The middle class woman is a crucial part of the middleclass home. In recent times, the profile and role of the middle class woman has been undergoing significant changes. Today, she is educated and many cases employed. The percentage of working women has actually been growing at a steady pace; it is now 7 per cent in the North; 12 per cent in the East, 16 per cent in the West and 20 percent in South. Their newfound purchasing power has fuelled the demand for product categories like cosmetics, toiletries, packaged foods, and beverages. Cosmetics for instance, grew substantially during the 1990s. Even product categories like expensive durables, two wheelers, and holiday packages are of great appeal to them.
Today, particularly in the urban parts, the middle class woman is an active partner in the family. She is no longer confined to the four walls of the kitchen. She has acquired a place in society by virtue of her education and employment. She is a major factor in all purchase decisions of the family; in fact, in respect of a majority of purchase, she is practically the sole decision maker and in the rest a powerful influencer. She is actually the family’s purchasing agent for most products; she is the cashier and budgeter; she is also the image builder. For several products, she is the ‘gate keeper’; a new cooking medium or a fast food item cannot find an entry into the house without her clearance and consent. Purchase meant for children too are often decided by her. In buying home interior accessories and household appliances, she is often the sole decision maker.
Cautious, but not averse to change: The middle class woman is generally a cautious buyer. But she is not averse to change. Her education and social background makes her a discriminating buyer. Whether cosmetics or appliances, food items or dress materials, she is willing to try new things. But she does not adopt any product instantly. She may do a sample purchase she may check with somebody who has known the product for quite sometime; she may listen to more advertisements about the product; she will adopt them only if she is fully satisfied.
Quality conscious as well as cost conscious: The middle class woman is a quality conscious as well as a cost conscious buyer. She often checks the price details with order stores; she bargains; she compares one brand with another on price as well as quality. She has a tight family budget to follow and within this budget, she develops her own preferences – whether it is baby food, cooking medium, tea or coffee, cosmetics or ready-made garments. She usually tries to get the maximum ‘mileage’ out of every rupee that she spends. Sales promotional incentives like freebies, bonuses, prize coupons and rebates definitely attract her. Features like reusable containers also influence her purchase decision. She also relies heavily on word-of-mouth communication. She finds out what product / brand her neighbor or friend is using. She will try to get direct information from an existing ‘user’ about the qualities and performance of the product. When the investment is substantial, the ‘information seeking’ is on a lager scale.
Leisure seeking: The middle class woman also seeks leisure. Time saving household appliances hold out great charm for her. She readily opts for gadgets like electric grinders and mixers, washing machines, dish washers, pressure cookers, Microwave ovens and vacuum cleaners, as they reduce her workload and save her time to a great extent. It is not as though she can afford all modern devices available. But they evoke a keen interest in her because of their potential for saving time and avoiding drudgery.
Today, more and more households in India, especially in the urban, and semi urban areas, are giving up the laborious practice of preparing several traditional food items; they are instead turning to the shop round the corner. The shift applies to a variety of items – bread, biscuits, butter, papads, pickles and potato chips. In addition, these households have started using a wide range of processed foods, which were till recently not a part of their purchases. It is the middle class urban woman who has made this change possible by opening the gates of her house.