SO THE news of the $1 billion versus $2 billion financing of Flipkart and Amazon has set the media abuzz. But looking beyond the headlines, the consensus is that we Indian consumers can consider ourselves lucky. It’s all getting easier, cheaper and better to shop online now. And lots more of us are doing just that.
I forged several new online shopping kinships recently — in my book club, my organic gardening group and on Facebook. Today, people are buying so much more online, from kitchen stuff and furnishings to furniture, food and other groceries, clothes, wine, medical supplies – even sex gadgets, if our biz media is to be believed. India, famous for housewives who had to snap the tips of every bhindi to be satisfied about freshness, are now ordering arugula lettuce online (Bigbasket and Towness), e-ordering pandi curry at specialty Coorg shops, picking up Saint Emilion wines at yzury, and even shopping online for shoes, jewelry and Buddhist thangkas (Jaypore). Popular Indian sites (besides Flipkart and Amazon), I’m told, include Snapdeal, Jabong, eBay, FabFurnish, Myntra, Pepperfry and HomeShop18.
What caused this turnaround in our shopping habits? Lack of free time for one, along with the attractive pricing that shopping online affords – dear to the hearts of the thrifty. And there is increasing comfort about shopping securely online these days.
Many have specific sites they shop at. For instance, Taj Hotels’ Vinod Pandey buys cuff links, ties and vintage collectables like wine openers from eBay, books and CDs from Flipkart, sports and fitness equipment from Amazon, and things for the hotel like flower vases and tea light candles from FabFurnish. “I find eBay most reliable and Flipkart best with their packaging,” he says, adding he likes websites that “won’t goof up your orders, are prompt in reverting in case of delays, or refunding if you don’t receive your order.”
I also received some fascinating e-commerce insights chatting with Arun Sirdeshmukh, whose branded fashion content site, fashionara.com has been growing steadily the two years it has been online. He explained why fashion has become the biggest e-commerce category worldwide. Fashion websites like fashionara are making it super easy to shop, even for the reluctant: easy exchanges, cash on delivery, simple returns policies “bring the trial room to your door”, he says. “It’s so easy, why visit the mall?” Video catalogues (viewing the garments look and fall), showrooming (selecting in stores, then buying online), fashion cheat sheets and lookbooks based on popular celebrity styles, help. Superior packaging, speedy deliveries, easy access to latest styles, even for folk in remote towns, are additional draws. Each new generation brings a tectonic shift in shopping methodology, and Sirdeshmukh predicts India will be number three internationally fairly soon. Finally, everyone has a smartphone these days, making browsing and online buying easier.
Today, I also buy wines online (winekart.com), a difficult switch for a compulsive bottle-browser like myself. And for the first time, I bought a sari online last week from Toronto-based designer Krittika Sharma (krittikasharma.com), on Facebook. The times they are a-changing, and if the online shoe fits, I guess we must wear it.
Ruma Singh presents a column on observations, insights and
what’s buzzing in the city.