Which shoppers are driving the remarkable growth in superstores across Bangladesh?

Superstore retailing is on the rise and booming in Bangladesh and have become the dominant destination for grocery shopping, especially those from a middle and upper-class background. Although the culture of superstores in Bangladesh is a relatively recent phenomenon, the first store opened in 2002 by Agora, within this short pace of time shoppers now expect superstore retailing to be organised around shoppers lives rather than their own terms. A more convenient way to shop has become the norm.

Population statistics are very important for a marketer to understand and thereby keep track of the changing age profile. It is understood that certain age groups have more impact on buying behaviour than others. For example, In the UK, the age brand between 25-34 is the most important and active group and loyal shoppers; in India the age group between 26 and 35 are the most active shoppers.

What about in Bangladesh? Who are the most active shoppers? What about their background? These are the most important and salient questions for retailers and retail analysts. A recent study conducted by the author of this article provides compelling evidence that people aged 25 - 44 were by far the most active. Making up 73.5 percent of the respondents sampled, it is perfectly reasonable to state that these people are more likely to be in the early stages of their respective careers and thus both more economically confident and secure. Modern retail outlets afford opportunities for such an age group to not only expand their income, but also sit comfortably with their aspirations and expectations of what constitutes success and progress. In comparison the numbers for the age range 45-54 and 55+ with frequency percentages of 7.8 and 1.5, respectively raise questions about the nature of the experience and their own values with regards to monetary responsibility in later life. Whilst a case could be made for younger professionals frequenting outlets out of necessity, there is also the social dimension and the fact that many shoppers in that demographic feel alienated by traditional retail outlets that they may well be perceived as old fashioned and inferior, due to limitations in choice, poor hygiene and a less conducive environment. Higher disposal income and the influence of the media and their peers is likely to have contributed to a desire to experience a different retail experience, one that connotes a certain dynamism, as well as a contemporary shopping experience. On the other hand, the older age demographic could be said to have different priorities, their visits are considerably less frequent, more purposeful and framed by key financial considerations.

With Bangladesh not having a social security system, many  people are understandably preoccupied with their savings and making sufficient provision for health emergencies and old age. Shopping thus, becomes an activity that is influenced by the need for that which is cost effective, trustworthy and value for money. The experience of shopping might well be less important, as a more frugal mindset tends to take over in some respects. At the opposite end of the scale the youngest shoppers, have limitations of their own about income, transportation and restrictions placed upon them by study commitments and parental control. Bangladesh being a predominantly Muslim country is conservative in some respects and therefore young women, in particular, especially those who are not married would be less likely to venture forth into such retail outlets. Cultural norms, taboos and expectations are major drivers in human activity and interaction and businesses ignore such factors at their peril.

One of the most telling findings in regards to demographics is that concerning the level of education attained by shoppers. The fact that a staggering 81.4 per cent of respondents were either under-graduates or post-graduates is not only a remarkable testament to the progress made by Bangladesh in recent years, but affords us with a fascinating insight into the type of clientele that stores need to cater for. Whilst this research provides only a snapshot, it does provide some evidence that simply cannot be ignored by those eager to tap into and retain customers. Certain assumptions can reasonably be made, about levels of literacy and numeracy, as well as access to and exposure to important advertising platforms. Such a demographic is far more likely to be active when it comes to mobile, tablet and computer technology and as a consequence stores have new and exciting ways to engage with and cultivate relationships with the customer. Retail outlets must also be mindful of the need to retain such customers, who have ready access to the service and offerings being proffered by competitor stores. All such enterprises need to be mindful of the fact that the marketplace is becoming ever more crowded and competitive and Bangladeshi shoppers would appear to be becoming both savvy and sophisticated in the way that they go about endeavouring to satisfy their retail needs.

It is important to note that stores of this nature are by their very nature self-selective in respects of their location, perceptions about price and even the fact that they employ security guards to discourage footfall from those who come from lower social backgrounds. The demographic findings would appear to confirm this as only 2.5 per cent of respondents who had an education of only a secondary and primary level and not a single respondent was without any education at all. Superstores are eager to cultivate a certain image, ambience and experience that by its very nature seeks to appeal to the aspirational shopper, one who is discerning and expects a modern and more exclusive experiential retail environment.

The issue of disposable income is one of paramount importance, as retail stores are not merely concerned with attracting customers, but forging a relationship with those who have the wherewithal to spend on a repeat basis. In countries such as the UK there is increasing anecdotal evidence and a limited, but growing body of research evidence that shoppers, especially when it comes to food shopping have become more economically promiscuous, a fact that has become markedly more apparent since the financial crisis of 2008. In the UK, retailers such as Aldi and Lidl have deliberately repositioned themselves along with their product offering in such a manner, that they have begun to attract increased numbers of Middle-Class shoppers with higher disposable incomes. Highly effective campaigns have been used, and these afford some interesting examples that could well have relevance to Bangladesh's nascent, yet rapidly expanding  retail sector.

The retail sector can often be viewed as a useful bellwether of a country’s economic confidence and well-being at any given time and thus it pays to be alert to current activity and development. Superstores have carved a sizeable niche for themselves in Bangladesh, with homegrown success stories proving that they are more than capable of offering products and services comparable to that found internationally. Moreover, there are valuable lessons that can be learned by other enterprises, especially when it comes to meeting and where possible exceeding customer expectations. All businesses need to be much more agile and responsive in the way they go about their work, certainly superstores in Bangladesh provide some fascinating insights into how things can be done. All the signs are that growth will continue and with this will come rising customer expectations along with the need for superstores to be on the top of their game at all times.

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