumer is transforming into a mouse-happy online shopper.
Retail Therapy, a term coined way back in the 1980’s in the U.S., which describes the act of shopping as a means of relaxation, enjoyment and fulfilment, has migrated from the real to the virtual world. Its online avatar is taking over our lives, just like what has happened to many other human activities.
The question that begs an answer is that why have people in India (and other parts of the globe) taken to online shopping with a vengeance. Let us look beyond the obvious reasons- of the industry fuelling demand, a young demographic of ‘digital natives’ driven by consumption, most human activities creating their online versions, convenience, wider choice, better prices, etc.
Let us examine what are the socio-cultural aspects that are driving this frenzy. The answer lies in going back to the basics of human anthropology to understand the idea of ‘E-tail Therapy’.
According to the study of Anthropology, Human beings are driven by two primary (or primeval) instincts. Man as the ‘Hunter’ and man as the ‘Nurturer’. The Hunter was driven by the instinct to track down the prey and hunt it for food. The Nurturer on the hand was driven by the need to cultivate and grow food. Both these instincts are subliminally driving today’s consumers towards online shopping.
The ‘Hunter’ instinct sees online shopping as a means to track down the best merchandise or deal and then acquire it to feed the need for consumption and self-esteem. Even display it as a trophy and sign of victory amongst peers. This is evident in how people have been sharing their purchases and deals on Face Book. The fact that you feel good and brag about having beaten others in this race, by logging in early and taking away the real goodies, before others, heralds a sense of victory and ego boost. The chase gives as much of a high as the hunt itself.
The ‘Nurturer’ instinct looks at online shopping as a means to collect, gather and grow ones acquisitions. Getting acknowledgement from others on your being ‘with-it’, having good taste and wide collection- be it of watches, shoes, clothes or sun-glasses. It also delights you with the sense of self-indulgence as you admire your own array of goodies, collected over several clicks. Here, the line between ‘needs and wants’ gets blurred and very often ends up becoming a fetish or obsession to keep nurturing the desire (or the wardrobe).
Whether Hunter or Nurturer, either way the shopper feels a sense of joy, gratification and accomplishment when he clicks on ‘Send to Cart’.
So, are the Flipkarts, Amazons and Snapdeals of this world E-Commerce players, or are they actually ‘E-tail Therapists’ who are feeding the basic instincts of a new generation of ‘digital natives’?