If there is one sure sign of the effects of India's liberalisation-fuelled growth in the last two decades, it is the explosion of consumer electronics in many households.
The huge influx of televisions, microwaves, refrigerators, cameras, cell phones etc has changed our everyday lives beyond recognition.
The Indian marketplace is, today, filled with the colourful logos of major brands such as Samsung, LG, Whirlpool, Godrej, Sony and Videocon.
The 2012 HT-MaRS white goods survey took five popular appliances — microwaves, air conditioners, washing machines, TVs and refrigerators — and rated them across three parameters: customer satisfaction with performance, installation and after-sales service.
In an increasingly competitive marketplace, the aim was to see how homegrown brands — Godrej, Videocon, Onida being some of the major players — do against big international names, such as Samsung, LG and Sony.
In this battle royale between national and international brands, it is advantage international brands right now, according to the HT- MaRS survey. But, even though the Indian brands are down, they are certainly not out.
In 4 out of 5 goods, consumers prefer the performance and features of international brands. When it comes to after-sales service, a crucial part of the overall goods experience, Indian companies seem to have hit the right note, scoring better than international brands in 3 out of the 5 goods.
In two goods where installation matters most, washing machines and air conditioners, foreign brands do better again, according to the survey.
National brands have the clear edge in TVs, scoring above international brands across parameters. The results are equally unanimous in air conditioners, where respondents are more satisfied with international brands.
The laurels are evenly split in microwaves and washing machines, with customers preferring the performance of foreign brands and the after-sales service offered by Indian manufacturers.
So, have Indian brands been edged out of competition or can they script a turn-around story?
"Products offered by foreign companies are well researched and deliver what they claim to. One is a bit apprehensive using Indian products," says Arvind Mathur, a Delhi resident.
Shopkeepers like Darshan Taneja, who runs Delhi Electronics, a consumer electronics store in Gurgaon, have written off Indian brands entirely. "We hardly get any customers who want to buy an Indian product. We all work for foreign companies now," he says.
Both national and foreign companies have their comparative advantages.
"Indian brands can learn from the evolution of international brands in the country, but they can teach them some things too. While foreign players pay close attention to their marketing strategy to tap consumer insight and find different ways to reach the consumer, Indian companies can teach foreign brands how to make world-class quality products at Indian prices," says Vikash Agarwalla, engagement manager at Booz and Co., a global managment consultancy firm.
Brands are falling all over themselves to please the customer. Walking through any electronics store, one sees a plethora of special offers, 100% interest-free loans and easy EMIs. Price wars between major players are routine, and consumers benefit as a result.
Customers are discerning, armed with knowledge about product features and comparative prices.
In a June 2011 report by Booz & co, consumers consider the 'quality' and 'brand' as more important than price while purchasing A/Cs, fridges and washing machines. For example, while 37% of TV buyers think that brand is the deciding factor, only 14% think that price is critical.
"I would prefer to buy a good product, irrespective of price, since I'm looking for the best quality, after-sales service and products that last longer," says Poonam Srivastava, a PR officer.
With inputs from Eshani Mathur