Tag Archives: e-commerce

Analyzing Amazon.in Checkout Process

I recently made a purchase on Amazon.in and couldn’t but wonder at their checkout process. Just too many clicks for comfort.
Here’s how it works at present

Step 1) Product Page 

Product Page - Amazon.in

 

Step 2) Edit Cart or Proceed Page

Edit Cart or Proceed - Amazon.in

 

Step 3) Sign in/Sign up Page

Login/Sign up Page - Amazon.in

 

Step 4) Delivery address Page

Delivery Address - Amazon.in

Step 5) Delivery options page

Delivery Options - Amazon.in

Step 6) Payment Method Page

Payment Method Page - Amazon.in

 

Step 7) Review Order Page

Review order page - Amazon.in

 

Step 8) Billing Address Page

Billing Address Page - Amazon.in

 

Step 9) Order Completion Page

Order Completion Page - Amazon.in

 

Phew !! With these many clicks Amazon is making sure that only the users absolutely committed to make a purchase are the ones who make one.

Nine steps to the order confirmation page. Wow. Let’s try to see if we can make things a bit better (less clicky)

  1.  The easiest way around would have been to allow ‘1-click checkout’. Which for some reason isn’t available.
  2. Step 2: The importance of this page is to help those who want to review their cart. Not sure why would Amazon want people to doubt their purchase, unless they have over the period seen people change their cart contents during later stages of checkout or raised a of issues complaining of shopping wrongly.They should encourage users to add more items ala ‘Continue Shopping’ as it is popularly known or checkout. Ideally, however there should be an analysis of the % of people who buy 1 item vs % of people who buy multiple items. The experience should be made smoother for the majority case. It could just be a pop up and not a new page
  3. Step 3: Is an important one. Auto-saved credentials make things easier. I am not getting into the design of the page as in this case, it gets the job done in a single click
  4. Step 4 and 5 : I don’t really feel the need of having two separate pages for choosing delivery address and delivery options unless there are multiple addresses and options in question. The assumption here is most people would order to a single address. This could however be validated by data on median delivery addresses. Assuming most people will not change their address during the flow, I think in the step 5 there should be an option to change address without giving it a separate page.
    UI could definitely be improved :)Delivery Address and Options Page - Amazon.in
  5. Step 6: This is perhaps the most important page. The option of putting saved cards makes things easy. Just enter CVV and continue. The layout of other payment options is a discussion to be had another day
  6. Step 7: ‘Review Order’. Wait, why would I want to review order after putting my payment details? Shouldn’t this page come before the payments page?  Step 7 should be Step 6. And Step 6 should be Step 7 with an option (selected by default ) “billing address to be same as shipping address”. An option to change billing address is going to be there of course. I simply don’t see a reason to have Step 8 “Choosing Billing Address” as a separate page.
  7.  Step 9: Order completion page. Informative and having some baits for users to view more items or make another purchase .So here’s the revised flowStep 1 (Product Page) – Page 1
    Product Page - Amazon.in
    S
    tep 2 (Continue Shopping vs Checkout) to come as a popup on clicking Buy from product page and not a separate page
    Edit Cart or Proceed - Amazon.in
    S
    tep 3 (Sign in/Sign up Page)- Page 2

    Login/Sign up Page - Amazon.inStep 4 (Delivery Address and Options Page) – Page 3

    Delivery address and options page - Amazon.in

    Step 5 (Review order page) – Page 4

    Review order page - Amazon.in
    Step 6 (Payments Page with Billing Address option) – Page 5

    Payment Method Page - Amazon.in
    Billing address option could also be a part of the delivery address and options page. But in no case it deserves a separate page

    Step 7 (Order completion page) – Page 6

    Order Completion Page - Amazon.in
    Though in the new order we are down to Six pages from Nine (33.33% lesser pages). I am sure this can be optimized by at least one more page by clubbing ‘Review Order’ and ‘Delivery Address and Options’ Page. For now 5 pages are good enough.

    Eventually a one click checkout for single product purchases is in order .

    What do you think?

