Contact

Bansals troll each other on Twitter on tech talent

Priyanka Pani, The Hindu Businessline
Mumbai, 29 May 2015

Taking a dig at each other on social media seems to be the norm for new-age entrepreneurs. A few days after Housing.com CEO Rahul Yadav took on founders of Zomato and Olacabs, it is Flipkart’s Sachin Bansal turn to take on rival Snapdeal on Twitter.

Bansal took to the micro-blogging site to criticise Rohit Bansal, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, Snapdeal, for saying that there weren’t enough quality engineers in India. The Wall Street Journal has quoted Snapdeal’s Bansal as saying: “If you think about the landscape in India, not too many product companies got built here.”

In response Sachin Bansal wrote on Twitter, “Don’t blame India for your failure to hire great engineers. They join for culture and challenge.”

The WSJ report said that Snapdeal was scouting for talent across the globe and even considering setting up a software developing centre in the US. Taking a dig at Snapdeal, Flipkart’s Bansal said, “It’s fashionable to say everything is bad in India. Hire from anywhere. I’m disagreeing with the statement that India lacks good engineers.”

Not taking things lying down, Rohit tweeted back, “Talking about culture, Snapdeal happened to be rated top 10 places to work in India, in case headline hunters missed this.” Earlier this month Housing CEO and founder of Zomato were taking pot shots at each other on social media. So are these entrepreneurs staging such online fights to be in the news?

Devangshu Dutta of consultancy firm Third Eyesight said social media was an integral part of this generation’s line of communication and expression. “May be the expression is blunt, quicker and gets amplified faster than it did in the past,” he said.

Image hit

Harish Bijoor of Bijoor Consultants is of the view that brand image gets affected by such squabbles. “Squabbles reveal character. Going public with a fight is washing dirty linen in the public for ostensible private benefit. In reality, nobody gains.”

Last year, Snapdeal had taken a dig at Flipkart’s big billion sale after the mega online sale by the Bengaluru-based company flopped.

(Published in The Hindu Businessline.)

Hyperlocal: The new inclusive retail model

Mehak Sharma, Indiaretailing.com

New Delhi , 28 May 2015

Grocery e-tailing — once not an in-favour category with Indian e-tailers — is gunning for growth with startups and existing players eyeing an online shot. For some though, it’s an exploration of the genesis of what really matters in retail.

Several startups are currently focusing on pulling in the unique advantages of neighbourhood pop-and-mom stores into a technology-driven delivery model. These are structured around linking kirana stores with customers through mobile apps and online portals, creating an online marketplace for these stores at a time when traditional retailers are finding the online retail model difficult to comprehend.

Enter the ‘hyperlocal’. The aim is to provide consumers convenient access to their favourite kirana stores, and for these stores to become more technologically organised.

"The hyperlocal model is really the culmination of 50-60 years of learning," explains Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight. "After years of large chains offering fairly standarised merchandise mixes to customers across geographies, we are now at a stage when startups are aggregating the mom-n-pop experience through technology."

Last year, e-commerce giant Amazon launched a similar service, called KiranaNow, to ensure quicker and faster delivery of everyday-need consumer products through neighbourhood kirana stores. Some others, including Grofers, LocalBanya and PepperTap, are also working on the same format.

"Our market research showed that consumers in large numbers buy a lot of basics from stores in their neighbourhood. But fulfilment of a requirement within a timeframe as desired by the customer is a gap area in online retail, and we decided to address this issue by developing an app to meet this need," says Saurabh Singla, a young IIT-graduate, who is also the CEO of Gurgaon-based hyperlocal startup, LazyLad.

Lazy Lad, which started operations in four Indian cities about a month ago, is banking on online technology, especially mobile applications, to bring smaller brick-and-mortar grocery stores under their fold with the objective of expanding and streamlining the grocery market in the country.

Where most startups see a huge potential in this model, some grocers are skeptic on the deliverables of the online hyperlocal. Manoj Satia, MD, Direrect2u Retail, a Mumbai-based grocery retailer, says, "There is no sustainable model by which a grocery e-tailer can monitor the deliveries by kirana stores. How will they determine if the deliveries are made on time? This could pose the biggest challenge in the success of hyperlocal format."

WHY HYPERLOCAL?

The market opportunity for the hyperlocal model in the food and grocery business is huge, which is attracting many fresh start ups. Groceries account for 65% of the consumer’s wallet spending, and if this category takes off online, there could be an upside to the growth of e-commerce, which is expected to touch anywhere between $48 billion and $60 billion by 2020 from $4.47 billion last year, UBS Securities said in a report on e-commerce released earlier in April.

Dutta points out that neighbourhood stores have a clearer and sustained understanding of local tastes and shopping preferences, which large scale chains — with their centralised systems and ‘distance’ from local customers — do not possess. "The hyperlocal is really how businesses were run decades ago; albeit in new packaging, it is really a back-to-the-basics model."

And how sustainable is this model? According to Dutta, the growth of new hyperlocal-centric ventures will depend on two factors: the robustness and scalability of the technology infrastructure, and the success it achieves with both consumers and retailers. "If the model is not successful in neighbourhood A — from both consumer and seller point of views — it is unlikely to scale to somewhere else."

