Saturday, May 12, 2012

Online India

Look around you in the major cities of India when you are stuck in a traffic jam. Especially in Bangalore. You will see bike riders with huge bags behind them with names of companies - which may not immediately ring a bell. Indeed the names you will see wont be the usual names you have been used. The names you will see most commonly see are Flipkart, Jabong or Myntra (Atleast these are the few that I have seen here).

Familiar names? Or not? Depending on that, you are clued into or not clued into Indias second e-commerce revolution.

Yes, India did have a first e-commerce revolution. That was at about the same time that the e-commerce area was catching up in US. And then you had these dot coms, portals and a few online shopping and other services as well. The one I remember most was this site called Indiamart (if I am not mistaken) and on the road connecting Bangalore to Electronic City, they had a physical warehouse kind of space. The first time I saw it, I was amazed to see something like that. But over time, I realized that perhaps nothing much happened there. 

My second experience was with a friend who ordered something from a portal and he had to go collect it from a post office (and this was in Hyderabad) and after all the trouble, the object he got was broken. And this experience kind of made me wary about online shopping. And I did not have to worry. Online shopping never did take off in India – though Amul and others did try something on these lines even in the late 90s. Like them, there are many others who tried to offer some kind of online shopping. Online revolution in India did take its time.

And when the dust settled what survived was really, online Banking, online Trading and wonder of wonders – online railway booking. Which is funny, because they are more complex than shopping. But online in India really took off with these services. Indeed IRCTC remains till date perhaps Indias biggest e-comm vendor and works across age groups. Around this time APSRTC had a reasonably wide South India network on the Business side servicing agents and the like. And KSRTC was nowhere. Soon, KSRTC went online, perhaps learning from Indian Railways. And soon took a lead over APSRTC, but both remain first movers in the online bus ticket booking space . Deccan Airlines was very big online and even sold tickets at petrol bunks. But online shopping, never really took off. Along this time, I ordered a legal windows disc and it took me one entire season to reach me. So, two strikes for Indian e-commerce, though the railway and the bus ticketing worked better than the actual railways.

Small portals like Myntra (it was small then), Dilsebol and others appeared and seemed to do well for themselves. I ordered at these places and was wowed by the customer service. But it wasn’t until Flipkart arrived (atleast for me) that the shopping revolution really began. I gingerly ordered a book (having had an earlier forgettable experience from another portal) from Flipkart and I was flipped and hooked. The speed, the price and the service levels were amazing. And over time, I spend quite a bit of money on FP and finally even ordered my phone from them. It arrived without a scratch. And Flipkart has moved to selling a lot more than just books.

And then there are online classifieds and second sales like on Quikr (response times are really good), ebay.

And now there are others. Jabong, Myntra, cbazar, zovi, yebhi, indiaplaza, infibeam, babyoye. And perhaps many others more. And now, slowly, online grocers, online toys are getting into this space. Watch this space as the Indian shopper warms up to the second online revolution!

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