I was recently interviewed by Mr. Pawan Gupta who manages the E-Business India Forum on LinkedIn. Here are the excerpts;
Pawan: Indiaplaza has been one of the oldest & successful online stores inShriram: Indiaplaza.com is the only e-commerce portal that offers a reasonable breadth, width and depth of products across several product categories at very low prices. There are various e-comemrce portals today in
with 10 million products. What is IndiaPlaza.com all about? India
Pawan: What are the challenges in the SBU you are heading at Indiaplaza.com and how do you plan to deal with them?
Shriram: Our business model is unique while compared to that of others. We do not follow a warehouse model, thereby saving millions of dollars to the investors, while at the same time offering and serving our customers to the best of our abilities. Selling Lifestyle products to customers online is easier said than done. While for generic categories such as perfumes, cosmetics, baby wear and toys it is easier to sell without a trial – without a “touch and feel”, it is indeed challenging to sell footwear and formal wear shirts to men or gowns and dresses to women. However, we are building a portfolio of products which are reasonably standardized and therefore customers can buy without bothering about size and (mis)fits. Further, Indiaplaza.com allows a no questions asked return policy, thereby allowing shoppers to buy their preferred products without any concerns. Over the next six months, the Lifestyle selection at Indiaplaza.com would boast of a full range of products that fulfill the entire wardrobe requirements – from shampoo to deodorants, from customized collars and cuffs on shirts to awesome footwear!
Pawan: What is your view on e-Business growth in
Shriram: Indiaplaza.com (formerly fabmart.com) has been operating in this space since 1999, when there were only 3 million online users. According to various estimates, that number is now hovering around 100 million users, of which over 10% of them are active e-commerce patrons. The coming years are going to be rather interesting. With the internet moving away from traditional desktops to laptops, tablets, mobile phones and smart phones, there would be more opportunities for shoppers to consume online. Shopping on the internet is not just about saving a few bucks, but also about saving precious time and the effort associated with it. Imagine the time spent driving a few kilometers to reach the nearby Mall or Shopping Centre, parking your vehicle, reaching out to the store – only to find out that what you wanted wasn’t available and end up buying what was! Shopping online will serve this need. Even if the product is not available, the shopper can leave a “Notify Me” message to the e-tailer. Once the product is made available, the potential customer is informed. While this is possible in the real world as well, the shopper has to undertake two visits for the same purpose, spending precious time, money and fuel. While ordering online, the customer also gets the product delivered at their doorstep free of cost from Indiaplaza.com for most items – all with a few clicks while having some free time.
I also believe that e-shopping will become a family activity sooner than later. For example, if a family plans to buy an LCD Tv or a Washing Machine, the whole family can spend a few minutes at sites like Indiaplaza.com and choose their preferred model. For mundane day-today activities such as buying grocery and household items too, internet would become the preferred way to shop. I wish this interview is played back after 4-5 years!
Pawan: What are Interesting challenges you see in e-Business growth in
? And what do you foresee the key drivers for e-Business growth in India in years to come? India
Shriram: The biggest challenge (read competition) to e-commerce players is, well, the offline retailers. The effort lies in moving the customers from physical shopping to online shopping. Even in Metro cities like
Delhi, Mumbai or , e-shopping is restricted only to a few categories. This will grow exponentially due to the obvious reasons of word-of-mouth and convenience (due to lack of time). Things would be more interesting in the Tier II and III cities. Organized Retail penetration is restricted with one or two shopping centres and not many retailers have their stores established there. Even if they do, they may not carry their entire range of products – across sizes and colours 24/7, 365. Many Retail Brands haven’t taken up the E-Commerce opportunity too seriously today. While they are happy to sell their products outright to e-commerce companies, they are not too keen to walk the path. One possible reason for this could be that such an act may threaten (seemingly) their franchisee stores or their own stores. But this would change sooner than later. Well, there wouldn’t be an option I guess. Bangalore
Many years back, I was part of the team that set-up (Organized) Travel Retail in
at Bangalore International Airport (BIAL). At that time, most brands were reluctant to enter this segment. Today, between India Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and – these four airports manage a Rs. 1,000 Crore Turnover! While some brands realized the potential early, many missed the bus. I see the same thing happening to online retail. It is in the interest of the brands that they jump this bus sooner than later! Hyderabad
Pawan: What is your advice to budding Indian Entrepreneurs for building successful online businesses?
Shriram: First and foremost, one needs a great idea in the online ecommerce space. To sell a category / a range of products is not an idea for Gods’ sake. In a competitive environment such as the one that we are going through, there needs to be a distinguishing plan – one that stands apart from the others. And many of them confuse it with providing superior service. Hey! Customer Service is a given, that cannot be a differentiator! Today’s customers – online or offline are particular about the way they are served. While they are reasonable enough to give us (The Retailer / etailer) a second or even a third chance, there has to be something that the portal offers which is far difficult to replicate. Most players believe in large scale advertising, gaining quick traction and grabbing eyeballs through a heavy ATL Marketing Program – but this exists only till the cash in the coffers dry up. Thereafter, one needs to have a strong play to perform and to outperform the others in the game. To be an entrepreneur is a dream that many people share but one shouldn’t confuse passion and business. They are two different things. While it is good to follow your dreams, it is equally important to build a robust business plan – one that talks about profitability and value creation for investors and stakeholders and not just popular advertising…