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Indians, world's most confident consumers

By Meenakshi Radhakrishnan-Swami
September 28, 2006 07:28 IST
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Never mind what their mothers think. Young Indians aren't clotheshorses and gizmo freaks like their global counterparts -- only a quarter of them spend their spare cash on clothes and new technology.

Instead, they're more likely to dabble in the stock market, pay off credit card bills or invest in a retirement fund. And more often than not, any money left over, after covering essential living expenses, is likely to be stashed away in a savings account. It's liquid, it's safe and it's D-U-L-L.

Go through the latest ACNielsen Consumer Confidence and Opinions Survey and you can't help thinking that Indian consumers are a remarkably boring lot -- they save money, worry about the economy, are interminably cheerful about their careers and remarkably sanguine about the prospect of crime or war. It's almost enough to make you wish they were at least half as bad as their moms fear.

Instead, they are the most optimistic consumers in the world -- again. With a score of 131, India is at the top of the ACNielsen Consumer Confidence Index for the third time in a row. That is a point lower than last year, but it's still remarkably upbeat -- the global index has held at 98 since November 2005, but the Asia-Pacific (A-Pac) score has dropped seven points to 94.

India's enthusiasm spills over onto most issues polled. The 506 respondents from the country were overpoweringly positive about the country's prospects in the coming year.

About 90 per cent think local job prospects will be encouraging in the next 12 months, while 86 per cent feel the same way about the state of their finances. These are among the highest figures not just for the region, but globally as well: the only country that's even more upbeat about employment is Norway (93 per cent positive).

Indians are also willing to shop; about 61 per cent think this is a good time to buy the things they want or need. That's five percentage points lower than last time, but still significantly higher than the regional and global averages of 29 and 40 per cent.

Like in the last round, Denmark is the only country that's more enthusiastic about spending: 74 per cent willing to shop, up from 68 per cent.

The ACNielsen survey is the largest bi-annual study of its kind. The latest round was conducted in June 2006 with over 22,700 respondents from 41 countries -- 15 from the Asia Pacific region.

That includes two newcomers: China and Vietnam. They're not among the most optimistic countries, but six of the 10 highest consumer confidence scores are from Asia Pacific -- Norway and Denmark climbed up one place each to reach the second and third most optimistic slots this time, with scores of 130 and 127, respectively.

That's higher than the score for the region: at 93, Europe's confidence level is somewhat below the global average and two points lower than last time.

That's probably because the most pessimistic countries this time round are from Europe: seven of the bottom 10. But the Portuguese seem to have cheered up somewhat; in this round, they've been replaced by South Koreans as the least optimistic shoppers.

South Korea's score on the confidence index is a pitiful 54 (not that Portugal has moved too far away; at 59, it's got the adjacent slot). Korean consumers clearly believe the Cassandras who are predicting a global slowdown from next year: more than 90 per cent are negative about shopping and job prospects, while 79 per cent feel their wallets will be slimmer next year.

How does that compare with A-Pac scores Like Europe, this region isn't as gung-ho about the future as it was in the previous rounds. Over 70 per cent think this isn't a good time to shop, while more than half expect little respite in terms of job prospects and their personal finances.

But even if overall confidence levels are slightly subdued, individuals scores are more or less balanced -- the index dropped for six countries, rose in five. And New Zealand remains the most optimistic nation after India, although its index, too, dropped nine points to 114.

What gives?

If their neighbours are heading for the hills, why are Indian shoppers so unbearably cheerful It's probably because they're refusing to let little things like crime, war and terrorism trouble them too much. Just 3 per cent worry about war, and 10 per cent about crime.

Globally, too, India isn't on the top 10 lists for any of the other issues that are giving the rest of the world sleepless nights -- the economy, job and political stability and health. And it is only tenth among nations for whom terrorism is a major fear, with 15 per cent Indians citing it as an area of concern.

