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I-Day Special | Freedom of choice

Debangana Ghosh | Updated on August 14, 2021

Woman checking product details online using mobile phone at grocery store   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

From watching movies on OTT platforms to booking hotel rooms online, consumers feel a sense of liberation

For 29-year-old Samarnath Soory, life in hometown Mancherial, a town in Telangana, has changed quite a lot in the past three years. A town that had only six single-screen theatres playing regional movies of big actors and hardly any supermarket till a few years ago, is slowly getting into the league of its big-city counterpart Hyderabad when it comes to easy access and personalised options for consumers.

“My friends and youngsters my age are now getting to watch global content and popular Indian web series like Mirzapur dubbed in Telugu, since OTT platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Aha Movies have come into being. Finding an English movie dubbed in Telugu at a local theatre is still a rare affair. Last year, one of the much-awaited films of actor Nani had to be released online and that changed everything,” Soory, a media professional told BusinessLine.

Big retailers like Reliance Digital, DMart and Vishal Mart have recently set shops in his town. E-commerce is slowly creeping in, but it’s still not a go-to option for most of the population unless there is a sale on home appliances or refurbished second-hand premium phones.

Well, the situation wasn’t quite different even in a developed city, a decade ago. Back in 2007, though Soory and his family resided in Hyderabad, finding a copy of a newly launched Harry Potter book was a difficult task. “My parents got it from Delhi two months later while they were travelling. Although the book was so much hyped in the news, there were hardly 2-3 shops in our city that sold it. E-commerce obviously didn’t exist for us in those days,” he said.

 

A good part of the freedom which the consumers are experiencing now is closely aligned with the evolution of smartphones. According to Anshul Gupta, Senior Research Director, Gartner, the single biggest invention to have changed mankind’s interaction with a mobile phone is the launch of the App Store in 2007.

“Smartphones have played an important role when it comes to consumer freedom. In 2007, the App Store arrival changed things in a big way. When these apps came, it opened access to a lot of other things. It brought movies, social interactions to our phones, ultimately becoming a hand-held computing device. Unlike many other markets, India became a mobile-first market. Brands had to make themselves mobile-first through apps to connect with consumers in India,” Gupta told BusinessLine.

Rightly so for KS Vishwanathan, a 65-year-old from Coimbatore, the best thing to ever have happened is his bank moving into his phone. Not to forget, access to a 3-in-1 banking account letting this trading aficionado use his demat account, trading account, and bank account through the same app.

“As a senior citizen visiting banks frequently to update passbooks and deposit money has been tough. Transitioning to internet banking has been a boon for me. I am able to complete all my bank work on the app and get timely updates on transactions. After retirement, I have been having a lot of free time, so I have started exploring and investing in the stock market and gold ETFs on my own, digitally. The best thing is I don’t even have to go outside my banking app for that,” he told BusinessLine.

“A decade ago, buying and selling shares was quite complicated. It had to be bought and delivered via a broker and then you had to pay them first. Those means of online payments weren’t that smooth either,” he added.

Vishwanathan has also been in awe of how booking travel tickets to meet his daughter in the US has got easier. He doesn’t have to wait at queues and check reservation details every now and then for booking air and train tickets anymore; going online makes it instantaneous.

Independent communications consultant Karthik Srinivasan agreed. “The internet, as a whole, has powered disintermediation (removing middlemen) on a massive level. But, for consumers, this has meant self-serve at a never-before level — everything that we used to do through a middleman is now being done on our own, though one could argue if all that is beneficial,” he told BusinessLine, adding that even the technology-using enabler or aggregators getting our groceries from a store right next door or food from a nearby hotel is a type of middlemen changing traditional business models.

The next wave

Consumers today are making an informed decision before buying with ample information available at their disposal through online reviews and voting systems on products that see the participation of thousands of fellow consumers. According to industry experts, these community interactions are only going to get stronger in the coming years through machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“In the last 5 years, everything became mobile-first with online shopping, net banking, interacting with the brands, peer-to-peer payments, 3D video content and live video feed on phones are some of the major updates so far. We will soon see more use cases around immersive video feed, augmented reality,” Gupta said.

The mode of consumer research is also set to evolve. Consumers could simply use an intelligent online assistant and give them voice commands to search for a product and the bot could do the research and report to us the best fit result that we should go for. “We could even ask the online assistant to make the purchase if we trust it enough by enabling it to spend on our behalf!” Srinivasan added.

He is also betting on physical machines becoming intelligent enough to talk directly to online bots to relieve us of the need to intervene. “To some extent, brands like Amazon are already trying Internet of Things (IoT) at a limited level — washing machine ordering their own washing powder, refrigerators ordering food that is low on quantity (as per a pre-set condition), printers ordering their own paper or ink cartridges, etc,.” he said.

Published on August 14, 2021

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