Interviews by Sanjay Kumar and Nupur Chakraborty

(Published in Indiaretailing.com.)

Lucrative Liaisons

Vishal Krishna, Businessworld
Bengaluru, 28 May 2015

Madan Mohan Reddy of Bangalore is hard at work in his 500 sq. ft shop. Bhuvaneshwari Rice Shop is his livelihood. The 21-year-old puts in 17 hours a day to earn Rs 50,000 a month. He is savvy, ambitious and uses a strappingly large smartphone. He is a digital literate, knows about products such as the mobile wallet and is open to cash-on-delivery to win new customers.

He’s the kind of guy Amazon has been looking for. Eighteen months ago the $89-billion e-tailing giant began its ‘I Have Space’ (IHS) programme using the street corner mom and pop kirana network to deliver products to their consumers. Reddy saw his future, made a phone call and registered as a ‘delivery partner’. All he had to do was provide his PAN card details and he was good to go.

Amazon gave him a Samsung tablet and a palm-sized credit card payment device to connect the payments to Amazon’s seller app and the cloud server on the backend. Reddy hasn’t looked back since.

“I got in to this program because Amazon gave me extra reach and more customers,” he says. His sales increased by Rs 20,000 a month and he made an additional Rs 15,000 by delivering products ordered on Amazon at his store. “Customers would come to my store to pick up their orders and ended up buying soups or juices too. When I began delivering Amazon products to the door step of my loyal customers on my bike, some of them would ask me to deliver groceries too.”

Prashant N. from Bangalore has a similar story to tell about his store called Wave Telecom. The story of Reddy and Prashant has been replicated by around a 1,000 kirana stores that have joined Amazon India across 47 cities.

The Power Of Unorganised Retail

In 2006, when large conglomerates such as Reliance Industries, Future Group, the Aditya Birla Group and others, committed $10 billion (Rs 40,000 crore) to expand their retail footprint, there was plenty of chatter about the death of the kiranas. Nine years later BW | Businessworld finds that kiranas have not just survived, they have blossomed.

Historically, the Indian consumer has always been hyper local, preferring his neighborhood baniya. On the other hand, malls and independent stores found the capital cost of investing in land and filling the godowns a losing proposition. High rentals, between 15 and 20 per cent of sales and low footfalls, have killed many a mall. Consumer behavior also revealed that most Indians do not have the appetite to spend on premium retail prices, and their mall spends are mainly at the food courts and the multiplexes.

Further, most retailing outlets do not buy in to the ethos of a brand and in turn affect a brand’s value by not communicating the value proposition. “One of the reasons why kiranas thrive is because retailers, barring a few, have not made modern retailing a career option,” said B .S. Nagesh, vice-chairman of Shoppers Stop, one of the largest retailers in the country, in an earlier interview with BW.

The big retailers underestimated the underlying strength of the kiranas and their importance in the unorganised job market. In a country with high levels of unemployment, they provide sustenance to millions. According to Kronos, the global human resource technology firm, of the 450 million workers in this country, only 30 million are in the organised sector, while the rest continue in ‘informal’ employment. A lot of the ‘informal’ work seekers therefore dabble with entrepreneurship and the kirana store offers the lowest-entry barrier. You can start with small finance from friends and family. It is the same ‘kirana’ spirit which Uber and Ola have hooked on to and made the taxi driver their partners. It is no coincidence that some of these drivers actually also own small shops and drive taxis for that extra income.

The growing fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry feeds the kirana network that has become an endless river. One shuts shop and another opens up with new services. “Indian cities, with their culture of shopping, including the psychology of consumers, are tuned to being hyper local. Our goal has always been to bring that experience of a neighbourhood shop in a large store, which is convenience and great service,” said Kishore Biyani, chairman of the Future Group, in an earlier interview. He says people will still go to their kirana for their daily shopping and visit larger stores for their monthly needs.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

It is no wonder then Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, wants to use the Kirana network, earlier seen as competition, to grow retail sales. His target is to bring 5,000 kiranas under Amazon umbrella within two years. The business model for the kirana owner is simple and profitable: he earns Rs 20 for every package delivered to the customer’s doorstep, and Rs 15 for every packet picked up by the customer from his store.

Similarly, Biyani wants to link 10,000 kiranas to Future Group’s food parks ,which make squashes and short eats, located in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. “The food park in Tumkur can serve all the small stores in South India and our plan is to increase our private label (branded merchandise exclusive to the retailer) reach across the country,” says Praveen Dwivedi, president of Future Consumer Enterprise.

The rush to connect kiranas does not stop there. Technology companies such as SAP, Mahindra Comviva and Infosys are working on boxing “payment and assortment” software for kiranas. They will link data generated from kiranas to FMCG distribution centres on a real-time basis. HUL has connected its distributors on tablets and they collect information from kiranas to avoid running out of stocks at the distribution level. However, because this system only captures stock depletion at the distribution level, and not at the kirana level, it nullifies the purpose of the retail supply chain, which is to increase the ‘fill’ or restocking rates by understanding consumer buying habits. To make matters worse, large scale mobile deployments, focusing on kirana fill rates, are not yet piloted. So, one may wonder why is kirana the centre of attention.