Interestingly, the countries that are most worried about terrorism are those that have been least affected by it so far: Denmark, with 27 per cent, and Switzerland with 23 per cent. In fact, India and Singapore are the only Asian nations among the top 10 anxious about terrorism.

That's not to say Indians don't worry. They do, though not about their health (down 7 per cent). Their concerns mainly centre on the economy (49 per cent) and job security (33 per cent). That's a bit contradictory, actually.

Those numbers don't really tie in with Indian consumers' predictions for the coming year: just 10 per cent think their employment prospects in the next 12 months won't be good and 14 per cent feel the same way about their personal financial position.

And although shoppers from India aren't as insouciant as the Dutch -- more than a third said they have no worries -- with 15 per cent positive responses, they are among the top 10 nationalities that say they have no major concerns.

In the A-Pac region, though, India is behind newcomer China and New Zealand -- 22 per cent and 16 per cent respondents from these countries said they had no worries. Given recent events, it's understandable that worry levels are high in Thailand -- 77 per cent buyers there fret about the economy and 46 per cent about political stability -- and Vietnam, where 73 per cent are worried about job security.

Are we having fun yet?

Globally, 57 per cent of those polled expect their personal finances to improve in the next 12 months. That's some points more than Asia-Pacific's 45 per cent.

Still, only four countries in the region are below that average, while an overwhelming 86 per cent of Indian buyers are optimistic about the state of their wallet in a year's time. What are they planning to do with all that money, once they've covered their essential living expenses.

Well, it doesn't look like they're heading for the malls. Over 70 per cent of the region's consumers think this isn't a good time to buy stuff and nearly half plan to salt away any extra cash in the savings account.

Retirement funds are no longer trendy: from 12 per cent last time, only 7 per cent viewed them as a good place to park spare cash, and they are the least popular option. In A-Pac at least, consumer confidence is not synonymous with a spending culture.

The global consumer's outlook is a little more balanced: while savings accounts and paying off credit card bills are perennial favourites, holidays, clothes and out of home entertainment are also high on the priority list.

The Russians are the biggest spenders: more than half spend on out of home entertainment, while 74 per cent prefer to update their wardrobes.

Home improvement is also big. Sweden tops the list when it comes to spending on homes and decoration (52 per cent). Indians are also quite house proud -- about 32 per cent do up their homes when they have rupees to spare. That's more than the global and regional average of 25 per cent.

But even as confidence grows and optimism about the economy and employment rises, there's also a growing tribe of people who are living paycheque to paycheque. The percentage of people saying they have no spare cash has increased on average one-three percentage points from last time.

Interestingly, seven out of the top 10 countries here are European -- South Korea is the only A-Pac representative, where 15 per cent of those polled said they were hard up.

Not surprisingly, Indian optimism extends to this category as well: less than 4 per cent said they were strapped for cash. Predictable to the end.


The ACNielsen Online Consumer Confidence and Opinion Survey covers more than 22,000 Internet users around the world every six months -- representing a global online population of close to 1 billion consumers.

The survey has been gaining traction since it was launched as an Asia Pacific initiative about five years ago, before "going global" at the end of 2004. The latest survey, conducted in late May/early June, polled Net users in 41 markets.

In the Asia Pacific region, the countries surveyed are: Australia, China, New Zealand, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines. About 500 people were interviewed in each country.

Three questions are used to calculate the consumer confidence index. They relate to job prospects in the next 12 months; the state of the respondent's personal finances in the next 12 months; and, based on the cost of things and the respondent's personal finances, whether or not it's a good time to buy things he wants and needs.

The scale of answers to all three questions are: Excellent, Good, Not so good and Bad. To calculate the index, each response was given values: Excellent (200), Good (133.3), Not so good (66.6) and Bad (0). Using these values, the average of the three questions was taken for each respondent.

The index for each country was calculated by taking the index average for each respondent in that country. An index value of 100 corresponds to an average halfway between "Good" and "Not so good".

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Meenakshi Radhakrishnan-Swami
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