Page last updated at 23:14 GMT, Monday, 10 August 2009 00:14 UK

Thrifty Indians dent economy

Shilpa Kannan
Business reporter, BBC News, Delhi

Devender and Jay Singh Bisht
Devender Singh Bisht and his wife Jay are now keen bargain-hunters

The tremendous growth of India's economy over the last decade has put more money in the pockets of the country's middle class, prompting retailers to target this group of consumers.

But the fallout of economic slowdown has made the country's middle-income earners revise their spending habits.

At a popular shopping centre in west Delhi, Devender Singh Bisht carries a huge pile of clothes for his wife.

She walks ahead of him, searching for bargains, among rows of colourful t-shirts.

They love shopping and they are one of the thousands of young urban couples who are making money and know how to spend it.

They might be keen to show off their new wealth, but the global economic downturn is making them nervous about their previously carefree spending urges.

They will not pay top prices for branded clothes any more.

Indian shopping mall
India's shopping malls are braced for consumers being more thrifty

Devender is very honest about their previous shopping habits.

"We used to visit only exclusive stores before and spend thousands of rupees on branded clothes. I don't like wearing anything locally made, I want international brands," he says.

But times have changed and thrift is now high on the couple's agenda.

"I work in a place where all my clients and colleagues wear smart clothes and it would hurt my confidence levels if I'm not dressed like them.

"But it is a huge burden on my pocket. So now I look for discount offers where I can buy two or three items of clothing for the price of one," says Devender.

Discount retailers

The Loot is one of India's discount retail chains that hopes to benefit from consumers getting more price-conscious.

The recession is ideal for shops like ours
Jay Gupta, The Loot

The group buys surplus products cheaply from big brands and sells them at discounted prices and the recession has been good for them.

Jay Gupta, who heads the store, says they are aiming to double the 100 shops they currently have and eventually list on the stock market.

"The recession is ideal for shops like ours to do good business. People who wouldn't have normally looked for bargains are now looking for good deals," he says.

Customer attitudes

Jay Gupta, Loot
Jay Gupta from The Loot believes recession is good for discount shops

Jay Gupta has noticed the change in consumer thinking.

"We did an internal study to assess the impact of the downturn and realised when people have money in their wallets, they have plenty of options to choose from," he explains.

At one shopping mall, which claims to be India's largest with more than a kilometre of shopping on every floor, families are thronging the stores.

But despite the increased footfall, very few are making any real purchases.

The generation which drove the country's rapid economic boom by their conspicuous consumption is now going back to a much-favoured Indian value - thrift.

The BBC is Taking the Pulse of the Global Economy, looking at a range of subjects this summer
Consumer Behaviour: How lifestyles have changed over the year
Food prices remain a concern particularly in many developing economies
Energy costs: Highly volatile prices have been a major issue in the past year
Migrant workers their plight as the global recession takes hold in many economies
Housing markets have turned from boom to bust in many countries

This time of year in India is usually a peak season for retailers with festivals and the country's renowned wedding season around the corner.

But this year most shops have had to resort to sales to tempt in customers.

The country seems to be full of bright red 'sale' boards and some places are offering 50% or 70% discounts.

But it is a hard sell for the shops as many families are avoiding the local mall to spend weekends at home.

Careful spending

The Mahesh family, like most Indians, teach their young children to save money for a rainy day.

As a result, households in India are among the most frugal in the world.

Lanka Mahesh and his wife are both dentists with two young daughters.

While their incomes have risen, so has the price of essential goods like food and fuel. They have been forced to rethink their spending habits and the downturn has made them cautious.

Plans to buy a second car and move to a bigger apartment have been put on hold.

Lanka Mahesh teaches his daughter the saving habit
Lanka Mahesh teaches his daughter the saving habit

Dr Mahesh admits that they are not hard-pressed for money, but they do believe it is essential to make savings.

"We should be prepared for anything now," he says.

"What if there is a sudden blip - like an illness in the family or a rise in school fees? Anything can happen.

"Earlier we didn't think before making purchases; now we're having second thoughts about all expenses," he adds.

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