Religion may or may not be the opiate of the masses but, much like the multi-nuanced position of Marx, the market and manufacturers have multi-faceted interests riding on devotion, Indian style. Festival buying between September and January, by devotees of all faiths, will purportedly determine India’s growth rate and, should it not deliver the country from the throes of slumping consumer demand, a rather grim future faces the economy. Even the State Bank of India (SBI) chairman, Rajnish Kumar, admitted that these months will be critical in terms of reviving the economy hoping that demand would pick up once the festive season kicks in.
The streets of Kolkata, chocka- block with people, weighed down by bulging shopping bags, would thus be a pleasing sight because mere supply-side changes initiated recently, in an India facing record-high unemployment rate and its supply-demand ratio out of kilter, would only matter if there is a demand resurgence. Typically, some 30 per cent of annual sales in most consumer categories come between August and January and, apparently, corporate India will release an early bonus boost to spur demand.
For the bluecollar worker, this bonanza accounts for eight per cent to nine per cent of basic pay and for the whitecollar counterpart it is between 15 per cent and 25 per cent of annual salary. While those who have received pink slips are hardly benefitted, the compulsion to drive consumer spend has the advertising sector in fine spirits. It is looking at brisk business with festive advertising set to grow at between 10 per cent and 12 per cent over 2018, to around Rs 20,000 crore in 2019, with promotions across all platforms.
Remarkably even exclusive digital platforms are becoming more welcoming of all brands with Amazon opening itself to external advertisers in a bid to drum up sales. Regrettably, sentiments in rural India have been so marred by years of cheerlessness that expectations from this sector are tempered though the non-metros are keeping the flag flying, with particularly encouraging online sales. Clearly, for shopping calculations, the rural-urban divide is being replaced by a digital-non-digital divide as India’s digital population is set to touch 650 million users by end 2020.
Statistics in public domain suggest that non-metros are driving 60 per cent of the increased festival shopping, which explains the aggressive spends on digital media platforms. While not everyone is convinced that this splurge will turn the downturn around, the Niti Aayog vice-chairman, Rajiv Kumar, is confident that festive spends supported by government sweeteners will send the GDP soaring between seven per cent and 7.5 per cent in the second half of this financial year. Whether the Aayog has appropriately propitiated the gods is outside the purview of the RTI Act.