“It is because the kiranas know the customer better than anybody and their services add more value to our customer service experience,” says Amit Agarwal, managing director of Amazon India. Kiranas know their customer, but do not capture that information, which Amazon can. Kiranas are hubs for booking rail, air and bus tickets along with filling up passport/tax forms and mobile recharge vouchers to supplement their revenue. Over the years they have extended services to selling apparel, mobile repairs, and ironing clothes. Reports by CRISIL and Ernst & Young put the total number of kiranas in India at 12 million (approx.)outlets and they clearly continue to dominate the $550-billion retail market. The organised retail market accounts for less than 8 per cent of sales and, in the last 10 years, the share has only crept up by 3 per cent. If you can’t beat them, join them: is what the Amazon strategy dictates.

Flipkart and Snapdeal said that the ‘kirana strategy’ is not on their immediate agenda, but Biyani’s $3 billion Future Group is committed to learning from and linking up with the Kiranas.

Kirana Now

“The data is a gold mine. If e-commerce businesses get this data from kiranas, it is going to change the way they run promotions and campaigns,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight, a consulting firm. “Can they provide customer satisfaction? That is the crucial test which will decide if kiranas can migrate to serving the mobile customer,” adds Dutta. Sources say that today kiranas deliver close to 3 lakh packages a month for Amazon, which means just through the kirana network it makes more than 3 million deliveries a year.

The company did manage to give BW a sneak peek into what it is doing for the food and grocery business and how it plans to use the kirana network to deliver to customers. A similar model is followed by Aaramshop.com. Vjay Singh, the founder of aaramshop.com, is aggregating 6,000 kiranas in 28 cities for food and grocery delivery, and is helping them find customers through his platform. However, this startup is yet to raise the kind of funding required to scale up the business. Meanwhile ,Amazon is going to push all its cash resources to create technology that can make the customer connect with kiranas a simple matter.

Fazal Mohammed and Abdul Basit, two brothers, run their 800-square-feet shop called Care Fresh, in Mathikere, in Bangalore, with a continuous watch on the expenses. Being new in the area, they were not getting any traction from their store. Their catchment had let them down and they had no marketing budget to connect with customers. When they heard about Amazon’s “KiranaNow” pilot program, which is a platform for kiranas to sell grocery through a mobile platform, the brothers jumped in.

Amazon’s team took pictures of 15 to 20 items of the inventory of Care Fresh, and placed them on the mobile website and started an online store front for the brothers. Basit and Fazal have access to a browser-based system that connected with the Amazon network and the boys know, in real time, what their customers order. All they have to do is pack the items and generate an invoice. The Amazon delivery boy will take the package from Care Fresh and deliver it to the customer in 90 minutes. Amazon is trying to reduce this to 30 minutes and eventually will train the kirana to handle delivery. The cash will be paid back to the kirana in four days and Amazon will take 1 per cent of the total value delivered to the customer.

The ‘Kirana Now’ program is available only in a few urban centres of Bangalore, but in six months it would be scaled into other cities. That said, Amazon India has already cracked the kirana delivery model with its IHS program and is in a position to scale up this segment rapidly. Kirana stores in Delhi such as Manchanda Enterprises and Lakshmi Stationaries have scaled up their businesses with Amazon’s IHS. “I hardly made Rs15,000 a month. But with people picking up Amazon items, on a daily basis, it has upped my shop’s business too,” says Shankar Singh, owner of Lakshmi Stationaries at Janak Puri in Delhi. Today he makes close to Rs 40,000 a month.

The company had started with less than 10,000 packages with the kirana network 18 months ago; today, it is doing a million packages a month. Clearly, one does not need a crystal ball to see that kiranas will survive and thrive. Retail in India will continue with its hyper local system with no one brand or group dominating the consumer’s wallet.

We say let the Kiranas drive the Indian story ahead.

(Published in Businessworld.)

Why focus is the name of the ecommerce game

Vishal Krishna, Businessworld

Bengaluru, 28 March 2015

Today size isn’t everything. It is true that a large organisation fails to innovate if it tries to do everything on its own. This statement may not be true in the smart phone manufacturing world, but in the retail industry it is the hard truth.

Corporations, with serious revenues, like the $473-billion Walmart, the $130-billion Tesco PLC and the $73-billion Target have all suffered a drop in profits because of unpredictable shopping habits of the new millenials, who are people born after the year 1990.These folks would rather look at a smartphone, for a price comparison and to quickly place the order, before walking in to the store.

So where do the large companies begin to change or rather when do they change?

They begin by working with startups, small technology companies that have built platforms to engage and understand consumers, ideas which large corporations are desperately after to redeem themselves of falling profits.

Walmart’s IT company, Walmart Labs, has acquired 13 start-ups, since 2011, globally. Tesco has sponsored a startup accelerator called “Rainmaking Loft”, in London, and is working with a few startups on a pilot basis. The game is bigger than we think because even large system integrators, like Infosys, have announced the need to work with startups to give them the edge in business deals.

