Showing posts with label net banking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label net banking. Show all posts

21 September, 2013

Is there something as a Click-Only customer?

I was recently invited to attend the first edition of the Retail Marketing Summit Chennai, organized by Paul Writer, a leading consultancy which works in the Marketing space and advises various enterprises. The day was very exciting, with speakers from various Retail companies and Brands expressing their opinions. During the course of discussions, there was a topic which was discussed elaborately by the esteemed panel of guests as well as the audience. The topic of discussion was, whether there was someone called a “Click-only customer” that existed, who shops only online. There were ayes and naes but there was no single answer that could be fully validated. On the need for having an online presence and also focusing on the internet commerce business, Mr. Pattabhi Rama Rao, President of Australian Foods, which runs the Cookieman chain of stores felt that the market is too small at the moment on the internet and Retailers should continue to focus on the offline business by providing a better customer experience. In his own words, Man is a social animal and social interactions would never cease to exist. Pattabhi should be knowing well. With over a dozen years behind him in the Hospitality business, he started off the Cookie business 13 years ago. His brand of cookies were priced 10 times as that of a normal biscuit, although such a comparison is odious. He continued his focus in the business and now has over a 50 stores across the country. Most of his outlets are located in prime locations in Malls and Airports. Many of them bake fresh cookies at the store and the aroma spreads all over. It appeals to the senses and therefore converts a passerby into a customer, a customer into a loyalist and a loyalist into a brand ambassador. However, there is indeed an opportunity to sell categories like cookies online, although they are restricted to gifting and occasion based purchases.

2013-09-20 15.10.26

In another panel discussion, Calvin John of Caratlane.com which specialises in the sale of jewelry products said that a customer has purchased 35 times in a few months from their site. And he felt that there were a small but growing species of “Click-only customers” who shopped extensively online. Jessie Paul, the convener of the event and also a moderator in one of the sessions confirmed this and said that she shops grocery extensively online at BigBasket.com, a Bangalore based start-up which has been slowly but steadily growing its online-only grocery business. With more and more people shopping online, it is all about convenience and discounts? Would the charm of shopping (at Retail outlets) dwindle over time? There are references to the West and how things have been changing in developed countries. A lady from the audience says that at Macys.com, sales were 37% of the total compared to just 26% in the previous year during the holiday season. And this was countered with a view that the sales increase was only during the Holiday Season when Macy’s was very badly organized at their stores. In India, the Books category was the first to succumb. Customers (in India) bought books online from Indiaplaza, Flipkart, eBay and the likes not just for convenience but also due to the generous discounts that were being doled out. But for those discounts, would customers have bought online? Perhaps yes, but a majority would prefer browsing and buying at their favorite books stores down the road such as Crossword.

The Internet Commerce business in India is still too small compared to the Offline one. As it is, Organized Retail in India is just under 10% of the INR 200,000 Crores market size. And e-commerce accounts for a decimal percentage of that. Although online retailers are showing double digit growth year on year, the business model is largely led by discounts and there is no hypothesis at the moment to prove that shoppers would still buy online at full prices, except for the gifting and essential categories. In my opinion, there is room for online and offline Retailers, But the bigger growth is offline, given the levels of broadband, internet and computer penetration in India. Payments gateways for credict cards, debit cards and Net Banking is quite limited too. In fact, I would place my bets more on m-commerce - shopping on smartphones which is still an untapped category. So, if you are a Retailer or a Brand, do build an internet commerce site now, if you already don’t have one. But remember, Retail is all about customer experience, and there is no better place than the store to demonstrate it.

10 January, 2013

E-Commerce Economics–Questionable?

I have been without a pair of floaters / slippers for over two months now. Just that I’ve not been able to find a Retail Store closeby where I could find a couple of options. And I have another peculiar issue – that my foot size is 11 and I don’t get options so easily across brands. In fact, I ‘ve been buying my shoes from Brand stores located in North India since the body/foot sixe of customers is generally larger there than in the south (and it applies for other forms of retail such as apparel such as shirts, trousers, shorts etc. and even accessories such as caps and belts. In the month of Dec. 2012, I was traveling down siuth towards Coimbatore, Karur, Bangalore and a few others and then was in Bihar for a couple of days before ending the year in Kerala for a vacation with the family. And in the new year, I finally decided that I need to get a pair of footwear immediately. A chance view of an eadvertisement on some news website took me to jabong.com which offered a 70% discount on a particular model of Lee Cooper floaters and thankfully, they had my size as well. Bingo, and I ordered my pair immediately. The entire transaction from browsing to selecting the size to payment confirmation and then finally the payment gateway took me all of 6 minutes flat. And yes, this happened not on my laptop but on my iPadmini what with its fast processing speed and convenience to hold. I was quite pleasantly surprised that jabong.com had its web page optimised to the tablet – given that the size of the ipadmini is considerably smaller than the regular iPad. Within a few minutes, I received an SMS confirming my order and that the folks there were working hard to get the product to me as soon as they could. This was at 9.45pm.