The Rise of the Indian Online Marketplace

If you are part of/related to the Indian e-commerce scene in any manner or read desi start-up blogs, chances are you might be familiar with the concept of Marketplace.

A “Marketplace” connects buyers and sellers who otherwise have trouble finding each other.

Marketplace(think eBay), is simply a model which has multiple sellers providing various goods/services through a platform. In the context of this discussion, an e-commerce website instead of sourcing and fulfilling the orders just manages the listing of products and passes on the order details to the sellers who then handles them.

Recently, India’s biggest online retailer (Flipkart) made their first move as a part of shift towards the marketplace set up.

To start with, Flipkart has on-board 50 sellers that will sell books, media, and consumer electronics.

Other Indian online retailers on scaled up marketplace model are Snapdeal(which recently raised $ 50 mn from ebay and others), Tradus, Infibeam and Shopclues. Let’s understand how the marketplace model and inventory led model compare in execution

The key components of an e-commerce set up are

  1. Customer Acquisition
  2. Catalog
  3. Technology (Customer facing/related and backend)
  4. Inventory
  5. Fulfillment (Sourcing, Packaging and Delivery)
  6. Payment Processing
  7. Customer Service/Support

Setting everything up for a rookie is quite demanding (capital and effort wise) and will take months to get off the ground, however to signup as a seller on a marketplace and/or opening a shop using SaaS based ecommerce store building platforms like Zepo, Buildabazaar or Martjack is a quickie. So for a newbie it makes perfect sense to open up their own shop (SaaS) and list on various marketplaces as a seller

Based on one’s expertise and priorities there are various ways of building the e-commerce store set up. For eg: while someone will prefer to control the last mile delivery experience, someone would rather let logistics companies take care of that.

The most common model is mix of Inventory led and Marketplace both (think Amazon). Here’s how it works

  1. Inventory Led – Short Tail (Fast moving, Commodity products, Easy to warehouse for ex: best selling books/movies/pendrives etc)
  2. Marketplace – Long Tail (Slow moving, Niche products, Difficult to warehouse for ex: medical books published in hindi/very old foreign language films/Furniture etc)

While it might not very clear from the examples but Inventory led model makes sense for products which aren’t perishable(both utility and demand/vogue), are easily available offline too and move fast enough while the Marketplace model makes sense for products which one doesn’t know exist or even if one knows they don’t have any clue on how to stock them, how to source them etc.

Customer Acquisition,Technology,Payment Processing and Customer Support are done by the e-commerce company.

Here’s how various models are implemented in some of the biggest Indian e-commerce companies.

break_up

A couple questions come to the the curious mind.

  1. Why sudden rush towards Marketplace all across?
  2. Is Marketplace the future of e-commerce in India?

1. Why sudden rush towards Marketplace all across?

The answer to that question (from what I’ve heard) lies in the deep VC pockets. With the Govt of India dillydallying around the FDI regulations for e-commerce, apparently Marketplace is the only way to get external funding needed to sustain the business.

Also, it could be because the bigger e-commerce companies have figured out that

a) they can’t possibly go that strong on increasing the  quality/quantity of the catalog on their own
b) they ran sick and tired of doing everything on their own.

To get a sense, compare how Flipkart was managing these functions in it’s previous avatar and compare it to say Snapdeal

 

break_up1

2. Is that the future of e-commerce in India?

On doing some rough calculations based on the information available Flipkart, Infibeam, Snapdeal, Jabong, Bookadda and Homeshop together would be doing around 1,15,000 orders a day (Flipkart and Snapdeal contributing about 60-70 %).

There are a lot more sites (ending with kart and otherwise) who just might be doing another (20-30,000 transactions or more a day)

As per my guesstimate all independent smaller e-commerce websites and platform powered online shops selling long tail products would be doing not more than 5-10,000 orders a day.These numbers could be significantly different from the mark for all we know but based on these numbers before marketplace became the buzzword, top 5-6 established players were doing about 90,000-95,000 orders a day in total while the others in long tail were about 5-10% of their size.