“We are already taking start-ups to work on IT transformation projects, mobile and digital, for large corporate retailers,” says Krishnakumar Natarajan, CEO of Mindtree. He adds that large corporations cannot ignore the digital consumer if they have to stay relevant. What about ‘Target’? The company has, unlike other companies, has a India first strategy when it comes to ideas. While they continue to focus on analytics, like Walmart and Tesco in India, they believe that mobile is the biggest driver of shopping, which together with other technology trends like big data and cloud will decide the future of brick and mortar retailing. These large retailers get less than 3 per cent of their revenues from online sales today. So while the likes of Amazon become powerful, across the globe, Target has to look at an omni channel strategy for revenues. In less than a year it has worked with ten startups and has signed vendor agreements with a couple of them. It has plans to sign up two more this year.

Trigger Happy Ideas

It was early 2014 when Konotor, MuHive, InstaClique, Turnaround Innovision and UnBxd were all picked to work with Target. Of the 350 applications these five startups were picked to pilot their ideas with over 100 stores in the USA. Each of them was unique to the pain point that Target was facing (see chart). Konotor, founded in 2012, started building messaging apps before realising that their unique selling point was in listening to the noise, also known as usage patterns, that the users were creating on applications. “We realised that mobile apps need a different form of engagement and there was so much data generated by conversations,” says Srikrishnan Ganesan, co-founder at Konotor. The platform can be used to segment people on an active and not active basis. This is where the analytics kicks in for retailers; they can use the “active” user data to push relevant messages to individual shoppers or floor managers that visit the app. Konotor quickly developed an internal messaging application that allowed store managers to communicate with headquarters faster. “It is a mobile communications bridge, where quick queries on product, including pictures of stock outs, could be uploaded and sent to management teams,” says Ganesan. This software is offered as a service and is integrated to the mobile devices of the organisation.

Target has now offered a vendor contract to the company because of real time resolution of problems in stores. The product puts the power back in the hands of store managers and allows them to serve their guest better and increase return to store, which is an indirect victory for Target’s corporate office in increasing shareholder wealth. Now Konotor has gone from being a startup to winning big names like GoIbibo, Shopera and BigBasket as clients in India. The Konotor platform boasts of 10 million users across 38 apps, and has used $1,25,000, which they won through a Qualcomm prize. Another vendor from the 2014 batch to have a contract is MuHive, a Bangalore-based social analytics platform. Today corporations have integrated their apps and websites to social channels, like Twitter and Facebook, and there are consumers commenting on the service and the product offered. MuHive collects these conversations and puts down questions to the retailers. The retailer will then have to work with the startup to find answers based on a sentiment analysis, of the text on the social channel, or by studying the consumer’s views of a product.

“A retailer launches an electronic device or apparel campaign, he must know what kind of product his demographics like and then stock only that product in the store,” says Sagar Vibhute, co-founder of MuHive. This platform fits well with Target’s “Express” store format, small 20,000 square feet stores, which will be used as delivery centres for orders placed on the e-commerce site. If a customer does not like a particular fit of jeans and she puts it up on the social feed, Target can then figure out which store in the locality has that fit and can deliver to the lady before she drives to the store. “We can use the social data and merge it with loyalty data to make more meaningful insights,” says Vibhute. This platform connects social feeds with the customer relationship management software, of the retailer, and can make legacy tools more effective. Both Konotor and MuHive are in advanced talks with investors to raise their first large round of funding.

Similary Bangalore-based ‘Unbxd’, which raised $2 million from IDG Ventures and Inventus in 2014, worked with Target’s e-commerce platform to make the search engine intelligent. “Our technology picks up user behaviour, on the site, and makes suggestions,” says Prashant Kumar, co-founder of Unbxd. The company has managed to get 250 global customers. “Working with Target gave us the requisite experience to find retailers across the world,” says Kumar. Today the company studies 20 million user events a day and has customers like Yepme, Madura Garments and PepperFry. Data analytics, intelligent search and smartphone solutions were the theme, for Target, last year and the company is investing, it does not disclose the numbers, in integrating stores with intelligent technology.

“It is a time of unprecedented change …. driven by smart phones,” says Navneet Kapur, MD of Target India. He says that the future of retail is still not scripted and he adds “Relevant merchansiding and inventory management is the future of retail. We need to connect with our guests beyond sales data and technology allows us to connect on a real time basis.” Target is absolutely right. The consumer is not coming to the store because he wants products available on phone screens first. This makes managing inventory, for such a consumer, a difficult proposition. Old style in store advertising along free coupon campaigns is no longer interesting, unless it is personalised, for the millennial population. “These Indian startups are helping us with ideas ranging from content to customer engagement to intelligent search,” says Kapur of Target. Also the shareholders of Target Corporation are keen that the company do this immediately. Its stock price on the Nasdaq has, over the last year, gone up from $57 to $75 per share on a year to date basis.

“It is a value proposition, it is an era of personalised solutions, technology provides insights and retailers need to know their guests,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO of Third Eyesight, a consulting firm.

The writing was on the wall when Target’s Canadian operations, 133 stores, shut shop in January 2015. Although the business was generating $2 billion in annual revenues, it was still running in to huge losses worth $500 million and more. The company realised that deep discounting can win customers for a short while and not in the long run. Hence it pulled out, at the right time, to retrospect on the future and focus all its business in the USA. Apart from MuHive and Konotor it is now working with a new bunch of startups in 2015 for new ideas.

