What kind of consumerism is this?

Are you the cheated customer of today, who's sleeping, eating, drinking, partying, dating, holidaying habits and tendencies have been completely changed (some cultivated), twisted, and played around with? And all of this, just to fill the coffers of some corporates or to lend some people a place into the covers of the holier-than-thou magazine of the crème de la crème, the coveted Forbes. Don’t you feel manipulated? Is this all the product of capitalism?

Well, the debate is whether you are a victim of your ignorance and gullible psyche or the clever strategists who are paid heavily to sit and frame ‘policies’ to ‘exploit’ you. I would not like to call it the problem of Asymmetric Information exactly. We all belong to the ‘Internet Age’ and the smarter than ever smartphones are always at our beck and call, making information just a voice command away.

So, let me start by explaining when I felt the devilish laughter from the boardroom of Zomato aimed at me, the laughter stemming from the fact that they had successfully managed to ‘spoil’ a disciplined girl, who had a strict policy of ‘occasion demands a treat’ and nothing else. In December last year, I exploited the 50% discount (and got exploited) like crazy, from somewhere eating out once a week to seeing the number of orders I placed in a week increase in a geometric progression (yes, not even arithmetic) and coming up with fatuous occasions which had nothing to do with me like my ex-roommate got bitten by a dog (though she loved dogs, I wonder if she does now). I would like to call it the ‘Jio effect’- make the customer addicted to the experience you offer and then cash on it later. Let the customer know how valuable the product is for them so that, at a later stage, you don’t have to justify the bumper price, and additionally, as a result of the previous effort, it earns the ready acceptance of the market.

With the advent of Facebook, most of the youngsters and millennials got completely hooked to it, day and night, the green light never went off. This was furthered by Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp….who does not want your 24 hours? Naturally, people were suddenly very unhappy with their lives and something was missing. Then came a phase when depression amongst the ‘socially exposed’ populace started rising. People felt lonely, loved less, and vulnerable. Like a hero, came Tinder, the panacea to youth’s dating problems. And there they were, all the single-ready-to-mingle people coyly finding their matches on the app. When Tinder became frivolous and when came Bumble, nobody knew. So, famously as it is said, inventions are made to fill a need, but when did they start cultivating needs, again, nobody knew.

We may not even notice but these modern-day apps are manufacturing a standard lifestyle for all of us and we are blindly subscribing to that, being completely oblivious to its repercussions on our health, wealth, relations, sanity, and longevity.

Psychologists and marketers together can rule the world; stay with me on this. Have you heard about Instant Gratification? Well, have you felt the constant pangs when waiting for the Zomato valet to deliver your food? (Am I referring to Zomato too much?) Or for a reply from an important person? Yes, that is your desire for instant gratification shouting out loud. Basically, it is something that aggravates the inability of humans to wait for things that bestow upon them pleasure and happiness. By now, you would’ve understood what all of the marketing game is about.  

‘Lose 10 kgs in 10 days’- At least now all of us believe it is a farce. Call me anti-change, cynic, or pessimist (though I like worldly-wise), but on the month-end when you go broke, you will agree with me that the digital payment system is somewhere responsible for burning the hole larger than normal in your pocket. When you don’t see a tangible valuable thing getting reduced, you tend to spend it mindlessly. Most of the offers are cashable on online payments. Ever wondered why? A lesser transaction fee in collecting payment.  Cashbacks/Credit points are another good example of tricking customers into believing that they are receiving an absolute discount. These seemingly benevolent offerings are just a trap to lure you into spending more in order to redeem the cashback. The same is the case with Memberships and Loyalty Cards. Many people subscribe to these without even assessing if they are actually benefiting from it or not. Memberships are meant for those who are frequent users of a particular product or service, and not the ones who seldom use it. These require the customer to make a lumpsum payment in advance to avail the membership and then this ‘loyalty card’ played on them allows them to avail the services in the future at a reduced or discounted price. But if you sit back and give it a thought then you’ll realize that the lumpsum payment was nothing but the advance recovered by the companies towards future discounts. And as soon as the customer realizes that, he/she ends up spending more hoping that the discount cumulatively availed will surpass the sunk cost incurred, not realizing that the companies had already earned returns on the advance payment by investing it somewhere else. And have you noticed a few payment gateways’ skewed preferences for credit cards while excluding debit cards altogether? Most of the ‘heavy’ cashbacks and discounts are also applicable to payments made via credit cards and not debit cards. By now, what possible explanation would you assign to that? Clearly, this is an attempt to push up the earnings of banks through the EMIs and late clearance charges, not forgetting the insane interest charges.

But yes, companies have many times responded to the need for instant gratification in a beneficial way and there are many instances of it as well and I care to applaud them.  Eg. The 24/7 helplines, chat boxes, and automated responses.

So, where am I going with all of the disentangling analysis and caveats? I just want you to become an informed and self-aware customer who realizes what his/her true needs are and consumes responsibly. Today being a responsible customer is not just limited to checking the expiry dates and the MRPs, we have come a long way. With most of the businesses being conducted online, it is important that you are able to distinguish between the offers which are outright a sham and the real ones. Well, I’d say a cost-benefit analysis never hurt anyone, but saved many dollars from ludicrous spending. Information is hidden very tactfully from you and you don’t even care to scrounge for it. Do it my friend, and save your money, invest it. Some offerings are good and I do not deny that because making a profit does not mean someone has to bear a loss.

Some of the financing options provided by companies involve down payments, which are nothing but recoveries of interests in advance which always grow with each passing day. In the banking industry, idle cash is not left idle even for a single day. Modify your thinking, make it more finance-oriented and you are good to go. Always make a cash flow analysis before spending. And if you are truly motivated by your welfare, it is fair enough to expect that you will discount the cash flow for inflation. I remember my dad telling me once, ‘Variety is offered so that different people are able to find what suits them, but people feel that they are missing out on something by not consuming all of the baskets, and end up overspending on over-consumption.’ Don’t get swayed by the advertisements, think deep about it, if you think that a thing is benefitting you then wait and step into the company’s shoes, understand their POV. Ask yourself, how would it benefit them? Remember we live in an era where lemon is purer in finger bowls than in lemonades. Nowadays, the companies that call themselves NPOs are earning margins the size of a hippo. So, the least you can expect from the company offering the deal is not to make an out and out loss incurring offer. The problem is companies have long-term objectives and we tend to be blinded by the short-term benefits. Read consumer reviews, talk to people around and a scrooge friend’s reason for not going with the flow will definitely widen your thought process, and provide insights. Be informed, do your fair share of research, and then spend your money on your loved ones’ hard-earned money.

PS- I love Zomato and this article was not sponsored by Swiggy or Foodpanda.