Last week, I stepped into the supermarket in my locality, run by a corporate giant, where I am a regular customer. I handed over my privilege card to the guy at the counter and discovered that I have been gifted a voucher worth Rs. 100 for being their loyal customer for the past two years.
Cool. Their business is moving pretty well – I can see that from the number of customers entering and leaving the showroom.
Two years back, before this air conditioned bazaar revolutionized my shopping habits, what kind of a consumer was I ?
I used to pedal my way to the grocer’s shop and the fish monger’s stall with a jute bag dangling freely on my bicycle handle. The grocer seemed to know everything about the people of my locality. It was from there that I learned about the recent deaths and latest gossips. The fish seller never failed to feed my cat with cheap fish while I made the transaction. The ‘coconut man’ always used to smile at me as he weighed the coconuts on his weighing machine and occasionally gave me an extra large coconut for free because he knew that I liked ‘coconut chammandi‘ (a pasty dish made from grated coconut).
I remember the first day I visited the supermarket. I picked a push cart and rolled it along the infinitely long rows of shelves that contained everything from snerples to zombies. I was mesmerized by the huge volume of products dumped into the market by the producers. If you want to buy a floor cleaner, you have Brands A to X, and if you are particular about buying Brand Y just give a quick note at the counter and you’ll be provided with it the next week. I who used to be satisfied with the single brand of soap offered by the local grocer suddenly got curious to try out different brands of soaps that came in gleaming packages with half the price. The end result was a long bill and an almost ’empty’ ATM card.
Dumb was what I were.
The basic principle on which commerce exists is trust. Trust is what I see in the eyes of the fish seller when he refuses to sell me stale fish even if I ask for it. A civilized society cannot endure without trust. It is interesting to note how customers are deceived by the manufacturers.They make you think you’re getting the same item in the same packet at the same price when you are actually getting less. Go complain, and they’ll say that they are saving you from price rise by reducing the contents. The manufacturers pack shampoo and dish wash in funny shapes of bottles that make the real estimate of contents impossible(Yeah, they do print the volume of the contents, but in a font too small, merging into the colour of the background). Every item is marked with lovely phrases ‘New’, ‘Activated’, ‘Jumbo’ and so forth. We see ‘New’ and we reach for it.
Why do we allow this to happen even after being aware of it? Not because we are dumb or careless. But because we are too engrossed by the packet than the content. We are too tired to take a calculator and a Harward graduate to the mall to figure out what we are buying.
Just look at the advertisements on the showroom’s wall. Ads exist not to satisfy our desires but to create them. We are taught that possession is happiness, and that possessing is responsibility. We buy things which we don’t really need, and grow tired of it when a newer model is released. Most of the luxury goods we buy are bought only for the sake of buying. And we end up draining our handbag after every purchase.
I still go to the local grocer and fish seller for a purchase. Because I see in them trust and generosity. I know that I am being deceived at the supermarket and the gift voucher they offered is their token of love for my acceptance to remain deceived. But I can’t get rid of their privilege card just because I am addicted to the comfort of shopping in an air conditioned room.