When I woke up the next morning, there was an SMS as well as an email that the product had already been shipped – and they shared a tracking number as well. Around 11am, I received an SMS that the product had reached Chennai (from Delhi where their main warehouse is located) and that it was on its way to my home. Around 1.15pm, the product was at my doorstep, neatly packed in its original box with an outer covering that was branded “jabong”. I was indeed delighted to get the product and wear it – was happy like a kid who received a new toy. From shopping to receiving the product it took less than 18 hours which I felt was simply superb. Impeccable Customer Service.

ecommerce customer

After a while, I was thinking about the economics of the entire business model. The product was at a 70% discount, so I would guess the e-tailer had a 5-10% margin if at all, had a warehouse to stock the product(s), a team that was working overnight to process the order, pack and ship it immediately and a shipping agency that delivered the product free of cost at my doorstep! No to mention the operational costs of running an e-commerce company. Well, was this worth the effort? Ecommerce specialists (and there are tons of them out there) call it the cost of acquisition – that a customer who once shops on their website would get used to the idea of shopping online and would indeed come back to them and buy once again in future. Atleast that’s what most of them in India have been doing for the past few years. But that isn’t the case. Various studies have shown that e-commerce loyalty is negligible in India (as is mostly the case outside too) and most customers who shop online are seeking better price and convenience of shopping rather than looking for a full range of products. Another recent experience confirmed this too. On 12-12-12, a book was released to commemorate the birthday of Tamil Film superstar Rajnikanth. The name of the book is “Rajnikanth – the Definitive Biography” by noted journalist and author Naman Ramachandran. I was wanting to get my hand on this book for quite some time, just that I was hoping there would be a kindle version so I could read it on one of my devices. But that doesn’t seem to be launched yet. So, I decided to buy the hard copy paper back which was priced at Rs. 699/- at Landmark, the retail venture of the Tata Group in India. Landmark is a specialty Retailer and mainly sells books and stationery, music, toys etc., among other things.  There wasn’t any discount on the book – given the fact that many hard core fans such as me would buy it whatever crazy price.

ecommerce methodology

While I was browsing the internet on Sunday evening at home, again on my ipadmini, I was curious to check out the price of this book online. To my surprise, the same book was being offered at a 30% discount across various online retailers. And I chose to buy from flipkart.com which claims to be the largest etailer in India in terms of number of billings/shipments and turnover. I bought the book immediately, my second ecommerce transaction on a hand held device within a span of two days. In this case, the shipment wasn’t as quick as in my previous example. The order was processed on Monday noon and the book arrived at my home on Tuesday. I had proposed COD (Cash on Delivery) – and hence the product would be paid for only after delivery. The delivery boy was kind enough to call me on my mobile while I was at work since there wasn’t anyone at home, After sorting out the same, the book was handed over to someone at home. And pronto – I get an SMS in a while from Flipkart – that the book was delivered to a family member. Technology used to its best, I felt.

Again, there wasn’t any logic for Flipkart to sell it so cheap – if they would lose 30% margin for a transaction (and most items on their site are on discount), then where do they make money? Assuming that their Gross Margins is around 40%, this is a ridiculous business format, to say the least. Over the months, PEs and Investors have shunned away from encouraging E-Commerce businesses in India. A prominent Indian etailer which was also one of the earliest to pioneer the concept of online shopping seems to have run out of cash and hasn’t paid salary to its 100+ staff for over two months. Half a dozen of them have either shut down or been bought over by their peers and competitors during 2012. And many more will go out of business in 2013. I am neither a prophet or a pioneer to predict what would happen to the fate of such businesses but when an etailer is operating at –15% or more (negative) margin, then isn’t it logical to say so?

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26 February, 2012

eCommerce in India -



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 in India with 10 million products. What is IndiaPlaza.com all about? 
Shriram: 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 India that are category specific, but Indiaplaza.com is the only horizontal portal that offers a choice and range to e-shoppers to choose from. So while someone has purchased a mobile phone for themselves, they could also consider buying a bottle of perfume for their loved ones or toys for their children. From household appliances to daily use cosmetics, it is all available at Indiaplaza.com under one roof. Within the next six months, the range is expected to double, while also improving our customer service to world-class levels. And most importantly, Indiaplaza.com is the only place where shoppers earn loyalty points for their purchases.


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 India?
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 India? And what do you foresee the key drivers for e-Business growth in India in years to come?
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 Bangalore, 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.
Many years back, I was part of the team that set-up (Organized) Travel Retail in India at Bangalore International Airport (BIAL). At that time, most brands were reluctant to enter this segment.  Today, between Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad – 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!

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…


10 years in Madras - A recap

It was on this day 10 years back I returned to Madras (by then it was renamed Chennai) - where I have grown up all my life, after a long sta...