Tag Archives: india

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

Product Vs Service Based Businesses

Here’s a post I recently wrote for Shack’s blog.

I’ve been into the business of building web applications for a good part of my professional career. During this period(around 3.5 years) I’ve worked for a MNC, two start-ups and also started two companies on my own. A couple days back while thinking about some business it dawned upon  that there are basically two types of businesses (guess you probably know this already) as far as my view point is concerned (Otherwise trading is also a business). If you are not working for someone else (basically a job) and doing your own thing you are either

  1. Building a product (A website, a facebook app or something else for Ex: Kwippy)
  2. Providing a service ( Social Media Marketing, Website design/development, SEO or something else for ex: Dial-a-Book)
  3. Mix of both (for ex: Shack Companis)

These two kinds of businesses (product and service) have almost equal scope when it comes to growing big, becoming popular etc. However what’s interesting is what it takes to get them to that level. I’ve been on both sides of the line that separates a  product business and a services business. I’ve build a product and am now building a service . Kwippy and Dial-a-Book are as different a business as they can get. While Kwippy was all about building a web product from India that had a global appeal, Dial-a-Book is a over the phone service that’s aimed at the local/domestic market(for now at least).

If you think about it product and service based businesses require way different inputs and take way different life forms once they start to grow. I’ll attempt to explore those differences and what we can do to leverage/optimize them

Product Vs Service Based Businesses:

1) Starting Capital: Product based businesses on an average require more capital to startup than the service based businesses due to the raw material and infrastructure needed. While web products don’t require as much starting capital, services will more often than not be relatively cheaper

2) R&D: Irrespective of the line/domain in which you are building a product, you’ll need to spend considerable amount of time as a team or as an individual to understand what’s been done before, what’s not been done, latest technologies involved, costs, maintenance and other issues. While (most) service based businesses don’t need to think as much(it’s a plus if they do) before starting up.

3) Time to go Live: Product based businesses by their sheer nature will take longer time to go live as compared to almost no-time to launch for a service based business. Essentially a service based business is live from the minute the founder(s) decide to start.

4) Business Development/Marketing: How good a services based business will do depends significantly on the founders interpersonal/selling skills the same gets tough for a product based business. For a product based business you need to have the product right, you need to make it easy to find and spread(viral) and market it in a completely different way.

5) Technology/People Balance: I kinda feel that after a while product based businesses are more dependent on the technology than the people as compared to the service ones. For a company that makes diapers for example, the machines, the processes, raw materials are an important bit and once the basics are taken care of it can run without as much involvement  on the founders part. However for a services based business, say a consultancy service started by 5 guys with a finance background the business depends a lot on the people. Even when the organization grows big it will be known/trusted for the few names of smart/senior guys and once they leave for some other company, the clients might just follow them to their new home.

These are some of the differences I could feel and keeping them in mind I feel one might be (slightly)better of choosing the kind of business they want to do depending on their personality/skill set etc.

Guess you know what I mean, if not drop in a comment and we’ll take the discussion forward.

Link to Shack’s post: http://shackcompanis.com/post/1521371790/service-vs-product-business

The Curious Case of Customer Service and Missing Personal Touch

Customer Service would easily be one of the most oft used(and abused) words in Business. For some people, customer service means giving their customers the kind of experience they would like to get (as a customer) but for others(majority?) it’s a mere formality, a lip service that you have to offer just for the sake of it.

While customer service in itself is a big subject comprising numerous things including principles,  processes and much more, there’s a particular thing that I feel is amiss especially when it comes to online businesses, i.e. Personal Touch.

Personal Touch in customer service for online businesses is according to me a great value add given the fact that unlike offline businesses the customers are not talking to a company rep face to face or they can’t talk at length(or decide to wait in the company’s office) till their issue gets resolved. In fact Customer Service, especially over email, which is the most prominent way of offering Customer Service/Support is by design(asynchronous) a customer-unfriendly method. Given the fact that instead of talking to someone in person or over phone you are literally talking to a computer and unless the guys at other end make some real effort to add some personal elements things are bound to not be smooth.Adding Personal Touch to any non-verbal communication not only helps build credibility/trust but also ensures smooth resolution of any issues that a customer might have.

Over the last few months I’ve run into(online) customer service reps of various services including E-commerce and Mobile operators and almost NONE of them have what one can say Personal Touch in their customer service. As expected, almost all of them just work on a few standard templates which their customer service reps copy and paste. What further intrigues me is the fact that contrary to being Personal some of these online businesses try to be the opposite i.e. being as impersonal as they can be.

While this reply Personal Touch - Kinda Personal

is still acceptable, these ones

Personal Touch - Company Name and Address

Personal Touch - Site Name

are completely unacceptable.
I completely fail to understand what is the ingenious thought behind hiding the identity of the person who is responding to these emails. Could it be the CEO/CTO/CFO himself?