The balance has started to shift towards the marketplace model transactions. For now their share could be 10-15% of the overall e-commerce transactions.  Going forward we’ll a lot more smaller businesses and niche startups coming online and by 2013 end their share could be upwards of 20-25%(going by the fact that between Flipkart and Snapdeal they are the biggest online retailers).

A couple of factors to speed this up would be

  1. More platforms like Buildabazaar and Zepo
  2. Better payment gateway/cash collection mechanisms (Ghar pay etc)
  3. Better logistics (for end to end fulfillment)
  4. Third party SaaS services for other components like (Catalog, Warehousing, Customer Support)
  5. Some VC investment in 1-2 marketplace companies

The sooner we get to see the above mentioned things rolling the faster we’ll get to the long tail moving online. At some time in the  mid term future(5-7 years) the demand for long tail items (Niche/scarcely available/custom made) products could become comparable if not more than the demand for short tail products.

So the marketplace model and independent shops powered by various sites are here to stay and the current biggies like Flipkart, or maybe Snapdeal will evolve into a mix of (Short tail – Inventory led – Self Fulfilled and Long tail – marketplace – Logistics company) models.

Your thoughts?

Get Big Fast or Get Better Slow?

Get Big Fast, a phrase most commonly attributed to Amazon Phenomenon of acquiring significant market share in your category in very little time but growing extremely fast. The numbers in cases such as these don’t grow linearly but exponentially. The Get Big Fast philosophy requires extreme focus on scaling operations, hiring, aggressive marketing and short product cycles. The targets set for the growth might look unreasonably high to some but that’s the only way this works, Get Big Fast and become the leader in your category before anyone else so that now your Scale also works as a Differentiator.

The other or rather opposite approach that most businesses wittingly or unwittingly end up with is what I call Get Better Slow. This happens in most startups. They have reasonable growth targets and work on a moderate or slow pace to achieve them. Part of the reason is lack of clarity or conviction about the end goal and part is the lack of firepower among other things. Interestingly the Get Better Slow option is the default for most startups and many a times without the founders realizing they approach this with the perspective of doing more groundwork, thinking deep, organic growth and what not.

While I don’t mean to say that a startup growing slowly would stay like that forever but what I really mean is that unless the founders and team consciously choose to set and attain unreasonably high growth targets, their chances of staying in the business as a significant player are quite less. To give you some context, for someone doubling the revenue in six months might be great but for someone doubling revenue in 2 months is the desperate need and unless the need is desperate, ones chances of getting there are a bit less.

Also, in many cases Get Big Fast Vs Get Better Slow turns into Growth Vs Revenue. While one startup might keep focus on revenue/monetization, the other might just do the opposite to make sure that monetization doesn’t distract them from growth. It’s actually one of most crucial decisions for a startup, a HUGE BET which in most cases doesn’t pay off well.

The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to like the Get Big Fast philosophy which involves stretching out to the hilt, tons of small and big experiments and very short learning cycles. On the contrary the Get Better Slow philosophy which appears to be grounded on the thought of making a sustainable, quality/customer centric business actually hurts the startups more because of the comparatively slower iteration cycles which in most cases lead to losing traction or a considerable part of the market to competitors who manage to Get Big Fast, which effectively means that tough you think you are doing a great job for your customers but your customer set is so small that it doesn’t change much in the bigger scheme of things

Get Better Slow:  Get Big Fast:: Passion: Obsession

What do you think?

Cash on Delivery(COD): The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

COD or Cash on Delivery as we now know it wasn’t no where near its popularity today a few years back. Today quite a few people (who call us at dialabook and otherwise) know and talk about Cash upon Delivery as a concept (books milne ke baad paise de sakte hain?) if not the exact term. COD as we know has taken the entire e-commerce Industry(if we can call it) by a storm.

To give you some perspective, about 2 years back when we(@dialabook) started collecting payment for books on delivery, we had no idea about this term and no notable e-commerce site had this option. Fast forward it to today and almost all e-commerce sites(and a few others like the one below) accept(or rather promote) COD to lure more customers.

