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Consumer Buying Behavior Essay

Toilet soaps are part of the growing tribe of cleansing and beautifying products available across the country. There are scores of brands and an even greater number of variants making for a bewildering range. The Indian market has over 1100 million people living in more than 4500 towns and cities and in excess of 580,000 villages. Products must cut through several price points and fragrances to satisfy everyone. Toilet soaps are marketed through 5 million retail stores of which 3.75 million are in rural areas, the penetration rate of the toilet soap is around 97 percent in urban areas and 89 percent in rural areas. But, the per capita consumption of toilet / bathing soap in India is very low at 800g whereas it is 6.5kg in the US, 4 kg in China and 2.5 kg in Indonesia.

The market size of the Indian soap industry is around Rs.7129 crores. It can be classified into four categories namely premium, popular, economy and carbolic soaps. The “Premium1 category includes Dove, Mysore Sandal, Pears and some international brands. Brands in the “Popular’ category include Cinthol, Santoor, Rexona etc. Likewise, Fairglow, Godrej No. 1 etc. come under economy brands. Carbolic brands include Lifebuoy and Nima bath soap. Over the years, the “popular’ segment has witnessed rapid growth and has been the category driver. Consumers shift from the premium segment as and when they see better value in the popular category. At the same time, consumers upgrade from the economy segment due to increased in tune with the increasing disposable incomes in both urban and rural areas. As a result, the industry has witnessed a fifteen percent growth in premium brands.

The market is flooded with several, leading national and global brands and a large number of small brands, which have limited markets. Competition amongst the MNCs has intensified, leading to shrinkage of margins. The leading players in this market are HUL (Dove, Pears, Lux, Lifebuoy, Breeze), Nirma (Nima), Godrej Soaps (Cinthol, FairGlow, Shikakai, Nihar), Wipro (Santoor), and Reckitt and Benckiser (Dettol). The rest of the market is highly fragmented, with companies having strong presence in select segments or regions. In the toilet soap industry, positioning of the product is very important to attract the customers.

Review of Literature

To have an in depth understanding of Indian consumer, and to analyze the factors influencing his purchase decisions, one has to conduct studies in relation to his environment, his demographic factors, culture, and level of exposure. In this backdrop, some important studies conducted in the areas of consumer behavior and perception in relation to non durable goods and FMCG in India are briefly reviewed. It is seen that positive attitude of consumer towards advertising of a particular brand is very useful in purchasing that brand (Dr Dharam Sukh Dahiya, 1996). Consumers perceived that the information received from WOM sources is reliable and advantageous in making the purchase decisions (Prashant Mishra et al, 1996). At the same time, Indian middle class consumers are willing to pay a premium for better quality products rather than getting satisfied with generic products with inferior quality (Srinivas Shirur, 1999).

They tend to define themselves as well as compare with others in terms of symbolic value of their possessions (Shekhar Trivedi et al, 2000). People belonging to different lifestyles have different interests in shopping (D.P.S. Verma et al, 2000). There is a price threshold at which consumers make decisions to stockpile the products for the future (Arindam Banarjee et al, 2001). At the same time, gender of the celebrity significantly influences consumer perception about the product irrespective of consumers’ gender (Prashant Mishra et al, 2001). Similarly, they develop risk reduction strategies to help them act with greater confidence in making product purchase decisions (Debashis Bhattacharya et al, 2002).

In the FMCG sector, the major influencing factors in making a purchase decision were quality (D. P. S. Verma et al, 2003), price and availability of products (Dr. Sarwade W. K. 2002), followed by their economic value and attractive packaging (Kuldeep Singh et al, 2003). Rising family income levels permit buyers to exercise more choice in selection of FMCG from the cost perception (Prof. S. A. Telang et al, 2003). However, age and other demographic variables also have their effect on behavioral and cognitive patterns of the consumer (D. P. S. Verma et al, 2003). Urban consumers preferred branded products (P. Antony George, 2007). Brand awareness and brand usage are highly correlated (Dr. A. Vinayaga Moorthy, 2007).

Need and Importance of the Study

The toilet soaps market is littered over with several, leading national and global brands and a large number of small and local brands. Toilet soaps, despite their divergent brands, are not well differentiated by the consumers. This results in fragmented market and obviously leads to a highly competitive market. In toilet soap market, strong brand equity and a wide distribution network are vital in attracting customers. Brand equities are built over a period of time by technological innovations, consistent high quality, aggressive advertisement and marketing.