Not only is the case of missing identity a big barrier in building any sort of rapport with the business it also complicates things as the customer never gets to know who was the person whom they last spoke to(over mail), who are they talking to now and how much do they already know about their issue.

It’s not Rocket Science that small things like how your customer service team addresses their customers (Dear Customer Vs Dear Mr Dhingra), the tone/format in which they talk or type emails(Pre-decided formats or customized replies), how they sign off their emails(Customer Service, XYZ.com or Shantanu, Post Sales Support, XYZ.com, Email:-, Ph:-) matter a lot. They especially matter a lot when you are an online business and even more so when you are just starting up.  BTW Dell India is an exception in this regard(at least)

Personal Touch- Dell

Isn’t it great to actually see the “Full Name”(unlike just the first name) of the person who just mailed you back?
Isn’t it re-assuring to know that you also have their professional email id, telephone number and even extension in their email signature?

Besides other things, businesses should realize that by adding “Personal Touch” in their customer service, not only can they solve customer vows more quickly and efficiently, they can expect to get more/repeat business from them.

So having said all that, does your Customer Service have enough Personal Touch?

Building Social Products in India

Last saturday saw the 2nd meet of Social Media Club’s Delhi chapter and I along with Dipankar Sarkar spoke about our experiences and learnings from Building a Global Social Product(Kwippy)  out of India.

I personally was quite excited about the talk as we generally don’t talk about products much in the regular Twitter, Bloggers and other Social Media related meets and I feel this is something that we should do often to create awareness amongst the attendees and if possible encourage people to build new products.

smcd (Pic courtesy Gaurav Mishra)

Here’s the presentation from the talk

View more presentations from Mayank Dhingra.

Talking about web products they can be categorized into two categories, “Innovation” (a completely new concept, first of its kind) and “Improvisation” ( a slight modification in an innovative idea and/or a slight modification in its implementation). From what I’ve observed most social web products in India belog to the “Improvisation” category with focus on the Indian market. Be it a social network, a platform to share pictures or microblog.

Though there is nothing wrong in improvising on someone’s concept and building a product for the local market but I guess most of the products in this segment fail to add any substantial value to the concept or it’s localised execution. Also, what  makes me wonder is why there aren’t many popular Indian web products in other categories particularly Global products based on an Innovative concept(from India) and Global products based on Improvisation(from India) of some innovative concept.

I feel there’s a lot of scope in both Made in India, for India and Made in India for World categories and I would keep a close watch for products in these two categories and now that I have moved out of Kwippy(will detail out in a seperate post) maybe work on something myself sometime soon 🙂

Do’s and Don’ts of Pitching Bloggers

If you are a blogger from a metro Indian city with decent online presence chances are you might have been contacted for some brand sponsored blogger meet or the other. While I am not sure about how things stand in other parts of the country, Delhi is definitely seeing a lot of activity on this front. The PR firms and Social Media agencies are increasingly going all out to woo the bloggers to help them spread the word about their clients new product, service etc. Given the fact that me and my fellow blogger friends get invited to an event/meetup every ten days you can imagine how things stand today and where they can go from here.

While being a Blogger and Social Media guy I am quite happy to be a part of the new scheme of things but I am not exactly happy with the way ‘Bloggers are being pitched’ by PR, Blogger relation firms and Social Media agencies and I am not alone in feeling this way about the way we are approached and followed up.

While a lot has been said about this already. I’d like to share a quick list of Do’s and Don’t s for approaching us (Bloggers) and hope the local agencies/individuals will learn a thing or two from it and in turn make things better for everyone involved.

The below mentioned list is for people who want to do their jobs better and are willing to make an effort for the same. So if you are one of those lazy guys who don’t want to make an effort, skip the post.

Don’ts:

1) Don’t Send Bulk Emails/SMSes: While it might be the easiest way or the only way you know of to send email to a dozen folks, it is counter effective. Such bulk emails trigger the spam alert which I am sure would be the last thing you want. Also, being personal in your emails shows that you have spent some time on those emails and most bloggers would appreciate that. If you are new to the job or need to further fine tune the sending email bit, you can checkout ‘5 Tips for Writing Better Emails‘. The same applies to SMSes also.

2) Don’t Spam: Contrary to what you might think, sending multiple emails or smses about your client’s product or the agenda/reminder for your meet don’t guarantee any results. If I am interested in learning more about your product I’ll ask for it and the same goes for attending the meet or reviewing the product. If I am keen to attend the meet I’ll attend it, sending me reminders every 2-3 days. Bombarding me with information about your product/meet might make me lose all interest.

3) Don’t Instruct: I am not sure how it works with journalists but telling bloggers what they should and shouldn’t write isn’t the best thing. Giving them pointers or sharing key points is good but telling them you should write ‘this’ or you can write ‘that’ isn’t.

