At the Crossroads of Indian e-Commerce: What Lies Ahead?
Last week, one major e-tailer has shut operations, while unfeasible discounting has started taking its toll on another.
In a bid to promise convenience and speed to its users, logistics costs are eating away at the heart of India’s largest internet companies. Thousands of jobs have been lost and established players must now consider restructuring their businesses in order to survive.
But to what extent must Indian e-commerce reinvent itself to survive and prosper in this huge land of diverse consumers? Here’s how we envision the future.
The modern e-commerce story is just a blip on the map of traditional Indian retail that has had a rich heritage spanning centuries. In this universe, the retailer holds complete control over his business operations and direct contact with his customers, whose loyalty is won through consistent and personalized service, and not by the feverish pitch of heavy discounts and time-bound offers.
Today, this same retailer, in a bid to increase his sales, has given up his autonomy to yield to the supply needs of e-commerce giants. While the e-tailer has become the face for the consumer, thousands of retailers lead an anonymous existence setting up a back-end infrastructure and fulfilling orders of customers they’ll never have direct contact with, in the bargain giving up customer data, long-term conversion and the opportunity for sustained, long-term growth.
With ShopLyne, we’ve decentralized the e-commerce model where power is held in the hands of a few tech giants and aim to give it back to the millions who make up the $630 billion retail sector that’s slated to reach $1.1-1.2 trillion by 2020.
How will we make that happen?
2. Empowering the Independent Retailer
It’s a simple fact. Even the biggest online marketplace operating at optimum efficiency cannot match the experience of buying from a good local retailer – immediate delivery, personalised service and absolutely hassle-free returns & exchanges.
But somewhere in the midst of being lured into a buying process assumed to be inherently superior because of its technological complexity, we began to compare apples to oranges. It’s now more ‘convenient’ to wait days for a delivery rather than get it from the store down the road. Attractive prices and endless pages of product listings has given us an illusion of choice that was never limited in the first place when we shopped ‘offline’. Seduced by the scroll & click thrill of online buying, we seem to have forsaken the brick ‘n mortar store from our simpler times.
From the traditional retailer’s end, the seemingly democratising force of online retail pits shopkeepers who’ve worked day in and out, for years, to build trust and confidence in their customers with anybody who can ‘set up a store’ online and start selling products, sometimes of dubious origin. A ratings & reviews system, no matter how robust, still attempts to reduce the intangible experience of shopping – in all its various aspects – to a collection of gold stars, and despite which hundreds of unsuspecting customers suffer the consequences of poor product quality and a long, tiresome returns & refund process every single day.
It’s no surprise then, that a decade down the road, even the most prolific online shopper still buys offline for his most immediate needs & often, high value purchases. It’s a simple fact – when we want something quick and we don’t want to waste any time over it – we’ll buy it from the store down the street, even when it’s not the cheapest we can get it for.
And where traditional retailers once faltered in technological know-how and marketing pizzazz, is now replaced by a generation of digitally literate and business-savvy entrepreneurs who are ready to take on the online retail world, but on their own terms.
On ShopLyne, any retailer can – within minutes – co-opt the same technological tools used by an e-commerce giant to set up their virtual store, display their entire inventory of products, accept digital payments, and still give their customers a personalized shopping experience and maintain full autonomy over the final sale & fulfillment.
This includes delivery. Instead of developing a centralized logistical infrastructure to maintain control and offer a standardised user experience, we’re tapping into existing delivery networks of our member stores to give our users the fastest delivery possible.
3. The Personalised Retail Experience
Consumers today are inundated with marketing messages across devices. Brands and retailers vie for their attention using TVCs, print ads, hoardings, online ads and social media. But communication is dispersed, random and outcomes are not instantly measurable.
As product availability, pricing and fulfillment becomes increasingly standardized across channels – both online and offline – the measure of a brand or retailer’s success will be based purely on the speed and quality of communication with their consumers, the ability to measure results effectively and a robust, well-connected marketing network to implement changes swiftly across channels.
In the not too distant future, the customer will just be a click away for any brand or retailer. And it will all be live and on-ground. Personalised messages will be broadcast to customers’ mobile devices as they approach a store or shopping mall and in-store offers will guide them as they shop. Sophisticated measurement tools will capture consumer data and behavior across localities and cities across India, giving brands the power to create and execute targeted marketing strategies based on their audience. All in all, it will be a vastly superior shopping experience for the customer, who will be in a better place than ever to make an informed choice.
The world of e-commerce as we know it may have just started to crumble. But rather than wait around to watch it fall apart, perhaps it’s time to start working towards a more sustainable retail model for the Indian market, equally beneficial to customers, retailers and product companies.