Availability of the products is another crucial success factor, as products are of small value, frequently purchased daily use items. So, there is always a chance of brand switching due to impulse buying. A deep insight of consumer brand loyalty and satisfaction can help marketers retain the existing customers and entice new ones. In this backdrop, this study is undertaken to examine the consumers’ brand awareness, loyalty, and satisfaction towards toilet soaps. The factors influencing brand selection and brand switching are also assessed.

Objectives of the Study

The main objective of the paper is to examine the consumers’ buying habits and brand loyalty towards toilet soap products. The following are the specific objectives of the study.

* To identify the product attributes that influence the purchasing process

* To assess the brand loyalty of consumers with respect to various levels of price increase

* To examine the brand switching behavior of respondents

* To evaluate the satisfaction level of consumers with regard to their present toilet soap brand

* To assess the market share of different toilet soap brands in the market segment taken up for investigation

* To offer suggestions to FMCG companies

Scope and Limitations of the Study

The present study intends to examine the customer satisfaction and perception towards toilet soap and the influence of product attributes on brand preferences and brand loyalty. It also covers customers’ brand loyalty at different levels of price increase/decrease from the present price. The study has the following limitations;

* The study is made by taking each attribute as independent of other attributes, hence their interdependence, if any is ignored.

* As the study is conducted in only Warangal City of A. P., the findings and suggestions of this empirical study may not be representative of the universe.

* There may be a chance of individual’s experience dominating the interpretation of the data.

* Some discrepancies may have occurred due to random sample method used.

* Respondents may not have given their exact views or hidden some information deliberately.

Methodology

The study is conducted with the help of primary data collected from 200 respondents; consumers drawn at random in Warangal District (A.P.) The relevant data are collected from the respondents from different demographic and income groups. Appropriate statistical tools such as averages, weighted averages etc. are used in data analysis. For testing the hypotheses, Chi- square test is administered at 5 percent level of significance in order to validate the results of the investigation.

Sample Profile

Sample profile refers to the demographic characteristics of the respondent consumers covered in the analysis. Demographic factors like age, education, occupation, income, family size have a direct influence on the product/ brand choice. To ascertain the views of both male and female consumers, almost equal numbers of respondents are selected for the study. On the basis of age, the respondents are classified into five categories viz. below 20 years, 21-30 years, 31-40 years, 41-50 years, and above 50 years. Around 39 percent respondents are in the age group of 21-30 years. Another 27 percent are in the age group of 31-40 years. Around 16 percent are in the age group of 41-50 years, followed by above 50 years (13 percent), and below 20 years (5 percent).

It is observed that majority of respondents comprising 73 percent are either graduates or post graduates. The remaining 27 percent have below graduation educational background. It is also observed that private employees comprise 38 percent of sample followed by housewives (25 percent), and government employees (18 percent). The remaining are students, businessmen and professionals. It is found that 43 percent respondents are in the middle income group (Rs. 10,001 to 20,000/pm). At the same time, 31 percent belong to low income group (Below Rs. 10,000/ pm).

The remaining 26 percent belong to high income category (above Rs. 20,000/pm). It is seen that around 63 percent respondents have 3-4 members in their families. Around 26 percent have more than 4 three members. Another 11 percent have two or less members. It is observed that 62 percent respondents spend below Rs 100/per month on toilet soaps. The remaining 38 percent respondents spend above Rs 100/- per month. This gives occupation wise, income wise, and lifecycle wise distribution of sample consumers of toilet soaps.

Data Analysis

The behavior of urban respondents towards toilet soaps in terms of influencing factors, buying habits, and brand loyalty is analyzed. For this purpose, a structured questionnaire of five point scale reflecting the attitudes of the sample respondents is used in the investigation. Data collected from the respondents is tabulated, analysed, interpreted and presented in two sections viz. Section A: Buying Habits, Section B: Brand Loyalty.

Section–A: Buying Habits

Buying habits are analysed in terms of five interrelated variables viz. a. Buying Motives, b. Choice of Retail Store, c. Brand Specification, d. Frequency of Purchase, e. Average Expenditure and consumption.

a. Impact of Buying Motives on Purchase Decision Making process

Companies advertise their product as a bundle of some attributes. And, customers see the product as a bundle of benefits. They try to assess the benefit of each attribute and assign a level of importance and build perception about the total product. Then, they take the purchase decision. In this backdrop, the study proposes to assess the consumers’ perception on each attribute and importance given to it. In this context, respondents are asked to rank various product attributes in terms of their influence on buying decision.