4) Don’t Act Desperate: Yes, it’s plain stupid when PR/Agency folks start acting desperately to ensure a bloggers attendance or getting them to write about something. If a blogger finds your event interesting and they can fit it nicely in their schedule they will attend  it, asking them to send a cab or pay for conveyance generally doesn’t help. Similarly asking them to test a product or share it with their friends multiple times ends up doing more bad(though not easily visible) than good.

Do’s:

1) Know the Blogger: It might sound obvious but I am sure most people who approach bloggers have almost no clue about them. You need to spend some time researching about the person behind the blog. The least you can do is to find out some background of the person and what he/she likes to write about.
It helps you to verify if the blogger in question would be interested in learning/reviewing your client’s product.

2) Plan Reasonably: This is another aspect that needs some fine tuning. Bloggers are people too and majority of them(at least the one’s I know) are not full time bloggers and don’t make their living out of just blogging. Some have 9-5 jobs, some have businesses to run and thus a bloggers meet scheduled in the middle of a work week and that too in afternoon is unlikely to find any takers and pestering ’em won’t help much. So it’s a good idea to take these things into consideration before planning a meet.

3) Build Relationships: If you are serious about your job and are thinking of long term associations you should definitely spend some time and effort in building relationships with bloggers that you’d like to involved with. Assigning blogger(s) to an individual is a good way to approach this unlike anyone from the PR firm emailing or calling any blogger at random. My response would definitely be better if I know the person approaching me beforehand and have had interactions with them before.

Here are some of the links you might want to read

1) http://www.globalprblogweek.com/archives/the_pr_lessons_of_a_.php
2) http://pulverblog.pulver.com/archives/008349.html
3) http://www.toprankblog.com/2007/08/how-not-to-pitch-a-blog/
4) http://www.ogilvypr.com/en/expert-view/7-tips-pitching-bloggers

How has been your experience as a blogger or PR/Agency person pitching bloggers like?

Update: The findings of a Global Blogger Survey done by Text 100 a few months back should make things even more clear for PR folks


Results of ‘Buying Books in India’ Survey

I did a small(or not so) 10 multiple choice question survey to get an idea about people’s book buying habits and here’s what came out of the survey which was taken by 100 people from across India. I didn’t seek too much demographic information other than the respondant’s city.

Of the 48 people who shared their cities 22 were from Delhi/NCR, 6 from Mumbai and Bangalore each and one, two from Udaipur, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Pune, Thane, Kochi etc

Survey Findings:

1) 43% of the respondants buy a book a month or so and 34% people buy a book every few months.

2) A good 50.5 % of respondants buy books from bookstores only and 7.1% buy online only.

3) 14.3% of the people who buy books online get about 10-15% discount and 11.2 % people get 5-10% and 15-20% discount each.

4) A little more than one fourth of people who buy books from bookstores get ‘No Discount’ and on the other hand about one fourth people get more than 15% discount.

5) More than 88 % people feel the delivery time for books is important and about 5% people are ok with waiting for more days as long as they get good discount.

6) Flipkart and Indiaplaza are the popular sites for buying books with 19.6% and 11.3% people respectively.

7) About 40% of people that buy books online get them delivered within a week or so

What has  been your experience when it comes to buying books in India ? Anything you feel is missing ?

Social Media in India: Bigger me or Bigger WE ?

This post is a reply/comment to Gaurav Mishra’s post .

Before starting I must admit that Gaurav has done a great job in compiling and categorizing the list. I mean what are the odds that any individual or company/agency mentioned in that post knew about all others ?

All it takes now for any web company to become a social media company is just adding “social media marketing(smm)”  in their list of services offered or probably opening a Twitter account and following everyone mindlessly, but this is just the beginning. These are truely interesting times as we are not only observing but also shaping the growth curve for social media industry(If I can call that) in India. Our approach towards the core domain as well the business and social aspects of it will determine how things take shape.

By observing the figures(25-30 agenices in 2008 and 35-60 in 2009) it’s easy to slip into “The Pie Fallacy“, but as Gaurav rightly points “we haven’t even scraped the surface yet”. Social Media is yet to percolate into the way our organizations work.

While most Indian brands are still apprehensive/unsure about social media, those who’ve taken the plunge are still experimenting and trying to figure out what to make of it. Non Profits and Government are largely untouched by the social media wave. It is quite some time before Corporates start realizing what’s at stake if a social media disaster happens or individuals/govt etc learn how to handle social media with care.

What we face now is a classic “Whether or Which Dilemma”  and we need to pause for a minute and ask ourselves

“Are we trying to make the market bigger, or just grow our share?”

There are two ways to it.

1) Everyone just thinks about themselves and if their share is getting bigger or not(which’ll eventually lead to crab mentality)
2) Everyone tries to make the market bigger and in-effect making every/deserving one’s share bigger.

What’s interesting in the case of Social Media is that it’s about YOU or We and not ME.

The Scope of both individuality and cooperation in this space is immense. All that needs to be figured out is if,

You want to work towards a bigger ME or a bigger WE ?

because  “He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.”