Consumer Protection

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A decade ago, India didn't have a single mall. A year ago, there were less than a half-dozen. But within two years, more than 250 are expected to be operational. It's an enormous shift in a nation that for decades proclaimed itself a socialist state. After independence in 1947, India celebrated `swadeshi,'' or locally produced goods, and Mohandas Gandhi dreamed of a nation of small villages earning their living through cotton spinning and farming. So not everyone is happy about the new consumerism. Rights activists worry that the poor are being abandoned and nationalists wonder if India's native industries are being swallowed by global behemoths. A new face of youth consumerism

"At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom."-Jawaharlal Nehru, on the eve of India's Independence India's latest tryst with destiny, BPO, is equally connected to the midnight hour. This tryst is also about independence: the independence of the Indian youth, whose time, talent and skills are suddenly valued in the employment marketplace. "A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance." This is that moment. And the utterances are music to the ears of consumer marketers, especially lifestyle brands. The 'youth' market they've been chasing all these years finally has a credit card with no supervised spending limit. The impact of consumerism by 'indies' - financially independent young people - is clearly visible. "We have tripled our sales in Bangalore city in the last three years," says Shumone Chatterjee, marketing director, Levi Strauss India. And he believes this is largely due to the effect of disposable income coming into the hands of the 18-22 age group employed in BPO jobs. Vishu Ramachandran, regional head (consumer banking), Standard Chartered Bank, India, estimates that India adds around 3 million young earners in the age group 20-24 annually. These first-time earners account for 7-8% of its credit card base of 1.4 million - a figure that is expected to more than double in the next few years. StanChart is targeting this segment with specially designed products like the Visa 'mini', which is 43% smaller than the regular card and being positioned as a 'cool accessory'. The MTV Citibank MasterCard, too, has gone in for a more exciting new look, a variant of its global 'mc2' design. Both cards offer discounts at popular retail outlets and hangouts frequented by young people. BPO, with its ever-expanding demand for freshers, is fuelling the charge of he 'indie' brigade. According to Nasscom, BPO firms employed 245,500 people in 2003-04. Assuming 90% of this workforce is below the age of 25 and earns Rs 10,000 a month on an average, the purchasing power of Indies is no less than Rs 2,200 crore annually. The important thing is that this is basically 'pocket money'. Many Indies live at home, so rent and food is taken care of. 'Live for today, hope for tomorrow, splurge tonight' is their mantra - enter the new and potent consumer. Reebok is one company that's sitting up and taking notice. It is looking at the spending habits and disposable incomes of youth in BPO firms. "We are in the process of setting up an internal study to understand how to target these youth," said a company spokesperson. But BPO is just one example. From retail to insurance to banking, entry-level jobs are aplenty. IT firms added 55,000 employees this year, mostly engineering graduates. Infosys alone recruited 10,000. "The role a good young person can play in an organization is huge," says Sarang Panchal, executive director (customized research), ACNielsen. "Their steep learning curve compensates for any lack of experience." Interestingly, the young person's influence in family purchase decisions is high. Anything to do with technology? He is God. The decision of which brand of mobile phone, flat-screen TV or two-wheeler to buy can be swayed...
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