While COD as a concept has been there for ages under the name VPP (Value Payable Post) by India Post. Here’s how their website defines VPP

The value payable system is designed to meet the requirements of persons who wish to pay for articles sent to them at the time of receipt of the articles or of the bills or railway receipts relating to them, and also to meet the requirements of traders and others who wish to recover, through the agency of the Post Office the value of article supplied by them.

Govt VPP however seems to have an upper limit of Rs 5000/-, which means you can’t send goods worth more than 5k through them.

Not just VPP, some courier companies in India have been supporting COD since March 2009 at least. Though some  startups like @dialabook might have been offering COD locally before, the big shift happened in April 2010 when country’s leading e-commerce player Flipkart introduced COD in April 2010 with a cash limit of Rs 2500/-, followed eight months later by Infibeam (FYI: Indiaplaza announced COD on 25th March 2010, a few days ahead of Flipkart ). It is also worth noting that some services like travelguru.com were offering COD option at least 2 years before e-commerce companies started adopting it. Seeing its success elsewhere, online travel portals yatra and Ezeego1 also launched COD in year 2011

As it turns out India isn’t the only breeding ground for COD. China,Russia etc have been a witness to the popularity of COD for long.

Going by the stats in India, as much as 60% customers of top 5 e-commerce sites in India use the option of paying by cash on delivery (COD) and many of these sites have credited COD  for fueling their rapid growth. While COD for obvious reasons makes a lot of sense for Indian customers and definitely opens a new market (students etc) to e-commerce it isn’t exactly what the doc prescribed or should prescribe. Here are some of the things wrong with COD

  1. Cost: Nearly all courier companies charge extra for collecting cash. This cost is divided in two parts
    Fixed Cost: Rs 20-150/- ;  Variable Cost: 1-3% of the COD Amount. (This is mostly for high price items like mobile phones, laptops etc). If the item is priced low then the COD charges at times exceed one’s margin in the product and if the item is priced very high then the % COD charge turns out to be in hundreds or even thousands
  2. Delay in payment: Unlike credit card transactions, COD payment generally takes 1-2 weeks or more to be transferred to your account. This bites your cash flow especially as the COD amounts start becoming huge.
  3. Delay in deliveries: On an average COD deliveries are delayed by 12-36 hours when compared to normal deliveries. The reasons for the same are mostly non-availability of customer or cash and many a times both. Here unlike regular deliveries the parcel can’t be dropped to a neighbors place
  4. Higher Returns/Cancellations: Since the customer hasn’t paid in advance, they can always cancel/refuse to take the delivery and sight reasons like I found this phone cheaper locally and have bought it from there or I have changed my mind, will buy a new laptop later
  5. Overheads: Collecting the cash, collating the receipts and maintaining records et all is a nightmare

With increasingly every online business offering it despite its disadvantages(to retailers) the situation might just go out of hand and turn into a death spiral (at least for some non/less funded businesses that rely heavily on their internal cash flows). Small startups are the ones that should be really concerned about these issues instead of blindly aping others and starting COD.

With time as the e-commerce market in India matures, there *might* be more trust in established mechanisms of swiping cards for paying and some people will get over the liking for COD and prefer pre-payments. But, given the case in China, Russia etc it looks like unless the e-commerce majors deliberately start demoting COD and promoting other payment options we just might replicate what’s happening elsewhere i.e 60-85% people using e-commerce sites paying by COD.

Some ways around COD

  1. Multiple Payment Options (at least 5-6)
  2. Pre-payment methods (like wallets, cards)
  3. Mobile banking and SMS payments
  4. Card on Delivery
  5. Giving incentives to users for choosing online payment against COD
  6. Alternative payment methods such as paypal etc

While COD is a good option to have in some cases its double edged sword which should be used with a lot of caution and foresight. What do you think?

Bookselling in the Time of VC $$

I’ve been wanting to write this post for quite a while now, glad this long weekend gave me enough time to finally sit on it.

A lot has changed since I started working on Dial-a-Book some 2 years or so back(then part time though). Back in Q4 – 2009 e-commerce was quite nascent and VC funding for it was not even half as common as it is today. There were just 2-3 online bookstore or e-commerce sites that looked like they could go anywhere and every week a new online bookstore was being launched. Indiaplaza was probably the most popular one.

