NEW DELHI: Growing literacy rates and earning power, along with smaller family sizes, are making rural women an increasingly important target audience for marketers of household goods in India, according to a new study.

Consulting firm Accenture Strategy surveyed around 2,500 women from eight states, including West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, for its report Women consumers in rural India.

Over a ten year period, literacy rates in these states had jumped from 46% to 59%, it said, which was actually a faster rate of growth than that for urban India. Similarly, more women in rural India had paying jobs than in urban India (35% vs. 21%)

Many were also making purchase decisions on their own: up to 40% did so without reference to other family members, contrary to what many companies believed, the report noted.

Nor were they always opting for the lowest price, with the majority buying high value items and being prepared to travel to make the purchase. Seven in ten (69%) also said they bought branded products, with trustworthiness and reliability being the main reasons.

Those qualities are often relayed by word of mouth in rural areas: the report found that more than half (53%) of rural women consumers gather information this way; one third (32%) said they got their information from local mom-and-pop shops, indicating the continuing role of small retailers in reaching this audience.

Raghuram Devarakonda, managing director at Accenture Strategy, observed that certain products were becoming a necessity in households where women were working – such as washing machines – but their priorities weren't being met by manufacturers.

"They are looking for a fully automated product, but what is available in the market within their purchasing power is semi-automatic," he told the Business Standard.

"We have come across a view that the companies could look at offering more functionality for the washing machine though the looks are not good," he added.

This attitude is something that FMCG brands have recognised and are addressing, the report said, but household goods suppliers will also need to ensure after-sales support as well.

Data sourced from IIFL, Business Standard; additional content by Warc staff