10 Steps to Conduct a Consumer Survey at One of India’s Largest Exhibitions

Hamsini Balaji, AIF Fellow (Photo courtesy of Hamsini Balaji)

Being an AIF Banyan Impact Fellow affords me the opportunity to have some really unique experiences – one of which was conducting consumer surveys at one of India’s largest government sponsored Fairs/Exhibitions called SARAS Mela. Now you must be wondering, “Was she one of those sales agents who tries to take your contact information, only to send you offers that are not really offers”? Sort of, but not really, and here’s why!

Tribal jewelry handmade by self-help group women in Jharkhand using oxidized metal and sold under Palash. (All photos courtesy of Hamsini Balaji)

In 2010, the Ministry of Rural Development in India introduced a scheme called the National Rural Livelihood Mission to promote sustainable livelihoods for those residing in lower-income, rural areas through access to formal credit, diversification of income streams, and easy access to public schemes and services. One of the key features of the scheme is that one member (ideally a woman) from every rural household would be integrated into a self-help group (SHG) network and provided with access to credit through bank linkages.(1)

To ensure smooth implementation of the scheme, special purpose vehicles called State Rural Livelihood Missions were created. My host organization, Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS), was set up for this sole purpose. JSLPS is an autonomous society set up by the Rural Development Department of the Government of Jharkhand to act as the primary agency for promoting increased livelihoods of rural & tribal women through strong community institutions like Women Self Help Group (SHGs).(2)

Through implementation, JSLPS observed that one of the biggest challenges faced by SHG women was the lack of access to markets and market rates for their products. To combat this, JSLPS in 2020, introduced a brand called Palash to serve as an umbrella brand through which SHG women could sell their products. Currently, the primary sales channel for Palash is State Fairs i.e. fairs organized by the Ministry of Rural Development to serve as a platform for SHG women to sell their products.

Bamboo vases and lampshades created by self-help group women and sold under Palash.

Given this context, it was imperative that I understood the market Palash was serving, which would then inform the target customers, and allow us to learn more about what the brand currently represents and what the vision for the brand could be moving forward. Personally, I was also really curious to understand the values, perceptions, and beliefs of “today’s” Indian consumers. With the Fairs being open for all, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to individuals from various backgrounds, geographic locations, and income ranges. Not to mention, I also developed a very thick skin to the rejection.

Here are 10 lessons I learned from my experience:

1. Do Your Research – Given India’s market size, there is ample literature to explain the habits and patterns of rural and urban consumers. This should serve as a foundation in helping decide the appropriate methodology and missing links to inform survey questions. In my case, I was focusing on one specific brand that is fairly new and without much awareness among people outside of Jharkhand.

One of the Palash stalls selling their products at the India International Trade Fair in Delhi.

2. Understand the Context of Your Survey Site – SARAS Mela (Fair) was created by the Ministry of Rural Development to provide a platform for the self-help group (SHG) women to sell their products and gain exposure to urban consumers. This became increasingly important in forming and amending the questions that were asked to consumers. In a situation where all stalls were marketing their products as made by SHG women, sourced and processed naturally, what was it that made a consumer choose a Palash product? Additionally, most consumers who came to the Fair wanted to support rural women and their products – an already intrinsic driving factor for the purchase. These Fairs also occur annually in each city, so if the consumer runs out of a product, where are they looking to source that product? Do they prefer Palash or do they choose a different product? Why or why not?

3. Identify and Define Your Objective – For any survey, the key question to ask yourself is what are you trying to understand through the survey. The above steps would provide enough theoretical foundation but there is an element of operational reality that should drive the survey objective. In my case, given that prior surveys were not conducted at State Fairs for Palash, I wanted to understand the overall attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of the urban, sub-urban, and rural consumers towards Palash.

Self-help group women selling pickles and other edible products under Palash at a stall in SARAS Ranchi.

4. Pick Your Methodology Accordingly – It goes without saying, but a clear methodology that fits the contextual factors for a survey is very important. In my case, the survey site, the presence or lack of the information I was looking to collect, the amount of time I had to ask my questions, and the objective were all factors that helped me pick my survey methodology and amend it as needed.

