Buyology – bye the buy instinct

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Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping- Bo Derek

Shop till you drop! Last year Alibaba sold $9.3 billion worth of goods in 24 hours. Recently Flipkart sold around $300 million dollars in their 5 day sale. Amazon and Snapdeal has similar numbers to flaunt. Every second 10 iPhones, 75 hamburgers are sold by McDonald’s and 20 smartphones are sold . 70 millions cars are produced every year. The world trade size is 20,000 billion dollars every year.

As humans our appetite to consume is amazing. We are one and only species that needs more and more of different, better and new things in life. Shopping has become the way of life many with even a modest disposable income. Look around your house. It is filled with products you have not used or used very little but bought because you felt like you should. What explains this unique instinct of humans to desire and consume more and more?

As evolved species – Sapiens aren’t we?- we are wired to go beyond survival in our day-to-day existence. Humans are the only species which can recognise itself when a mirror is placed in front of us. Hence we need to look and feel better for ourselves first and then for others. Hence a cloth to drape our modesty becomes a garment. From functional we move on to style and substance in all that we require. Is there a science behind this buying behaviour of ours?

Sure is. With trillions at stake companies have invested billions to study what triggers our instinct to buy. fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) is a new technology that is being deployed to study our behaviour. The field is called neuromarketing and what it is revealing is shocking to say the least.

Sample this. What does a Christian nun and a die-hard Apple iPhone fan have in common? Nothing you might say. fMRI scans reveal that the word Jesus and iPhone activate the same brain areas of Christian nun and the iPhone fan! In essence, iPhone holds the same place as God for the Apple fan. Such is our devotion to the brand and products that we buy. Neuroscientists funded by marketers are aggressively searching for the ‘buy button’ in our brain. As if ‘sale’, ‘50%’ off or ‘free’ are not triggers enough to binge on needless supplies. Scary.

Retail therapy is another example of consumerist mind set we have developed. Blow away the blues in your life by spending money in a mall. Reading a good book, spending time with your family or friends or working on a social cause are alternatives that are never considered. Such a spending habit leads to another social problem – conspicuous consumption. It is buying to show off rather than to fulfil a need. When our shopping habits reach conspicuous consumption level, consumerism takes an ugly turn and leads to social disturbance. Newspapers regularly carry stories of small time white-collar thieves who take to crime to buy those expensive gadgets.

Advertising is to blame to a certain extent. Advertising that goes beyond recommending better and efficient choice does real harm. Brand imagery creates clannish behaviour in us. Have-it clan vs have-not clan. Carbon footprints, obesity, disconnected family (though everyone has a phone!) are some of the ills of a consumerist society.

The solution is simple. Simplify your life. Buy only what is needed, not what is desired. A better model is always around the corner and you will be caught in a never ending buying trap.

Buying the latest iPhone6s does not make you a better communicator. Listening to others and respecting their views and time does.

Think before you buy. You may not.

Regards

Kamesh

 

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OMG- give it!

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When your standard of living goes up, your standard of giving should go up – Anon

The first week of October was a special week which many noticed and did not. It was noticed for the long weekend and many planned a great time with the family. It was not just a week for the haves of India, it was also a week of the have-nots of India. It was the joy of giving week, the daan utsav. If you have missed, don’t worry, you are one among of the millions you did.

To give or not to give is not the question. How much to give and to whom is the only question we need to ask and answer. Philanthropy is built into our culture enshrined in the daan-dharm. It is also not true that Indians don’t give, they do, but they give it to one who has it all and does not need any-God.

Take a look at the temples of India. Tirupati Balaji Temple receives Rs.750 crores a year in cash apart from gold (the gold on the deity itself is 1000 kgs!). The fakir god Shirdi Sai Baba temple receives Rs.350 crores in donations each year, plus it has Rs.35 crores of gold and silver coins. Vaishno Devi Temple receive Rs.500 crores in donations, Siddhi Vinayak Temple in Mumbai gets Rs.50 crores donations and has Rs.125 crores in fixed deposits. The name Golden Temple in Amritsar is self- explanatory. The initial riches discovered in Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram are valued at over $20 billion. Beggars outside and riches inside is a shameful story of our temples.

One might argue that these temples do provide employment to many directly and indirectly with the donation monies received. However, the wealth unlocked from our temples can add 3-4% to our GDP lifting many from poverty. The enquiry is of the psyche of the giver. Quid pro quo arrangement with god – if I get this, I will give this to your temple – is a contract of depravation than devotion. It contrasts with the fatalistic argument (what has to happen will happen) we Indians extend. Dakshina is a concept which has been intended as a source of living to the priest at the temple. To extend and convert the concept into a barter with the God is unacceptable. Want to have a contract with your God? Here is the way. Promise your God that once your prayers are answered, you will help a poor or needy directly or through an NGO, but not drop a packet in the dakshina box and close the contract. Remember it is God who told us, manava seva is madhava seva (service to people, is service to me).

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the new ‘product’ forced upon by law on our corporates. Under the Companies Act, 2013 any company having a net worth of rupees 500 crore or more or a turnover of rupees 1,000 crore or more or a net profit of rupees 5 crore or more should mandatorily spend at least 2% of last 3 years average net profits on CSR activities as specified in Schedule VII of the Companies Act, 2013 and as amended from time to time. Every year millions go on a pilgrimage to Ganga to wash away their sins. One hopes CSR will not be the proverbial Ganga of irresponsible corporates!

From CSR we need to move to PSR – Personal Social Responsibility. Every month set aside a budget, identify an NGO which supports a cause which you care about and donate. Giveindia.org is a wonderful platform which gives you both budget and cause options in one place with a simple process to donate. You will get a receipt (and claim tax deduction) and also a report on utilisation of the funds. Beware of the donation boxes in shops. In most cases the cash in the box is collected by the shopkeeper who will issue a cheque for the amount on his shop or personal name thus helping him convert his black money into white and also get a tax saving!

The ‘big billion’ sales are on. Before you buy that expensive gadget you can do without, consider if you can ‘down grade’ your gadget and use the savings to ‘upgrade’ a less fortunate fellow being. Give and be a messenger of God. The receiver does not thank you, he truly blesses you.

Be blessed.

Regards

Kamesh

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