by Swatee Jog
Every city has its own idiosyncrasies. Belgaum has many! We are actually one of India’s oldest Metros, clubbed as we are amidst three disparate states, each with an identity of its own, influencing and creating a unique fabric called Belgaum culture.
We have absorbed the best of the three while safeguarding and continuously shaping our unique identity. The way we shop also has a lot to do with our demographics and peculiar cultural amalgamation. Just a few years ago, Belgaum looked famished on the shopping map of the country, with no mega store in sight, but even then (and even now) Belgaum has been the favorite shopping destination for the Goans who throng the city on the weekends.
News of the first Big Bazaar created such exhilaration, that it had usurped the crime stories from everyday gossip. When you have a whole tier-2 city like Belgaum with around half a million people waiting with bated breath for over a year for its first glimpse of the superstore magic to unravel, such things were bound to happen. So when the Big Bazaar actually opened ahead of schedule in September, no one could contain the excitement.
It was amusing how a store could generate so much anticipation and the resurging ballyhoo brought out the ‘are you crazy or what’ look from saner people. Around the same time, the city had been witnessing a drastic change in its retail scenario. Mega standalone stores (like Harsha, Pai, Adishwar, Khadim’s, Reebok, Megamart, Hazare Kitchenware, etc.) hawking electronics, footwear, garments and kitchenware had popped up and the footfalls they enjoyed had more than satisfied the owners.
Every huckster worth his last unsold lot had come up with ‘mega’ schemes and cut off margins for the first time ever.(Many even calculated how much the owners earned all these years and even thanked the arrival of the big stores for setting a new trend of cheaper alternatives. ) Other giants like Reliance, More, Walmart and Subhiksha majorly had tier two cities like Belgaum, Hubli, Pune, Nagpur on their radars though Belgaum lost out on the latter two.
Nucleus mall has since completely changed the way Belgaumites shop (or rather window-shop!) People here knew what a mega store looked like and had on offer, thanks to the proximity to Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore, but that didn’t hold a candle to actually portraying a clear idea beforehand.
There were quite a few shopaholics who turned to Kolhapur or Sangli when Big Bazaar opened there, who helped spread the magic of an unseen world, full of discounts, gifts and choices aplenty. But talk of the neighborhood kirana store becoming defunct was virtually absent thanks to customer apprehensions regarding these stores being difficult to access for middle classes.
The frenzy that Belgaum saw when the first megastore opened here was unparalleled. Had I managed to bring out Sam Walton for those few hours, he would have grinned his way back to his grave. More than looking around for the goods on display, most of the people were content in hitching a ride on the escalator ( the delirium was such on the lone escalator that quite a few ladies actually tumbled and tripped backwards and many were seen hesitating with one foot in the air , frightened to put it on the first step!…..Yes, I was there on the first day!), plucking their infants and toddlers from the ground and perching them atop the trolley and just lounging around in a fully air conditioned area. Families frequently found themselves scampering after their kids’ names were announced on the PA system, who just wandered along and lost track.
These traits were bound to reflect in response to a different shopping experience. A quick look at the baskets of the shoppers reveals a very peculiar buying pattern. Most of the carts are almost empty with packets of chips, noodles, soaps, scrubbers and some lentils barely occupying bottom space. Some try out the clothes section, some even venturing into the furniture and gadgets section, but the real show stopper is the kids’ section and the one that housed perfumes and gift articles. The trend of buying cosmetics and goods with clear and undisputable MRPs and leaving the consumer durables for the more friendly smaller stores where you know the owner most of the times, is a clear indicator of the consumer psyche of the people of Belgaum. There is a clear thought pattern behind the buying habits of the people of Belgaum and it shows in more places than merely the megastores. Though their hearts are big enough to survive a half-century tug-of-war between two states, their spending seems to be yet conservative, with only a few nouveau rich actually going the whole hog and splurging for the heck of it!
But more of it in the next episode!