Warehouse Comes To The Living Room

“Internet of things is real and every company must open up their IT infrastructures for start-ups to build apps on,” says Karsten Ottenberg, CEO of the $15 billion Bosch Siemens Home Appliance. He adds that the mobile word is part of a business that no company can miss. “They should be open to new ideas,” he says.

This year Target selected four companies from a list of 3,000 applications that it received on December 2014. One of the first problems Target wanted to solve was the guest’s inability to find the right apparel in the store and on the website. It brought in WazzatLabs to build a visual search engine on a pilot basis to power the ecommerce store. The five founders of WazzatLabs are machine learning experts who say images speak a “million words” and that the creating visual recognition algorithms for ecommerce or mobile sites could easily win over younger customers.

“The algorithm recognises image uploads and matches, available apparel, inventory to fit the person’s choice,” says Mautik Kulkarnai, co-founder of WazzatLabs, the three-year-old startups from Hyderabad. WazzatLabs is trying to win over customers by solving a pain point, at the very onset of entering the app or the website. The software can be plugged in to a mobile app and a web platform. Image technologies are becoming powerful in a mobile and soon 50 per cent of the shopping revenues will be driven by customer engagement on smart phones. Moving a step ahead in to the future of image recognition is Whodat, a two year old startup from Bangalore, which essentially is building artificial intelligence or gesture recognition technology in to mobile apps which can use the camera.

Take for example, a customer wants to buy furniture for her house. The lady goes shopping on an ecommerce site and cannot make up her mind. All she has to do is take a print out of a paper marker provided by the catalogue, and then point the camera – of the phone – towards the living room along with the paper marker. Voila! The furniture of your choice and colour show up as a virtual image in the frame. “Our visualisation technology can change the way a store is designed, it brings the store to the living room,” says Sriram Ganesh co-founder of Whodat.

Target is on warpath to work with such path breaking technology. It wants to do away with dumb content on its ecommerce site and wants images to become much more interactive. Today a creative that an ad-agency builds does not fit in with every device because of the proliferation of different screen sizes and operating systems. This can indirectly impact customer interaction if a person is accessing the website through a phone. Solving this problem is Visarity, a self funded startup that has put in $100,000 to begin its venture. “Our real time rendering engine compresses high definition images and makes them interactive on the mobile,” says Harsha Padmanaba, co-founder of Visarity. He adds that the company has opened the 3D platform for developers to create and test their creatives.

Harsha and his partner Bastian Zuhlke began building chips for automobile companies before jumping full time in to interactive technology. Today their technology is used in the websites of global automotive giant Mercedes and a global watch brand. “Using our tool has helped clients increase their clicks per impression, which translates to customer involvement in buying the product,” says Harsha.

Indian retailers are yet to adapt to or even adopt such technologies. They have taken baby steps and have just launched mobile apps to keep the guest interested. But soon apps themselves will be commoditised if there isn’t a quest undertaken to personalise service. Target is also working with Synapse Inc, a one year old start up, whose technology recognises customers when they walk in to the store and pushes relevant messages to their smart phones. “Our platform brings context in to the picture, after which content takes over,” says Ranjan Jagganathan, co-founder of Synapse Inc a one year old startup. He adds that his company’s technology allowed retailers to know where the customer is located in the store. “Imagine sending messages to the lock screen and getting users to make additional purchases because of the relevant content,” says Jagganathan.

“The whole idea of customer engagement is going beyond a loyalty card. The customer is happy if he is engaged at the point of need, which is why everyone is investing in start-up technology,” says Ajay Kelkar, Hansa Cequity, a data science firm in Mumbai.

May be Target has read the India story right. But for it to keep its revenues increasing consistently, it needs to figure out whether the consumers are ready for this path breaking technology to make an impact on their lives. Only time will tell how successful they will be but it has been a great attempt nevertheless.

(Published in Businessworld.)

One lakh Chinese sellers from AliExpress to join Paytm network from August

Varun Aggarwal, The Economic Times
Bengaluru, 28 May 2015

Paytm is set to allow 1,00,000 sellers from Chinese etailer Alibaba’s online shopping portal AliExpress to start retailing on its platform in India from August, a senior executive at the mobile commerce company said. The Delhi-based company, which crossed $1.5 billion (about Rs 9,600 crore) in gross merchandise value (GMV) during the year till April end, expects an additional $1.5 billion from AliExpress business alone in the next six months.

"According to our initial estimates, we’ll be able to double our gross merchandise within six months with the help of AliExpress integration," Amit Lakhotia, vice president-payments at Paytm told ET.

The development is part of Jack Ma-led Alibaba’s plans to grow beyond China. The company bought 25% stake in Paytm for $650 million (about Rs 4,160 crore) in February, giving it access to India’s $6 billion (Rs 38,400 crore) ecommerce market.

According to PwC, the Indian ecommerce market recorded 34% compounded annual growth rate between 2009 and 2014 to touch $16.4 billion and it is expected to cross $22 billion this year. The country’s online shopping market, a subset of the overall ecommerce market, is pegged at $6 billion.

