India's Consumer Markets: identifying a plausible market size for products


Point to note:

For companies with long-term marketing plans in India, the "consumers" (urban + rural), "climbers" (urban only) and "aspirants" (urban only) classes can be clubbed together to give a market size of around 57 million households (as at 1995-96) which can be said to be the "prime segment" of the Indian consumer market.

Formulate your consumer product marketing strategy on an area-by-area basis rather than on an all-India basis.

Also see:

Middle Classes in India

India's Retailing Industry

This report is intended to assist consumer product companies in identifying a plausible market size for their product/s in India. The table below should be viewed in conjunction with the text that follows.

India's consuming class

Table I
Estimated households by annual income
Table II
Structure of the Indian consumer market (1995-96)
Annual income (in Rupees) at 1994-95 prices No. of households (in million) Annual income
(in Rupees) at 1994-95 prices
Classification Number of households (in million)
Urban Rural Total
<25,000 80.7 <16,000 Destitutes 5.3 27.7 33.0
25,001-50,000 50.4 16,001-22,000 Aspirants 7.1 36.9 44.0
50,001-77,000 19.7 22,001-45,000 Climbers 16.8 37.3 54.1
77,001-106,000 8.2 45,001-215,000 Consumers 16.6 15.9 32.5
>106,000 5.8 >215,000 The rich 0.8 0.4 1.2
Total no. of households: 164.9 million Total no. of households 46.6 118.2 164.8
Source: National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER). The above presentation has been slightly modified by IndiaOneStop.Com
  • Data on income distribution of households is insufficient in determining market size for different consumer products in India. This is because of the lack of homogeneity of the consuming class and the varying prices of a single product in different parts of India. For example, vegetables generally cost more in Mumbai than in Calcutta, hence vegetable-purchasing power for identical income groups would be different in the two places even though they are the two biggest cities in India with comparable populations. In other words, purchasing power is location-specific, not income specific. Consumption habits of households are therefore better determinants of consumer market size than income distribution. Of course, other factors are also to be considered and they are detailed below.

  • While determining market size for a consumer product, the structure of the consuming class as seen in Table II above, can be both revealing as well as misleading depending on the kind of product. For example, any specific consuming class would be fit to be a market for consumer products like tea or soap, but a product such as vacuum cleaners would find market largely only in the "consumers" and "rich" segments of the market as defined in Table II above. Furthermore, even this may not be correct, because a taste for a vacuum cleaner is not necessarily a function of purchasing power but of culture and/or taste as well.

  • Identifying a plausible market size for a consumer product is therefore a hazardous task in a heterogeneous country like India. Yet, the marketer needs some data to come as close to the real picture as possible. For this purpose, it can be cautiously assumed that purchasing power is proportional to income despite variables such as location, taste etc. Companies are therefore advised to plan their consumer product marketing strategies on an area-by-area basis, rather than on an all-India basis.

  • Income data is insufficient. Therefore, it must be supplemented by product-specific information regarding its existing stock in the marketplace (in the case of consumer durables) and existing rate of purchases.

  • It is also advisable to further refine the plausible market size by taking into account details based on social, cultural and demographic factors.

  • Marketing a super-premium product such as a Rolex watch is relatively easy. Just go for the income class above Rs. 106,000 per annum (in 1995-96) as per Table I above. This class, Table I shows, comprises 5.8 million households. But the problem lies in the fact that the 5.8 million households are spread all over India.

  • The prime market for consumer products in India is aware of the cost-benefit, or value for money, aspect. Their convept of value incorporates socio-cultural benefits in addition to product utility. For example, many households in the "consumers" class and the "rich" class (as defined Table II) may have two television sets, but both the sets may not be top-of-the-line. Thus, while they may be demand for an additional TV set in many households in the two mentioned classes, it must not be mistaken as demand for the higher priced TV models. The prime consumer market in India therefore is not a market for absolute premium products, but for something between the "high end popular brands" to the "premium brands."

  • The class described in the previous paragraph is actually the "consumers" class defined in  Table II. This class comprises 33.5 million households as at 1995-96 and it owned and 'consumed' most of the expensive consumer products such as refrigerators and washing machines as well as premium expendables. At 1994-95 prices, their annual household incomes ranged between Rs. 45,000 and Rs. 215,000 (to calculate the latest income statistics, use an annual inflator of 5 per cent). In addition to this class, the "climbers" and "aspirant" classes (defined in the Table II) totaling 23.9 million households in urban India, also have the socio-cultural traits of the "consumers" class and, with time, will join the consumers class. Medium-to-long-term marketing strategy must therefore aim at the aspirants and the climbers as well. This is based on the safe assumption that, except for the destitute class as defined in Table II, the other classes are on the way to the next higher class. For companies with long-term marketing plans in India, the "consumers" (urban + rural), "climbers" (urban only) and "aspirants" (urban only) classes can be clubbed together to give a market size of around 57 million households which can be said to be the "prime segment" of the Indian consumer market. This becomes even more true as consumer financing and the credit card culture picks up. Fine-tuning between the classes is of course important, as explained in the next paragraph.

  • Suppose you are marketing washing machines. Go for two broad types: fully automatic and semi-automatic. Target the fully automatic machines at the "consumers" class and the semi-automatic at the "aspirant" class; the "climbers" class will then overlap the market for both the types of washing machines.

  • All of the above may be confusing, but the marketing strategist has to live with it because that's how the Indian consumer market is in reality. There is hardly a characteristic that applies across the market. Hence, the term "Indian consumer market" is a misnomer: it would be more accurate to describe it as a collection of different consumer markets.

Middle Classes in India
Retailing Industry in India
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