All these existing and upcoming online bookstores were pretty much doing the same things, building a half decent website, listing a lakh odd books and giving heavy discounts in hopes of wooing the online audience. Two years into it, a couple of the popular sites at that time have grown enormously, another couple new sites have emerged and attained very good scale  and almost all the remaining ones have either shut down or are doing just well enough to sustain the owners.

I’ve always been a price conscious book buyer with likings but hardly any loyalty to a bookstore.  I remember when i first discovered Midlands who offered me 20% discount on all books how I moved almost all(leaving a few impulse buys here and there) my book purchases to  them. Kinda same thing happened when I discovered the desi online stores, the fact that they offered even more discounts and could home deliver(for free) almost any book in a few days time was a good enough reason for me to move all my book shopping( a few books/month on average) to them.

Back then I was one of the only few people in my circle to buy books online and almost none of my friends/colleagues had much clue about the online book buying scene. The booksellers on the whole turned out to be surprisingly unaware of the developments in the e-commerce(mostly book selling) space.  They hardly had any idea about online bookstores and those who did were quite dismissive of them by saying ‘Such things work in the US not in India, here people want to touch and feel before buying’, ‘These online sites give too much discounts, they can’t last long’.

Circa 2011,  the same bookseller is now offering a recently released book by Amish Tripathi at 1/3rd discount, which is just 3 Rs more than the price (Rs 192) at which it is being sold at most online bookstores.

So what changed? More importantly, what led this change?

Q 1. What Changed?
A 1. The Market Dynamics  

1) More for Less 



Giving a 33.33 % discount on a newly released book would have been unthinkable for any bookstore, especially the ones which sells 200+ copies of each new release every month with a standard discount.  But now the whole game has changed, today’s reader is exposed(and addicted) to heavy discounts, highly efficient and user friendly customer experience and the only way to survive is to offer competitive pricing coupled with widest possible range and great overall experience. Gone are the days when the booksellers used to decide which books to import/stock, how to price them and to procure locally available books on customer request (if at all) and take a week for it.

Every search on twitter(for a big online store) would reveal at least a couple tweets mentioning how people now browse books at landmark/crossword and buy them online. You can see the shift happening right there.

2) Let’s Get Online

Seeing the stellar growth of some of the famous online stores a few bookstore chains also woke up from slumber and started developing and promoting their online stores. Landmark, Crossword, Odyssey et all now have online stores where they claim to offer hugh discounts  (interestingly on some books the discounts are even even more than anywhere else)

Not just this, even the smaller chains(like Sapna, oxford) and individual bookstores are online and spending money on google ads and social media to promote themselves.

Apart from these there are some publishers (like Pearson) and some distributors(like Prakash) who couldn’t resist the temptation of taking a shot and online bookselling and thus too have jumped the bandwagon and are doing their best to well, give more discounts.

Going further all the e-commerce stores which were focusing on other categories (mobiles etc) also have started adding books to their product list. In news recently was Homeshop18’s acquisition of Coinjoos

That’s not it, the grapewine has it that still more companies from different sectors dazzled by the million and billion dollar valuations of popular Indian e-commerce stores are planning to take the plunge and well start another online bookstore

3) Better Support

Thanks to the success of round 2 of e-commerce especially for books a lot has improved on the backend i.e at the end of publishers and distributors. Lots of processes have been initiated and followed regularly at the vendors end. Most distributors now stock their data and share stock reports bi weekly/weekly, publishers regularly share information about new and upcoming releases. Most of these guys are no better than sloppy govt officials who take enormous time and effort to do things but in order to survive some of them have learned to be better organized and efficient.

Q 2. What Led To The Change?
A 2. Lofty Ambitions Backed By VC $’s

A quick look at the new release section of most online book stores will put many a booksellers into depression. A new release on an average is on a 30% discount and depending on the hype surrounding it, publisher and competition it could go up to 50 % (Yes, that’s the cost which even the publishers might not give to their distributors but if you are luck that’s what a new release could cost you with free home delivery).