5. Keep the Surveys Short, Simple, and Interesting – Consumers who are coming to the State Fairs are more interested in viewing and interacting with the plethora of options they have over answering survey questions for a stranger. It was important for me to keep the survey to no longer than 5 minutes and be very precise and intentional with the number and type of questions I was asking. This proved true in both locations I had conducted the survey.

A JSLPS staff member engaging consumers in an interactive game at the State Fair in Ranchi.

6. Integrate the “Surveying” Into the Shoppers’ Experience – Asking survey questions in crowded and fast-paced environments is an art. I found ways to integrate my “surveying” into the shopper’s experience by being intentional about the ways in which I approached them to ask for surveys and how I interacted with them as well. One example was, if a consumer was purchasing pickles I would join the consumer in identifying our top-sold pickles and promote them to the consumer and through that be able to open the channel for a survey discussion.

7. Learn How to Attract Attention and Maintain a Customer’s Curiosity – With the plethora of options and shopping experiences a consumer has access to at a Fair, it is important for us as a brand – and for me asking questions – to get people’s attention, maintain it, and engage with them. You may have heard of the term “Curiosity Marketing” which has been proven to also be a great way to forge relationships with consumers. I used a couple of strategies. For example, just lingering around them piqued their curiosity as to who I was and what I was doing there (or they just wanted me off their back). Another was striking up conversations with the consumers with open-ended questions and trying to understand their likes and dislikes. This worked especially well for skin care products where there was a level of relatability with the average consumer in terms of identity and purchase motivation.

8. Build Your Brand Awareness – Often during my surveys, I would also promote to the customer other products that were being sold, i.e if the consumer was purchasing an edible product in one stall, I would point them to our skincare products located at another stall. I would also point them to other sales points such as our retail outlets or e-commerce platforms where they could go for a repeat purchase. These surveys also serve as small opportunities to build brand awareness among customers.

9. Be Willing and Flexible to Change – After conducting my first survey in Delhi, I took some time to pause and reflect and changed my survey methodology for my second survey in Ranchi, which primarily involved sub-urban consumers and the Fair was on local turf. Additionally, during my surveys, I also had to change how I was approaching consumers not just based on the locations but also based on product categories. For example, consumers purchasing edible products were more open to offering their feedback through direct survey asks but consumers purchasing skin care products preferred interacting and offering their feedback when testing the products together i.e testing a cream and/or smelling essential oil, etc.

10. Become a Scientist – Observe, observe, observe! During my breaks in between surveys, I realized that consumers spoke to us in more ways than just using their words. Adopting a non-judgemental lens served me well in gaining key insights into my consumers through their body language, side conversations with family/friends about the product (yes, I did eavesdrop!), and their behavior while interacting with a Palash product.

And last but definitely not the least, I can confidently say this has been one of my most unique professional experiences. They were messy, exhausting twelve-hour days but also fun and allowed me to build trust with not just the women that I work with but also our consumers. It was also my first time experiencing India’s largest State Fairs and it gave me a chance to flip the hat and be a consumer for a little while. And this time around, I would have been very happy to answer survey questions for a stranger!

(1.) Manual for District Level Functionaries. National Rural Livelihood Mission. 2017. pg 1.
(2.) http://www.jslps.in/overview.html#
(3.) Schwartz, Jonathan. Curiosity and Marketing Go Hand in Hand. Forbes. July 12, 2021.

About the Author:
Hamsini is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Fellow for the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society and she will be helping build a social enterprise to brand the products of Self-Help Group (SHG) Members to increase access to larger markets and create sustainable livelihoods. Hamsini values curiosity and community which has led her to the development sector which allows her to apply systems thinking to identify interdisciplinary and cyclical solutions to development challenges. Hamsini’s prior experience has involved serving as a Technical Program Officer and Measurement Advisor for a USAID nutrition, WASH and women’s empowerment program. She holds a Master’s in Social Entrepreneurship from the University of Southern California and has designed and developed two social enterprises during her graduate career.

Personally, Hamsini is exploring what it means to be a woman, the power of women and their ability to organize for social change. Through the Fellowship, she hopes to co-design a solution with rural women and understand the operational and field realities of the development sector. In her free time, she enjoys exercising, spending time in nature, reading and dancing.



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