"We are undergoing quite a complex integration with AliExpress, something we haven’t done in the past," Lakhotia said. "We are looking at various aspects such as legal and taxation issues, international logistics, customs, the process for issuing payouts to merchants and for refunds."

Lakhotia said customers will have an option to pay cash on delivery for all products they buy from Chinese merchants. "From a customer perspective, there’ll be no difference between an Indian and a Chinese merchant. We’ll be the one responsible for the logistics and customer care."

Paytm currently has 40,000 sellers in India, of which only 10,000 transact on a monthly basis. But the company expects to have 100,000 Chinese sellers right at the launch. This will require the company to scale up its infrastructure rapidly. Much of the $650-million funding from Alibaba is being used for this purpose, the company executives said.

Earlier this month, Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said the company will invest heavily in existing and new ventures abroad to become a global enterprise.

Alibaba is already setting up a cloud computing base in Dubai and is increasing its stake in US etailer Zulily. ET reported in March that the company is also working with Paytm to bring its mobile payment platform Alipay and its credit rating agency Sesame Credit to India, albeit with a local twist.

Experts, however, said that Chinese sellers might not find it easy to sell to Indian customers.

"So far we’ve seen a number of issues faced by Indian consumers trying to order something from China, including bad quality products being delivered to shipment not arriving at all. There is a big element of trust that needs to be fulfilled," said Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight. "Paytm will need to bridge the cultural gap between the two countries in order to be successful."

Paytm executives are extremely upbeat, though. "We have grown close to 10x in the last one year. At the current rate, we hope to cross $10 billion by the end of 2016," Lakhotia said.

The company’s wallet customers have increased from 20 million in January this year to 78 million in May. Paytm, which started primarily as a mobile recharge platform, earns about 40% of its GMV from ecommerce business and expects the share of ecommerce to rise. In November 2014, recharges contributed 80% to the company’s GMV.

Although Indian importers are already selling Chinese products on various portals such as ebay and Snapdeal, there is a gap between customers and suppliers that needs to be filled effectively, according to experts.

(Published in The Economic Times.)

AC makers focus on institutional sales to make up for slowing retail growth

New Delhi, 25 May 2015

Air-conditioner makers such as Videocon, Voltas and Panasonic, hit by untimely rains this summer, are betting big on the business-to-business segment, or institutional sales, to push their products in this financial year.

"Taking into account both commercial refrigeration products as well as room ACs, 25 to 30% of our volumes are expected from the B2B segment this year," said Pradeep Bakshi, president and chief operating officer, (UPBG & MCED), at Voltas Ltd.

The company has dedicated sub-verticals to look after institutional sales of various product categories. Voltas is also looking at cash & carry formats of modern trade partners, who are aggregators for the B2B segment.

Panasonic is working closely with developers, architects, interior decorators, project management consultants, services consultants, companies, retail chains and the hospitality industry.

Demand for air-conditioners from the commercial segment is catching up fast with an increasing number of offices, stores and business apartments being set up. The growth of the retail, hospitality and commercial sectors has boosted demand as they involve large-scale application of ACs, said Vipin Agrawal, general manager and head – CAC at Panasonic India Pvt Ltd.

"We are looking at selling around 15,000 units through B2B vertical this year, and generate revenue of about Rs 750 million," Agrawal said.

Videocon, which is looking to double its market share to 12% in the overall air-conditioning market, says its targets can be achieved through the B2B segment. The company plans to sell overall 4.5 lakh units this year, valued at about Rs 1,100 crore.

The realty sector is one of the biggest growth opportunities, said Videocon Industries COO (air-conditioners) Sanjeev Bakshi.

According to Videocon’s research, there are 1.6 million houses that will be delivered this year, which will be ready for possession. On an average, one AC will be fitted in each house, said Bakshi.

To drive the effort, the Indian home appliances maker has formed a separate vertical that will only look at B2B sales.

"We expect 20-25% revenue should come through this segment this fiscal," said Bakshi.

Industry players assume the growth of air-conditioning in the B2B segment would be 25-30% compared with single-digit growth in the retail sector. According to analysts, the market in India for room ACs is 3.5 million to 4 million units, with a penetration of about 3%.

Purchase of ACs by individuals is elastic, depending on weather pattern changes and they may be replaced with air coolers due to pricing or electricity bill concerns, according to Devangshu Dutta, chief executive at retail consultancy firm, Third Eyesight. Institutional purchases are more planned and can provide a significant and long-term buffer to consumer demand, he said.

Lloyd Electric, which aims to corner an 11% share in the domestic AC market, estimates it can sell 500,000 units through the B2B vertical and generate revenue of Rs 750 crore this year, according to Nipun Singhal, director, Lloyd Electric & Engineering Ltd. The company plans to set up new factories and invest in new machinery and technology, said Singhal.

For Mitsubishi Electric India, the B2B segment is expected to account for more than 50% of its business from air-conditioners annually. According to the company’s spokesperson, the B2B segment helps diversify the risk of seasonal fluctuation and helps in spreading revenue across categories since it is not a seasonal business.

(Published in The Economic Times.)