The product attributes such as unique ingredients, impact on skin and complexion, brand name, protection from heat and cold, price, company name, retailer’s advice, advertising, brand ambassador, availability, fragrance, doctor’s advice, TFM of the soap, freshness, protection from pimples etc are identified. The rankings are presented in Table No. 1.

It is seen that unique ingredients of a particular soap has been ranked the first major influencing attribute in the purchase process. Impact on skin and complexion and brand name are ranked second and third respectively followed by price and freshness.

b. Choice of Retail Store

Consumers consider many factors in selecting a particular store to purchase the products. These factors may include availability of a particular brand, availability of information, familiarity and knowledge about the store, proximity of the store, time pressure, store specific promotions, social status etc. By choosing a particular type of store, consumers may get either utilitarian value (obtaining a required product with the least effort) or hedonistic value (the fun and pleasure associated with the buying process). In this context, respondents are asked to name their preferred outlet. Majority of the respondents comprising 40 percent purchased from super bazaars/ organized retail outlets. Another 32 percent bought from wholesale kirana shops. The remaining opted for nearby shops.

c. Brand Specification

It is observed that Santoor is the most popular brand with 31 percent users, followed by Cinthol with 11 percent users. Approximately 10 percent each are using Mysore Sandal and Pears. Lux is used by 9 percent respondents, while Medimix is used by 7 percent. Dove and Vivel account for 6 percent respondents each. The remaining brands are used by a few respondents.

d. Frequency of Purchase

Frequency of purchase can be defined as the number of times a consumer purchases during a particular period. It depends on the volume of purchase, economic status, life style, promotion schemes etc. In this study, it is observed that majority of respondents comprising around 45 percent purchase once in a month. Another 33 percent purchase whenever they required the product. Around 15 percent purchased once in a fortnight. The remaining 7 percent purchased weekly once.

e. Average Expenditure and Consumption of Toilet Soaps

A question was asked with the respondents to know about the average expenditure on toilet soaps and number soaps used in a month. It is observed that 62 percent respondents spend below Rs. 100/- per month on toilet soaps. The remaining 38 percent respondents spend above Rs. 100/- per month. Majority of the respondents have been using around six toilet soaps per month.

Section–B: Brand Loyalty

Brand loyalty is analysed in terms of seven interrelated variables viz., a. Brand Awareness, b. Brand Image, c. Price Sensitivity, d. Non-availability of Preferred Brand, e. Usage Period of Present Brand, f. Reasons for Brand Switching, g. Brand Performance.

a. Brand Awareness

Brand knowledge is based on brand awareness and brand image. Brand awareness is defined as Consumers’ recognition of existence and availability of a brand. A consumer’s brand awareness generally depends on his socio-economic background especially on education and income level. Creating brand awareness is an important tool in promoting brands with little differentiation such as toilet soaps. It can play a major role in purchasing decisions. The products with highest brand awareness will usually get more sales. In the urban market segment, it is interesting to note that, higher the level of education level, greater is the brand awareness. About 73 percent of respondent consumers are above graduation.

Within this 73 percent, around 32 percent are from professional courses. These 73 percent respondents are aware of more than 7 brands. Majority of them could recall the brand ambassador and punch line of the brands also. The remaining 27 percent of the respondent consumers are with below graduation level of education. Out of which, around 8 percent of the respondent consumers are below the tenth class. These 27 percent of respondent consumers are aware of only 3-5 brands. Majority of them, either they could not recall or are indifferent of brand ambassador and punch line.

b. Brand Image

Brand image is defined as consumer’s perception of a brand as reflected by the brand associations held in his memory. The strength, favorability and uniqueness of associations help build a superior brand image. A favorable brand image is useful in creating strong brand equity. In this regard, a question was asked with respondents to compare their present brand with other competing brands. Majority of the respondents comprising 64 percent felt that their brand as the best one. Around 25 percent said it gives good value for money. The remaining 11 percent felt it as almost similar with other brands. At the same time, most of the respondents perceived their preferred brand as the market leader in its category.

c. Price Sensitivity

Price of a product has been a major determinant of a buyer’s choice. Although non price factors have assumed importance of late, price still remains a dominant factor influencing sales of a product. Fluctuation of prices will have an impact on continuity of the same brand, i.e. brand loyalty. In this context, it is proposed to analyse the impact of price changes on brand loyalty income wise. The respondents’ reactions to 10 percent, 20 percent, and 40 percent increase in the price of present soap brand are categorized according to their income levels viz. Low Income, Middle Income and High Income. It is seen that at 10 percent price increase, majority of the respondents across all income levels opted for continuing with the same level of consumption. From among the remaining respondents, many decided to reduce consumption. A few respondents wanted to shift to other brands.

