If you’re aware of the above buzzwords, rest assured you are already part of the new e-commerce wave that is sweeping across India in recent years. Home grown sites like Flipkart.com, Snapdeal.com compete shoulder to shoulder well established international biggies like Amazon and Ebay (Both of them now have an India specific domain) with seemingly infinite pockets.
To buy a product, today a consumer can go online, compare the prices across a few sites, select the best deal and get the product delivered to his home in record time. This was, however, not always the case. I remember a time when online shopping was a very disorganized affair. Even if you managed to plod along the entire transaction completely, you had to twiddle your thumbs for days as you waited for the product to get delivered.
This experience was a remnant of the dotcom era. Just when the world was waking up to the new millennium, sites had cropped up by the dozens. Even in India there were countless dotcoms each trying to capture some niche market and trying to build a loyal customer base. A considerable part of these sites were e-commerce sites. But most of them failed to take off. Although there were many reasons why the dotcom bubble eventually burst, India in itself wasn’t ready completely for the online revolution. Given below are a few reasons why the revolution failed to take off in its first avatar:-
1) New mode of buying/Alien concept – For a country used to seeing the products in front of them before buying, and invariably bargaining before doing so, online shopping was an alien concept. Most of us would hesitate to buy products based only on a picture. Not having the product in front, and not being able to touch it was a deterrent to most from shelling out their hard earned money.
2) Not enough disposable income – India in the early 2000s was going through the IT revolution, with the IT field definitely one of the favourite areas to work in. But the amount of disposable incomes available to families was much lesser than the present day and age. Hence the target market to whom these online shopping websites could pitch to was limited.
3) Limited Internet access – If you remember, the early 2000s were still an era of dial-up connections and slow network speeds. People struggled with reliable connections back then, and it was improbable if not impossible for people to browse through e-commerce sites, compare products, expect online payments to go through reliably and then ultimately be able to track the order online. Logistics was also an ordinary affair at best, with products taking weeks to deliver in major cities, leave alone smaller towns.
4) Lack of security in online payments – Even for people who fit in the right demographic, who had a reliable internet connection and had enough money to spare, there was a limited and fragile infrastructure for online payments. Till today, the elders in the family are bound to discourage online payments due to the apparent lack of safety in buying online.
All of these reasons contributed to the boiling hot cauldron shrinking into a simmering stove. For a few years after the dotcom bubble burst, some e-tailers continued to provide strictly ordinary online shopping options (Some of these, rediff.com, indiatimes.com and homeshop18.com are now but fringe players in today’s e-commerce boom.)
Cue forward to the present day, where consumer facing e-commerce is almost a $10 billion market. In the last five years, this industry is said to have grown at an astounding 50% annually. What are the factor that have contributed to this growth? Some of them are:-
1) Change in the demographic set up – In recent years, there has been a change in the demographic profile which has given rise to many more youngsters having disposable incomes. This group of people are also savvy with technology, including mobile and smartphones. This combination of discretionary spending plus staying connected always for that latest deal has proved to be a major boost for e-commerce.
2) Better connectivity – With broadband Internet spreading across office and homes in the country, people are more willing to transact online. Being able to buy from the comfort of their seats with reliable transactions is a major attraction. The spread of Internet in towns and villages will only increase the user base who goes online to shop for their favourite products.
3) Supporting infrastructure – With the improvements of supporting infrastructure like roads, warehousing facilities and transport services, online retailers have become more confident in providing next day deliveries to loyal buyers. This reduced TAT in getting delivery of a product bought online has also increased the number of people turning to online shopping. The fact that online retailers generally quote lower prices is an added advantage.
4) Proactive regulator – The Reserve Bank of India (which in my opinion is one of the best central banks in the world) has set up strict guidelines for online payment systems and continues to be an active advocate of secure and dependable payment systems, especially for the end consumer. This focus by the RBI has played an equally important, if not greater, role in spreading the comfort with which Indians now transact online.
Of course, there are still teething problems that e-commerce v2 in India continues to face. India always has and will always face in the future a problem of undercapacity. Be it Google’s servers getting overwhelmed during last year’s GOSFIndia sale or Flipkart’s site going down during its recent Big Billion Day Sale. Also, with the increasing shift in the e-retailers business model towards an online marketplace (with independent vendors), there is also the problem of quality, reliability and spurious products. With the deep discounts and continuous sales, they are also not helping their bottomline in any way. Most of the VC-backed dotcoms continue to be in the red. But that was also the case with Amazon for years.
Judging from the popularity of both the events mentioned at the beginning, and the rate at which online retailers are pumping/increasing investments in India, this time around, India seems to be better prepared for the e-commerce boom. Warehouses are filled to the brim, delivery trucks are in transit and courier companies are on standby for the last mile delivery. But most important of all, the credit card limits of the consumers show no signs of maxing out anytime soon.