Indonesia Expat

Understanding Today’ Young Indonesian Consumers

Let me start with a big disclaimer- the following commentary on today’s young consumers of Indonesia is not based on any primary research but purely from my daily observations and interactions with the young and the not-so-young I came across in my past few months in Indonesia. These are stories I picked up over a coffee with a Sani, a dinner with an Olivia, a lunch with a Sinat, a simple ‘tete-a-tete´ with Ayu or pouring over the Tweets and Facebook status updates of all my new friends in this country.

Being young has its advantages. The young have a mind of their own which has not been polluted by experiences that life chucks at us. A young country like Indonesia (50% of the population are under 25, 30% under 14) definitely depicts the distinct traits of individuality across the socio-cultural and socio-economic platforms. Hence it is not surprising that Indonesia is the second largest Facebook country in the world, with forty million users, and counting. No wonder Sani, in her late twenties, starts her day with updating her Facebook status. Young Indonesia is comfortable with who they are and are flexible to adopt and adapt to the evolving global tech trends.

Treidy, a 25 year old, adapts and balances his life to the max. So he digs Justin Bieber as much as he roots for the local indie bands like Bagindas or Ungu.

25-year-old Untung thinks if Korea has SuJu, Indonesia’s answer is Smash. For 22-year-old Olivia, Coke, Teh Botol and Soda-Gembira, all seamlessly co-exist in her drinks repertoire.  Zara shares the same passion space with local labels like Damn-I-love-Indonesia and Cotton Ink, in the fashion space of Afie, a 28-year-old Indonesian fashionista. Fannie, a self-proclaimed foodie is comfortable dabbling with the latest Western lattes as well as the homegrown Kopi Luwak or the Anomali. ‘Be Indonesian, buy Indonesian’ seems to be a mantra, rapidly gaining currency among today’s Indonesian consumers.

Technology is a great leveller. The modern Indonesian has embraced technology on all limbs. 21 year old Menik in Manado is as hooked onto the wired world as her Jakarta counterpart and has a point of view on brand experiences ranging from a hotel experience in Ubud to a particular iPhone app that failed the cool quotient. Not just sharing individual experiences, young Indonesia uses the social media to lend their support to causes that matter to them. The Twitter movement around ‘Coin Prita’- a grass-root movement, by collecting coins to support Prita, who was sued by a private hospital for complaining about their services – is a great example of the power of collective individualism.

Talking of individuality and self-expression, none can beat young Indonesia in terms of ingenious coinage of expressions that spice up their social lingo. If you are not in the know, it might all sound Greek to you, but young Indonesians know what their friends mean when they receive a BBM saying- “ see ya at SEVEL at 7.” SEVEL is Seven Eleven for the rest of us.

There are a host of other code words that they use, if you care to listen. CITOS is Cilandak Town Square and Sen Ci is Senayan City. A coffee at GANCIT will take you to Gandaria City and if someone asks you to meet her at DETOS, she means Depok Town Square. Do not frown if you hear someone ordering a FROYO– all she wants is a frozen yogurt. That is the language that dominates the buzzing social media scene in young Indonesia.

The other big behaviour change that one observes is in the online shopping space. Tech-friendly young Indonesia is brave enough to shop online. Be it at international or local sites, the young Indonesian consumer is busy shopping-books, music, concert tickets, and travel deals. The popularity of sites like Kaskus, Multiply and Tokobagus has been so overwhelming that it has pushed sites like Tokobagus to go ahead and launch their own Blackberry apps. E-bay and Amazon get stiff competition from sites like, (meaning book-fleas) which is very popular amongst the young Indonesians for books, music and movies. Sites like Air Asia and the wonderful travel deals one gets off it have made flying to neighbouring countries child’s play. So catching the F1 in Kuala Lumpur or watching the Lion King in Singapore is a very commonplace weekend plan for today’s young Indonesia.

Finally, on the topic of Halal, it’s fascinating to hear the young Indonesians argue that the Halal movement and the Green movement are actually on two sides of the same coin. The underlying principles are the same and the supporters of both movements want something that is pure, permissible and doesn’t harm the body. It’s more about hygiene, assurance of quality and peace of mind. That is a great indicator of how young Indonesians are not just blindly following the age-old traditions, but injecting a healthy dose of contemporary interpretation into an age-old ritual.

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