Similarly, at 20 percent price increase, 35 percent (Low Income), 35 percent (Middle Income), and 67 percent (High Income) respondents opted for continuing with the same level of consumption. Around 34 percent respondents from low income category chose to reduce their consumption. The corresponding figures for middle income and high income groups are 23 percent and 13 percent respectively. Another 13 percent (Low Income), 30 percent (Middle Income), 10 percent (High Income) respondents decided to shift to other brands, while the remaining preferred to search for other alternatives.

At the same time, at 40 percent price increase, 10 percent (Low Income), 23 percent (Middle Income), and 54 percent (High Income) respondents chose to continue with the same level of consumption. Another 1 6 percent (Low Income), 7 percent (Middle Income) and 15 percent (High Income) wanted to reduce their consumption. Further, around 55 percent (Low Income), 51 percent (Middle Income), and 19 percent (High Income) respondents desired to change their brands. The remaining respondents wanted to search for other alternatives. Further, based on the same data, Chi-square test is conducted to identify differences, if any, among the respondents belonging to different income groups in terms of price sensitivity and brand loyalty at various levels of increase in the price of present soap brand. Calculated values are presented in Table II.

It is observed from the above table that at 10 percent price increase, the calculated value of chi-square is less than the table value. Hence, it can be concluded that there are no significant differences among the respondents belonging to different income groups at 10 percent price increase of the present toilet soap brand. But, when the price is increased to 20 percent or 40 percent above the current price, respondents belonging to different income groups exhibited altogether different behavior.

d. Non-availability of Preferred Brand

Store loyalty is regarded as the patronage of customers to a particular outlet.. It is based on the consumers’ positive attitude towards the store. Store loyalty is influenced by the availability of products and brands at the store and the process involved in customers acquiring them. Brand loyalty is also a major factor in shaping the customers opinions towards a particular store.

When a preferred brand is not available in a particular store, consumers will have two options; purchasing the same brand in another shop i.e. displaying more brand loyalty than store loyalty, or purchasing another brand in the same shop i.e. exhibiting more store loyalty. In the present study it is seen that 78 percent respondents preferred to purchase the same brand from another shop. The remaining 22 percent purchased other brands available in the same shop.

e. Usage Period of Present Brand

Brand loyalty also results in using the same brand regularly over a period of time. It is seen that 51 percent respondents have been using the same brand for above 4 years followed by 21 percent for below 1 year. Around 17 percent have been using it for 1-2 years, and the remaining 11 percent for 2-4 years.

f. Reasons for Brand Switching

Consumers’ satisfaction and brand loyalty can be measured by buyer’s repeat purchase rate over the time. However, sometimes consumers change their regular brands and patronize new brands due to various reasons. In this context, it is proposed to investigate the effect of product attributes, promotion schemes, reference groups’ influence, impact of pricing and advertising on the switching intentions of consumers. For this purpose, respondents are asked to identify the most important reason that for brand switching from earlier brand to present one. It is observed that 54 percent respondents cited better quality of new brand as a major reason for brand switching. Another 13 percent wanted to check the new brand. The relative cheaper price of new brand enticed 10 percent to use the new brand.

g. Brand Performance

Customer satisfaction is a positive psychological tendency which the customer gets when he is able to meet the perceived need and expectation with the product he experiences. It is a part of customer’s experience. This satisfaction is related to various aspects such as cost, quality, performance and efficiency of the product. Even if the products are identical in competing markets, satisfaction provides high retention rates. Higher the satisfaction level, higher is the sentimental attachment of customers with the specific brand of product. In this backdrop, the study intends to measure the satisfaction level of consumers towards their present soap brands.