The logic championed first by Amazon (and thus replicated ad infinitum) is, give heavy discounts on new books to get more eyeballs/buzz and bigger volumes thus better topline and better pricing from suppliers.  Repeat.

You don’t expect a regular customer to understand(or bother with) all this but seeing massive discounts on the online portals make them feel that there’s a huge margin in books and as if all this while their neighborhood/favourite bookstore chain was ripping them of by not giving as much discounts.

For a customer who has bought a book at 30-40% discount will hardly ever buy a book at 10% or no discount at all

Though as a customer this would have been a dream come true for me but being on the other side of the business I too am surprised at how its working for some sites. You can now order a 95 Rs chetan bhagat book for Rs 57-60, make it two books and its free home delivery and the book is home delivered in 1-2 working days via class A courier (Bluedart if you are lucky).  It doesn’t leave much to imagination that no one, even the publisher can possibly make any money in these transactions.

A lot of small booksellers ask me “How can online sites give this much discounts when the big distributors themselves don’t get as much discount from the publishers?”

The answer more often that not lies in the fact that most sites are not focusing on making money on these transactions here but on just getting more customers. With  millions of $’s in VC funding the formula is simple

  1. Position yourself as the cheapest place to buy stuff online.
  2. Buy a lot of online ad inventory from Google/Yahoo et all
  3. Point these ads to a web page on your site which list books at ridiculously low prices

However in all this merry making of deep discounted prices there’s a catch.

For every 5 or 10 super cheap transactions there’s 1 transaction on most popular online bookstore in which the customer ends up paying price more than the its price on a bookstore of at times even worse paying more than the MRP/MRP for Indian Market.

‘The Goddess In India: The Five Faces Of The Eternal Feminine’ by Devdutt Pattnaik (ISBN: 9780892818075) is one such title. I personally bought a few copies with Rs 395/- sticker on them and on checking online the same book (picked from the same source because I can compare the delivery time on the site) being sold for almost 4 times the price.
A possible trick here could be: Stock a few copies as per the local market MRP of book which is scarcely  available, once the copies at suppliers run out, sell them at international market MRP and deliver them in 2-5 days (because its in your stock).

Such cases are more common in categories other than general books/novels, especially where chances of price comparison are less. This is clearly a minority case

This is kinda similar to what a popular bookstore in Delhi does with their super discounted sales. Buy books as per local market MRP(which is easily half or less than the international market MRP) and then sell it on the MRP pretending it to be on heavy discounts . Ex: A book with local MRP of Rs 350 is being tauted as being for Rs 1200 and after 70 % discount it comes to be for Rs 350/-. So the customer ends up paying the local market MRP (no discount at all) but might think he saved 70 % and got a great deal

Going online one can leverage efficiencies like just in time inventory, virtually unlimited list of products, pre-orders etc which in itself offers a significant advantage over traditional bookstores but selling books with -ve margins, plastering the internet(or TV) with your ads is something that cannot be competed against.

I’ve heard of some booksellers and publishers taking up this issue of excessive discounting with online bookstores and they apparently have made some progress like this popular publisher of general books has told one big online store to not offer more than 35% discount on their new releases. For every big publisher that is able to get their concern heard and acted upon there are five smaller publishers that are given a choice to shut up completely or face de-listing from the site all together.

Having said all this I feel the time has arrived for every bookseller to re-think their way of doing business and figure out how are they going to sustain themselves in these times where their much bigger and deep pocketed competitors are willing to do anything that it takes to own more customers.

And if you are beginning to start an online bookstore(e-commerce store if you will), you better have a really well thought out execution and funding plan.

E-commerce to M-Commerce?

This post is partly meant to be a rant and partly to share what I feel. Feel free to agree/disagree.

In middle of a telephonic conversation with a friend(web entrepreneur) I popped a question,

Did you see Indian e-commerce stores putting up phone numbers on their website/product pages to help people buy (read order) products?

Gladly, as expected he replied with a “NO” which brings me to the question if/why/how do things change in the startup/business world with new things being introduced and then blatantly reused (copied) by others.

