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The fashion industry will absorb newer influences as concerns about environment and sustainability become pressing. AFP
The fashion industry will absorb newer influences as concerns about environment and sustainability become pressing. AFP

Virus alters consumption

The overall shift towards a more personal vision of consumption will underpin the evolution of the Indian consumer

With companies and brands attempting to understand the needs of the customer in a post-covid 19 world, marketing expert Santosh Desai, managing director of Futurebrands Ltd, decodes the evolution of the new Indian consumer. In the third and last column, Desai examines the impact on consumption categories such as fashion, food, travel and health as their mental models get reframed.

One of the most significant shifts that the world has been seeing over time has been the rise of the active consumer. Our mental model of the consumer in the past has been someone who is an object of a brand’s efforts, an inert agent who needs to be moved into action. The motivations that drive consumption—beauty, health, food, travel, achievement—are all based on mental models that have been defined externally, by social norms. The consumer’s role was to respond to the actions of brands while pursuing desires that were defined for them by a large societal ecosystem. This has been changing rapidly and will only accelerate, thanks to the deeper impact of covid-19.

Categories evolve all the time, but the current shift is more foundational. Mental models of several categories of consumption are being deconstructed and getting reconstituted around the individual. This is in large part because of technology which allows every individual to experience the world on her terms in a much more direct way than before.

The idea of beauty is being reframed. We are moving from universally held ideals of beauty to more fragmented and individual concepts. The online world allows an individual to adopt many personae and craft them through acts of consumption. We are likely to see a single individual express through these personae—think of the characters that popular comics play on social media as an archetype for this kind of personae building. The online presentation of the self will be a full-fledged industry, with its own set of distinctive needs. The peer-to-peer education will propel the quest for beauty into more specific and performative spaces. The on-screen significance of the face, particularly in covid times, is likely to translate into a greater quest for fashioning one’s face in precise, camera-friendly ways.

The male quest for beauty will become more adventurous as masculine archetypes continue to evolve. The fusing of gender codes will continue as will attempts to craft a more masculine look as a reaction to the levelling of the power equation between the genders. Given the importance of one’s on-screen appearance, male make-up will begin to emerge as a category, although it may not be labelled as such.

The fashion industry will absorb newer influences as health and concerns about the environment and sustainability become even more pressing. Fast fashion is likely to decline in a post-covid world as its inherent wastefulness is likely to collide with a newer consciousness about frugality. Fashion will become more selective and expressive, as the personae a consumer dons increases in number and ambition. The runway-led model of fashion will give way to many more local sources of influence as the fashion system gets increasingly fragmented into many dialects. The rise of local and community-centred brands is likely to be the way forward.

The quest for health will seep into every other category, and will become more specific and personal. The idea of immunity will outlast the pandemic and will inform many choices both within and outside the category. The notion of proactive health is likely to become much more central, and will shape sectors like hospitality and architecture. The longer-term focus will be on a customized, individual idea of health as the science evolves enough to be able to provide a more customized understanding of one’s own body.

Travel is likely to be become more selective, as we venture less often but for longer. The need for more enriching and customized experiences that are slower and richer in texture is likely to grow. Domestic travel will get a major boost as the mania for international travel gets reined in. Hotels offering more designed experiences will become more mainstream, as they will serve as destinations by themselves.

Food will continue to be an arena of adventure even as health concerns become even more central to it. Eating out will be back and will continue to grow as it satisfies many needs simultaneously—entertainment, socializing, experimentation, travel and diversion. Regional and sub-regional cuisine will accelerate further as consumer palates evolve. A return to one’s own culinary roots and a desire to explore its intricacies is likely to be another significant trend, as a reaction to the increased experimentation in one’s food choices.

The overall shift towards a more personal, fluid and multiple vision of consumption will underpin the evolution of the Indian consumer in the times to come. The primary impact of covid will be to accentuate and accelerate shifts that were already beginning to emerge, rather than radically transform the consumer landscape. The key driver of change will continue to be technology.

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