For this purpose, Respondent consumers are asked to rate the performance of their present brand of toilet soap along some parameters such as price, packaging, durability, color, fragrance, freshness, quality, convenience of usage etc. The responses are classified into three categories namely excellent, above average, and average. It is observed that, respondents are fully satisfied with only premium soaps namely Dove and Pears as they are rated above average or excellent. Cinthol, Mysore Sandal and Superia came next with majority of users rating them excellent or above average, while the remaining rating them average. The remaining brands are rated just average by the respondents.

Findings

The following are the findings that have emerged from the study.

* While making a brand choice decision, respondents gave more importance to unique ingredients of a soap followed by impact on skin and price.

* Majority of the respondents purchased toilet soaps from super bazaars/ organized retail outlets followed by wholesale kirana shops.

* Santoor is the most preferred brand used by both men and women which comes in the popular category. Cinthol, Mysore Sandal and Pears are the next preferred brands.

* It is concluded that that majority of respondents purchased on monthly basis. Another 33 percent purchased when they required the product.

* Many respondents are spending Rs 51- 100/- per month on toilet soaps, while a few are spending more.

* More than half of the respondents only knew 5-10 brands of toilet soaps. From the remaining ones, approximately equal number of respondents knew less than five and more than ten brands. The education level of the consumers has a positive bearing on the brand awareness.

* Most of the consumers have a very positive image and perception about their present brand. They felt that it is the best one and market leader in its category.

* In response to a 10 percent price increase of current soap brand, all the respondents across different income groups behaved similarly. Most of them are willing to continue with same level of consumption. The respondents are not bothered with a marginal increase in the price as long as it satisfies their needs. But, when the price is increased to 20 percent or 40 percent above the current price, substantial differences are seen in the behavior of respondents belonging to different areas income groups. The high income group wanted to continue with same level of consumption. The low and middle income groups chose to either reduce consumption or to change the brand.

* It is observed that most of the respondents preferred to purchase the same brand from another shop, when it is not available in a particular store. This shows a strong brand loyalty among the respondents.

* Most of the respondents have been using the same brand for a longer period of time (more than 5 years) which shows a strong brand loyalty among them.

* The reasons cited by respondents for brand switching are mainly better quality and cheaper price of new brand and inferior performance of old brand. Surprisingly, very few respondents are attracted by advertisements of new brands.

* Respondents are just satisfied with their present soap as majority of them rated it only average or above average. A few rated it excellent.

Conclusion

Significant differences were observed among different income groups, especially, when the price of the present brand increases substantially. This can be attributed to the different lifestyles adopted by different income groups. Surprisingly respondents gave least importance to advertisements of toilet soaps. Quality and price of new brands motivated them to brand switching. This has to be carefully studied by the marketers. Another area of concern is that many rated their present soaps as just satisfying although they have been using the same brand for a longer period.

In this perspective, FMCG companies need to reformulate their strategies to delight the customers. At the same time, as most of the respondents have been using the same brand for a longer period of time, new entrants have to devise suitable plans to attract the customers of existing brands. Deeper penetration in urban areas also holds the key to unlocking growth potentials especially in the Premium Segment. Thus, product innovation, smart merchandising and distribution will be of key importance for FMCG products to become leaders in the industry.

References

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Kuldeep Singh and Dr. S. C. Varshney, “Consumer Behaviour and Marketing Trends of Toilet Soaps in Ghaziabad District–A Survey”, Indian Journal of Marketing, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, pp 14-17, 2003.

Prashant Mishra, Upindar Dhar, and Saifuddin Rastiwala, “Celebrity Endorser and Adolescents: A Study of Gender Influences”, Vikalpa, Vol. 26, No. 4, pp 59-66, 2001.

Prashant Mishra, Vasant G. Kondalkar and Ankhit Singh, “Seeking Word Of Mouth: An Empirical Investigation of Consumer Motivation”, Paradigm, Vol. 3, No 2, pp 49-56, 1996.

Prof. S. A. Telang and S. S. Kaptan, “Attitudes of Women toward Detergents”, Indian Journal of Marketing, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, pp 24-26, 2003.

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Srinivas Shirur, “Marketing Strategies of Family Business in FMCG Sector”, Paradigm, Vol. 3, No 1, pp 32-34, 1999.

M. S. Sarma

Professor, Department of Commerce and. Business Management, Kakatiya University, Warangal.

V. Rana Pratap

Lecturer, Department of Business Management, Lal Bahadur College, Warangal.


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