Right off, this reviewer noticed that Dheeraj Sinha’s academic credentials are not mentioned anywhere but several big names are dropped in the course of establishing his stardom as consumer marketing impresario.
Fortunately Sinha lives up to the hype - India Reloaded is an excellent read. His work has several virtues including being timely, extremely well researched, substantiating opinions with text carrying lots of footnoted number crunching data and, finally, using language that is simple, not technical.
Clearly and concisely, Sinha establishes his claim that India’s changing culture is constantly altering consumption patterns. Here’s a sample of his style: “I’m amazed how much in India has changed and how much hasn’t. India’s growth and momentum have made its presence felt in global geopolitics and boardrooms.”
But India Reloaded warns that not everything is hunky-dory. “India isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. While a lot has been spoken about India’s scale and talent there have also been murmurs whether India will ever deliver its promise. We need a deeper, more nuanced, understanding of the Indian consumer.” To provide this understanding is the basic objective of the book and Sinha is a good teacher, who does his task well.
He begins ably with a succinct introduction that kicks off with a note of caution - indeed, caution is the bedrock upon which many of Sinha’s arguments and conclusions stand. Some of these warning points are self-evident but nevertheless valid. While India’s market size of 1.2 billion citizens is often touted as a unique feature, the author alerts readers not to fall for glib assumptions like being gaga over India’s estimated 300 million middle class denizens. Going by Census 2011, only 56 million of these 300 own motor cars. There are those who rave about India’s mobile phones penetration of 900 million connections. But please remember, Sinha warns, of these 900 million 600 don’t have access to toilets and potable drinking water.
“The India on paper looks very different from the India in reality. What lies beyond the big-young-growing stereotype of India?” Sinha ponders. From the mass of assumptions and myths on India’s consumer market he leaves readers to mull over one contemporary reality: the failure of the stripped-down people’s car, the Tata Nano, priced very low. According to him, Tata Motors learnt, at its cost, that ‘people’ seek to fulfil aspirations rather than save on cost. Quickly, Tata then introduced the spruced-up Nano loaded with up market features. Never mind the higher price, ‘people’ are lapping up Nano’s latest model with automatic transmission (AMT) because it fulfils consumer aspirations.
For numerous global players, India’s large market and fast-growing economy are losing sheen; domestic marketplace practices are alien to them. No less than 12 million little retail outlets dominate the Indian market accounting for nine of every 10 rupees generated from sales. These are present in every town, village and slum in the form of simple fruit carts, temporary stands and closet-sized general stores. One ought not to be fooled by their size. They are surprisingly streamlined and efficient. Rental costs are non-existent and most of their workers are family members. They may not have rows and rows of air conditioned shopping space for buyers to browse in but will home-deliver orders within minutes. They also represent a powerful lobby that will stand up and complain whenever a big chain store succeeds in taking their business.
Indian consumers, says Sinha, want “More for Less” like the AMT Nano and what these ubiquitous micro-shops give. Stripped down products offering “Less for Less” simply won’t sell. This book’s fundamentals are strong enough for it to be a winner.
Sujoy Gupta is a business historian and corporate biographer.