By Ali Raza Merchant

There is a major shift in consumer spending in the urban retail environment, in recent times. The question that comes to mind is that, where have all these new consumers come from? Who are they? What influences them to purchase brands? And how have the dynamics in the retail environment prompted them to see the shopping experience differently?

Before we attempt to answer the above questions, we need to review some basic parameters of urban Pakistani consumers. Though there are significant cultural differences in the North, Central and South regions of the country, where the three largest metros are located; having said that, there are some significant factors that are common in dwellers of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. For instance the rise of the nuclear family structure has brought many changes in lifestyles, such as independent living, smaller family size, focus on education and careers, increased social consciousness, desire to associate and express through the rich and famous, influencing ideas from Hollywood and Bollywood etc etc.

Another significant aspect of changing lifestyle relates to the role and influence of technology in the consumers’ life. The massive growth of cell phones and the steady increase of internet usage, clearly suggests how information reaches consumers at great speed. In fact, this only substantiates a comment made by a senior telecom expert, who said, “Countries like Pakistan may be a bit late at acquiring technology; however, once it’s there they leapfrog and catch up with the developed world”. It seems so true to the fast evolving consumer lifestyle, that it is suddenly evident around us.

Coming to the consumers and identifying the changing environment and influences, one does question as a marketer if there is enough research being done on profiling them. Perhaps, some large companies have commissioned research to profile their own customers, yet I am unaware of any independent research that is available to marketers for specific consumer insights. I feel that the time is ripe for Pakistani marketers and certain trade bodies to take up the project and conduct a thorough analysis of what, where and why about this sizeable and affording segment. I say this in view of the fast evolving demand for brands, Pakistani and international, which is suddenly popping up in front of us.

In this context, I would like to share with you, top lines, of a recent research on SEC classifications, done by The Market Research Society of India (MRSI). In this study, there is an addition of four new consumer classifications thereby increasing the total number of SEC’s from 8 to 12. The beauty of the research is that it was simple as it was based on two variables i.e. Education of chief earner and number of ‘consumer durables’ (from a defined list of 11 items) owned by the family. The results seem to be quite effective as it has improved specific SEC classification, creating greater focus on consumer type. Furthermore, it is less subjective as they are not using occupation as a factor. On a mass scale level it has also evolved into a single system for both urban and rural India.

Taking this idea further, if we review the urban consumer lifecycle (as highlighted to me by an expert researcher); we need to perhaps formulate age based profiles of these customers. Though I am not proposing to trash the SEC based profiling, which is currently in use, there is merit in seeing customers through a different lens of lifestyle habits, which changes with age. Perhaps, this is the right time to develop consumer profiles that can be categorized as Tweens, Teens, Young Adults, Nuclear Families, Middle Aged Bread Earner Families and Empty Nests. These titles are just basic starting points but they can be changed or further sub-classified.

Having core brand management and advertising experience, I personally feel that there is far too much gut feeling involved in the brand marketing process. There is a lot of room for marketers and advertising professionals to understand consumer types through insights, for creating new business opportunities. In our normal routines and standard business practices we do tend to miss out on the subtle changes that take place in the short-term which can magnify into substantial changes in the medium term.

To quote some examples, it is important for us to see the impact of infrastructure on consumer habits and lifestyle. For instance, the recent addition of Atrium Cineplex and its adjoining food court has a major impact on movie viewing, shopping and dining habits of customers frequenting the mall. Similar tendencies are observed where hyper-markets (modern trade) have brought in large number of customers in malls and generated high footfall for other brands and stores within the premises. Though one can argue that these examples do not cater to very large number of customers, yet one is forced to see this as a growing phenomenon. Another very fast changing scenario is the mushroom growth of food home delivery businesses, which are simply serving a customer need. In the fast paced lifestyle of urban cities, customers are quite responsive to being served at home; offering great potential for groceries and other low involvement level products/brands to experiment here.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. In order to excite customers, we really need to keep a regular track of what is affecting their decisions. From a market researchers point of view, it is also important to initiate the process through results that are easy to decipher and actionable. Taking the first step is always the most difficult; however, once the journey begins it has its own experiences and memories which will make the effort worthwhile. So my two pence worth of advice to all stake holders is – take a plunge and commit some serious money in profiling your customers, as it will save you a lot in the medium and long-term.

Ali Raza Merchant is a seasoned Marketing Professional with a unique blend of experience in core Brand Marketing as well as Advertising and Communications. He is a brand strategist with a versatile understanding of traditional and new media. He is presently Executive Director at Synergy Group and pursues marketing actively, always willing to discuss his ideas with Professionals and Students. He is also a visiting faculty for Marketing at IOBM and can be contacted at


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Ali Raza Merchant is a marketing veteran with over 25 years of experience with multiple industries. After graduating from IBA in 1989, he joined Hoechst Pharmaceuticals (now Aventis) as a marketer, and then ventured into textile marketing. But since his heart was always in the FMCG business, he joined Lakson Tobacco Company (Philip Morris), and did a 10 year tenure there which included heading the Marketing Division. After Lakson, he moved to Synergy Advertising as an Executive Director and played a major part in Synergy’s growth as a communications group. Ali now lives in Toronto, where he moved with his family in 2013. He works for Toronto Dominion Bank’s Marketing Planning Division for the Insurance business.