The Rise of the Global South

Shifting Consumption Culture in Latin America: Challenges in Revamping Retail Industry

Consumer culture diverges across markets, regions, and geo-demographic segments. Consumers in North America, Africa, Pacific, and Latin America have different attributes, which affect consumer products companies in developing multi-domestic consumer-centric marketing strategies. Most companies deploy significant resources for a deeper understanding of the role played by the diverse consumers in the global marketplace. Diverse patterns of consumption create a consumption behavior that can be described as extemporaneous, expedient, and emergent. The nature of the consumption depends on the host environment, and the drivers influencing the consumption pattern. These drivers include culturally diverse decisions of the consumers, multi‐cultural identities, social cues, contextual factors, and tendency of consumers towards experimentalism. Consumers growing in a frequently changing social and cultural environment across the geo-demographic segments become culturally plural, and turn experimentalists. There are three kinds of human beliefs: descriptive, informational, and inferential, that drive the brand perception among consumers. Descriptive beliefs derive from direct experience with the brand. Informational beliefs are those influenced by outside sources of information such as ads, friends, and so on. Inferential beliefs are those formed by making inferences based on experience, which drive stimuli among consumers to stay dynamic with the socio-cultural changes. Images held in the consumer’s mind are one manifestation of these beliefs. Human beliefs influence the consumption culture, pose head-on challenges to retailing companies, and drive them to develop a win-win business proposition in the competitive marketplace.

The Latin American economy has improved over the past few decades. The Latin American countries have experienced slowdowns in the past both in terms of GDP and consumption growth. However, a rise in inflation rates, and devaluations in currency have tied the consumer products industries with new complexities. In this difficult environment in the promising Latin American region, most consumer packaged goods manufacturers have made careful choices, and weighed trade-offs between price sensitivity and emerging technologies. The retail sector in the Latin American region still consists of many small, independent businesses, constituting collectively the large traditional and fragmented retail sector. Consumers in Mexico and Brazil are changing their buying behaviors in a variety of ways. They are increasingly turning price sensitive, and tend to compromise between the vogue and utilitarianism. Multiple routes to markets introduced by the consumer products companies in the Latin American countries have been successful in developing the variety seeking behavior. Many consumers today shop at multiple channels to find the best deals, or wait for products to go on sale. In addition, Mexican consumers are making thriftier food choices and losing ‘country-of-origin’ obsession on consumer brands. Such behavior has lowered the incidence of cross boarder shopping with the USA. Consumers do not intend to go back to the more expensive brands, though they are optimistic towards the high value high technology brands. Consequently, the private-label or store brands in Mexico and Brazil, although growing, still account for only a small fraction of total retail sales.

The role of customer value has been largely recognized by the retailing companies as an instrument towards stimulating market share and profit optimization. The customer values for a new product of a firm in competitive markets are shaped more by habits, reinforcement effects, and situational influences than strongly held attitudes. The customer value is an intangible factor, which plays a significant role in influencing the buying decisions. The customer value broadly includes psychometric variables like brand name, loyalty, satisfaction, and referral opinions. The customer lifetime value is built over time by the business firms, which also contributes to the individual perceptions of the customers, and augments their value.

For the companies going to penetrate into the emerging consumer markets, tracking consumer attitudes and behavior is an important requirement in the rapidly changing consumption patterns. It is necessary for the consumer products companies to understand the consumer eco-system and core drivers affecting consumption such as vogue, ethnicity, income, education, age, and buying decisions. The social and ethnic mix such as family, peer culture, social power distance, value and lifestyle, and referrals of urban consumption culture also influence the consumption pattern in the Latin America significantly. Consumers in the competitive marketplace in urban habitats are being offered an overwhelming array of product and market information. However, to narrow down the scope of information generated by advertisements and filter them to the top of the mind level, advertisement should carefully address 4Rs that include responsiveness, repositioning, rightfulness and reasoning.

Companies today create consumer value by driving consumers towards destination brands that embed cross-cultural emotions and ethnicity. Some companies like Apple, Samsung, and Cadbury’s are routinely testing innovations with rich consumer-transaction data within cultural and ethnic diversities. Most companies that adopt a test and learn culture to promote new trends, tend to realize the greatest benefits by stimulating the consumers to stay along vogue, and gain enhanced consumer values. The emotional content of a retail promotion advertisement is a stronger predictor of buying behavior reflected in message recall rate among audience. In addition, advertisements with high emotional intensity achieve increase in message recall ability among the audience. 

Dr. Rajagopal is Professor of Marketing at EGADE Business School, Mexico City and Adjunct Professor at Boston University, Boston, USA. He is the author of 50 books on marketing and rural development themes and over 400 research contributions in refereed journals. 

P_Rajagopal_Business Dynamics in North America