Myntra sales dip 10% in app-only mode, rivals Amazon, Snapdeal, eBay to play safe for now

Varun Jain, The Economic Times

New Delhi, 21 May 2015

Myntra.com, India’s largest online fashion retailer, has seen a 10% drop in sales since it shut its website and turned a mobile app-only etailer last week. The company, owned by Flipkart, had factored in such a decline and hoped to return to the level of sales prior to the move in the coming weeks, according to a source. Its closest rivals, Snapdeal and Amazon, however, said they had no plans to wind up their websites and focus only on mobile phone users.

"Our data shows that there are still many customers who use PCs to shop online. We do not want to force our customers to use one specific medium to shop on Snapdeal," a Snapdeal spokesperson said.

This is the case even as 75% of Snapdeal’s orders are placed on mobile phones. Akshay Sahi, customer experience head at Amazon India, too, said, "We believe that as a consumer-obsessed company, we have to enable our customers to shop anytime, anywhere, and anyway they want."

Another major online marketplace, eBay, which generates over 45% of its total traffic through mobile devices, is not willing to bet exclusively on mobile app either. "At eBay, we believe in an inclusive strategy rather than an app-only strategy," said Shivani Suri, head of marketing at eBay India. "With the growth of smartphone penetration and given that the first interface for most of the users is mobile, we consider it as key medium. However, it doesn’t mean that we are not going to cater to the rest of the screen." In India, as in the rest of the world, it has been observed that a multiscreen user is most engaged, said Suri.

Myntra, which reportedly generates more than 90% of its traffic and 70% of its orders from its mobile app, closed down its website last Friday and moved to a mobile-only platform. Its parent, Flipkart, plans to follow suit within a year. The move is driven by rapid penetration of smartphones in the nooks and corner of the country. Another rationale is that focusing entirely on the mobile app will help the e-commerce player give customers a better shopping experience.

According to a recently released report by Goldman Sachs, the e-commerce market will account for 2.5% of India’s GDP by 2030, growing 15 times and reaching $300 billion (about Rs 19,200 crore) from $20 billion (about Rs 1,280 crore) at present. The report also stated that India will have the second-largest digital population in the world with one billion users by 2030, powered by online mobile penetration.

India has enough spectrum and telecom infrastructure to provide 3G data coverage to 25-30% of the population, it said. "Further, 3G-enabled smart phones are available for $40 with more than 900 phones launches last year," it said.

Another report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and market research firm IMRB International said that the number of mobile internet users in India is expected to reach 213 million by next month, up from 173 million in December 2014.

Although a number of recent reports predict a massive surge in smartphone usage in India, which suggests Myntra has made the right decision, several experts told ET that they are not convinced of the soundness of the e-tailer’s move. Some industry watchers said that slow internet speed on mobile devices and expensive data plans could play spoilsport. "One could argue that while it is okay to reduce or even stop the investments on PC-web, it could be foolish or even dangerous to discount it as a past that has completely ceased to exist," said e-commerce expert and independent consultant Ratul Ghosh.

Many shoppers who are comfortable with PC may not be keen to shift to app, he said. "What will happen, in my opinion, is that affiliate websites will have a party once they are the only route to the inventory on the PC-web. And we all know that’s 5-10% more expensive a sale."

Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consultancy firm Third Eyesight, said app shopping will possibly prevent comparative shopping, making the experience more "sticky", and could allow the site to further customise the experience based on location and phone-based data.

However, he said, a smaller number of web browsers are generating a disproportionate share of the sales, which suggests that they are bigger spenders than mobile users, so that is definitely a negative trade-off if a site goes to an app-only experience.

Amazon’s Sahi said nearly half of the company’s traffic comes through mobile phones. "All of Amazon’s development and innovation is app first, and it will continue to be our flagship experience," he said.

ET had earlier reported that fashion retail portal Jabong is also not in a hurry to opt for app-only mode. "We strongly believe customers should have the choice to buy either on smartphone or computer," Jabong co-founder Praveen Sinha had said.

(Published in The Economic Times.)

Amazon, Snapdeal won’t follow Flipkart to app-only format

Varun Jain, The Economic Times
New Delhi, 15 May 2015

Flipkart-Myntra, the country’s largest e-commerce player, maybe busy moving to an app-only format, but its closest rivals Snapdeal and Amazon say they have no plans to shut down their websites and focus only on mobile.

"Our data shows that there are still many customers who use PCs to shop online. We do not want to force our customers to use one specific medium to shop on Snapdeal," a Snapdeal spokesperson said.

Akshay Sahi, customer experience head at Amazon India, too, said, "We believe that as a consumer-obsessed company, we have to enable our customers to shop anytime, anywhere, and anyway they want."

Myntra, the country’s largest fashion retail portal, closed down its website on Friday and moved to a mobile-only platform. Its parent, Flipkart, plans to follow suit within a year.

The move is driven by rapidly increasing traffic from smartphones. Another argument is that focusing entirely on the mobile app will help an e-commerce player give customers a better shopping experience.

With the increasing penetration of smartphones, the number of mobile Internet users in India is expected to reach 213 million by next month, up from 173 million in December, according to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and market research firm IMRB International.