When we started Dial-a-Book some 1.5 years back, we were the ONLY ones that took orders on phone and accepted Cash on Delivery(COD).  Yes, none of the existing players had anything remotely similar in their way of working.

Come 2011: The two biggest e-commerce players in India have started COD (about 6-8 months back for one and  2-3 months back for another) and now they also have put phone numbers on their portals to take orders.  Surprising? Hardly.

Wait for a couple months and you’ll see almost everyone following steps. In fact I remember one of the young and aspiring e-commerce startups went to the extend of launching a service similar to ‘Dial-a-Book‘ and branding it as “X.com’s Dial-a-Book”, Duh.

I don’t mean to say we are the inspiration behind these but definitely the uncanny resemblances are a bit too much for them to be completely independent in thinking and execution. I know it might be really difficult to acknowledge but that’s how it is. The idea of sharing this here was that I felt like putting it done of paper/web for records.

Copying a feature or idea is one thing and doing justice to it is completely different. The most painful part of it being the big guys almost always get the credit for doing new things which aren’t really new.

It will be interesting to see how things change going forward with the e-commerce scene also extending to the phone commerce scene. Stay Tuned !!

Will the real Indian e-commerce start-up please stand up?

First off let me acknowledge that the title of this post is a bit exaggerated and not really apt but I wanted to use it anyways. Onto the topic now.

I’ve been kinda following(not very regularly though) the Indian startup scene ever since my Slideshare days and things have definitely changed in the last year or two. There are a lot more startups(of all sorts) now ranging from deal a day sites like snapdeal to comics companies like Vimanika. It’s absolutely amazing to see people from non tech background also coming forward and creating products/services in their respective fields. However being from a tech(web) background I am particularly interested in web startups.

The majority of current crop of Indian web startups is (not surprisingly) focused on e-commerce and as with the previous wave of Indian social web startups are religiously following the same path. Somebody whom I met last month mentioned that some 20 e-commerce sites or so are registered with payment gateways every month and a vast majority of them are into selling books. Yes, that’s the “thing” I am talking about. Suddenly everyone wants to do e-commerce and guess what they want to sell? Yes, BOOKS.

While it is not at all difficult to understand why selling books online is one of easiest (especially if you are an ex-amazon) and probably lucrative thing to do what defies me is WHY everyone who sets up an e-commerce store can’t seem to think beyond books? Unless I am missing something obvious here (point me if I am) selling books(particularly to begin with) might not be the best thing these days.

Here are a few reasons why I feel selling books isn’t the best way to start e-commerce

  1. Differentiation: I have told this to at least a couple aspiring entrepreneurs the biggest reason why I feel an e-commerce startup should not start by selling books is differentiation. How on world will you differentiate yourself from half a dozen almost established and established online bookstores out there in the market?
    It becomes particularly difficult when you are late in the book market by at least 2 years and will take at least another 8-12 months to figure out(if at all) how the Indian book market works.
  2. Red Ocean: Loosely related to the first point is the second point of competition. Online book market in India is easily one of the most sought after pie. From independent online retail companies to established bookchains everybody is trying to own as much as they can of this market and unless you have a significant edge in terms of vision/talent, money/resources and distribution/publishing it doesn’t make a lot of sense to join the chaos.
  3. Logistics: Based on my experience of selling books I’ve realized that this is highly logistics oriented business. Since the whole model is based on economics of scale one needs to sell as many books as possible(very low average cost per item). Handling lots of books means lots of procurement, stocking, handling, shipping etc. This can be a huge pain during the initial days of a startup. This problem of high logistics can be avoided by dealing in other items of higher values where despite having lesser % margins one can make good amount of money.

Having said that I think people who want to start an e-commerce business should actively consider other options which have a demand but no one else is focusing on. Though I must say I haven’t deeply thought about the business/feasibility aspect I would actually love to see some Indian e-commerce company sell the following(in a proper way with due diligence)

  • Clothes
  • Watches
  • Grocery
  • Automobile Accessories/Spare parts
  • Furniture
  • Gift Items
  • Food Items/Snacks
  • Fashion Items