Desi ‘Black Friday’: the changing consumer in Kolkata
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, is historically one of the busiest retail shopping days of the year. Many consider it the “official” beginning to the holiday season. Most retailers will open very early.
And from this site:
Retailers publish special sale ads on Thanksgiving day to get customers into their doors the following morning. “Doorbusters” and “Early Bird Specials” help lure customers in with heavy discounting on retail items. Lines often stretch around the block as customers jam parking lots waiting to snatch up the hot sale items of the year.
As the poet Bob Allen Zimmerman said – ‘the times….they are a changin’‘. The economic liberalization in India, set into motion some fifteen years ago by the current prime minister, is bearing interesting results. I will leave the debate on the socio-economic impacts of liberalization, good or bad (IMHO in short, mostly good), to other posts and other people. This is a brief comment on some primarily anecdotal evidence of changing consumer habits in my hometown, Kolkata.
For generations, people in Kolkata have been used to frequenting the local ‘bajaar‘ (market) every morning for fresh vegetables, fruits and fish (what is a Bengali without his fish), and the ‘parar moodir dokan’ (roughly translated: the local cornershop) for their grocery needs. For books, you went to College Street or waited for the famous Calcutta Book Fair; for trendy clothings, you would go to New Market or Gariahat, to Burrabuzar for bulk items and so on and so forth.
Now these age-old habits are changing, thanks to the profusion of supermarkets such as BigBazaar, C3 etc, that are fast becoming the one-stop shop for Kolkatans. Importantly, it is not just the rich elite that is frequenting these shops, but the regular working middle lass people.
“The man who comes in for his chal and dal and tel on a rickshaw is exciting,” smiles Ghosh. Shoppers are shifting to supermarkets for their monthly rations…..
If supermarkets are the future, the consumer most aggressively courted is not the elite family arriving in its air-conditioned car.
Additionally, I have anecdotal evidence from people back in Kolkata about the middle class going to these markets with increasing freqeuncy (even while the old fresh ‘fish, meat and veggies in the morning’ system is not obsolete by any means). The main attraction it seems, in addition to novelty, is the ability to browse and select products.
[Of course, the character of the middle class itself has changed. Whereas when we were young, our parents would be able to afford a car or a house only after holding a job for several years and that too on loans linked to their providend funds (and hence their jobs), right now, any professional can take out low interest loans to afford a car or buy an apartment. This improved economic condition cannot be bad for the country. Some people will argue that the poorest sections are not really benefitting. But I will disagree with that – maybe in another post ]
Coming back to the point of the post, last week we took our folks visiting us here to shop at Costco, one of those giant warehouse-type retailers where you become a member and have to purchase stuff in bulk. The folks were commenting on how buying in bulk to save is becoming commonplace in Kolkata due to the various buy-one-get-one-free schemes. Consumers are starting to hoard on their supply of cooking oil, soaps and other consumables. But most interesting to me was the anecdote about the day BigBazaar announced a big sale (I believe it was around the Republic Day holiday) – when everything in store was being sold at 50-80% discounts. People apparently lined up since very early morning, the roads going up to the store faced severe traffic jams and customers waited patiently for more than half a day to grab their bargains. In fact, to tackle the hordes of shoppers, the store had to close its front gate and allow only a few in at a time! Not really much different from the general chaos one finds in shopping malls across the USA on the day after Thanksgivings – popularly called Black Friday and defined above (it is called ‘black’ since most retailers make huge profits – denoted in balance sheets by black as opposed to red for losses- in the period betweem Thanksgiving and Christmas) .
[Final, slightly off-topic rambling:
Interestingly, there weren’t any riots or burning of cars in Kolkata while people waited to get into the shop (unlike what happened in this city). I guess Kolkatans are somewhat used to waiting patiently in queues – before the advent of multiplexes, we used to have to queue upto two days in advance to get tickets to movies (especially blockbuster English releases like Jurrassic Park); lines for gas cylinders, kerosene oil, at the ration store, for tickets to cricket matches at Eden or classical concerts etc are legendary. It used to be a point of pride how long one waited in a line to get their ticket/kerosense/rice/whatever. I remember one of my high-school teacher joking: ‘show a Bengali a queue and he will stand at the back first and ask where the line is going second’. 🙂 ]