Experts ET spoke to, however, are not convinced about the strategy of going app-only.

Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of retail consultancy firm Third Eyesight, said app shopping would possibly prevent comparative shopping, making the experience more "sticky", and could allow the site to further customise the experience based on location and phone-based data.

However, he added, a smaller number of web browsers are generating a disproportionate share of the sales, which suggests that they are bigger spenders than mobile users, so that is definitely a negative trade-off if a site goes to an app-only experience.

Ratul Ghosh, an e-commerce industry expert and an independent consultant, said, "One could argue that while it is okay to reduce or even stop the investments on PC-web, it could be foolish or even dangerous to discount it as a past that has completely ceased to exist."

He feels that many comfortable-with-PC shoppers may not be keen to shift to app. "What will happen, in my opinion, is that affiliate websites will have a party once they are the only route to the inventory on the PC-web. And we all know that’s 5-10% more expensive a sale," Ghosh said.

Amazon’s Sahi said nearly half its traffic comes through mobiles. "All of Amazon’s development and innovation is app first, and it will continue to be our flagship experience," he said, adding that, however, it will continue to operate its website.

Earlier ET has reported that fashion retail portal Jabong is also not in a hurry to opt for mobile-app only mode. "We strongly believe customers should have the choice to buy either on his smartphone or on the computer," Jabong co-founder Praveen Sinha had told ET.

(Published in The Economic Times.)

Opportunities & Challenges for Dutch (Semi-)Processed Food Companies in India

A seminar was organised on the 12th of May in Zeist (the Netherlands) on “the Opportunities & Challenges for Dutch (Semi-) Processed Food Companies in India”. Highlights of a report and other insights were presented by Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight. Other entrepreneurs who also shared their experiences in India, and the Dutch agricultural counsellor, Wouter Verhey, was present at the event.

The sessions included:

  • Welcome and opening remarks by Wouter Verhey, Agricultural Counselor India & Sri Lanka at the Embassy of The Netherlands in New Delhi.
  • The market for processed food in India by Devangshu Dutta of Third Eyesight, India.
  • Entrepreneurial challenges in the food sector in India by Peter Uyttewaal, Partner India of Larive International. The characteristics and strengths of the Dutch Food and Grocery Industry by Sekhar Lahiri of FNLI.
  • Discovering the Pot of Gold in India by Sumit Saran of Future Consumer Enterprise Limited, India.

You can download a summary of the report via this link: India – Opportunities Challenges for Dutch Processed Food Companies

The more the merrier

Devina Joshi, Business Standard
Mumbai, 11 May 2015

It is always fascinating to witness international brands make use of local insights to woo the quintessentially Indian consumer, and the battle becomes tougher when there is strong home-bred competition. The latest brand to walk down that road is US-based e-commerce major Amazon, whose Indian arm recently released a series of advertisements crafted by Leo Burnett Group’s Orchard Advertising under the ‘Aur Dikhao’ (‘show me more’) premise. The attempt is to capitalise on the typical Indian shopper mentality of going through the gamut of choices available before making a purchase.

The television campaign features two one-minute versions and six 20-second edits that colourfully depict situations where Indians want to see ‘more’ choices, and Amazon steps in with a claim to offer over two crore products to suit every palate. The integrated campaign made a splash on social channels, radio, print as well as on the Amazon India website, where the ‘Shop by Department’ tab was replaced with the ‘Aur Dikhao’ tab for a week.

Interestingly, Amazon India flagged off operations in June 2013 without much marketing hullabaloo; its first marketing campaign hit the media only in April 2014, with a focus on delivery. With ‘Aur Dikhao’, the e-commerce major wishes to step out of the metro brand imagery it has come to acquire owing to its international lineage, and penetrate deeper into tier I and II towns. "We want to bring the brand to the local Indian guy who rides a bike and carries a smartphone or has internet access. That is our core audience," says Manish Kalra, director, integrated marketing, Amazon India.

For Amazon, the foundation for an emotional association with the Indian way of things was laid in the Kindle PaperWhite commercial of 2014 (incidentally, that Indian ad has been inducted in Amazon’s global campaign). The ‘Aur Dikhao’ campaign drives the ‘we understand India’ message by making use of colloquial shopping lingo. "We’re tapping into mass pop culture with this," says Raj Deepak Das, chief creative officer, Leo Burnett Group.

The company’s fervent need to be more ‘Indian’ is understandable – after all, it has been a late entrant in the booming $20 billion Indian e-commerce market which is slated to touch $300 billion and account for 2.5 per cent of the India’s GDP by 2030, according to a report released by Goldman Sachs last week. As per a Morgan Stanley report, Amazon India has a market share of 15 per cent, a distant third behind homegrown boys Flipkart (44 per cent) and Snapdeal (32 per cent).

Flipkart and Snapdeal did a decent job of advertising the compelling prices online marketplaces offer over the years – in fact, almost every e-commerce brand has propped its advertising on the planks of pricing, convenience, delivery and variety. Flipkart launched its first ad campaign centred on books in the summer of 2011, while Jabong rolled out its first TV ad attempt in 2012, emphasising the ease of transaction. Snapdeal went mainstream in the same year, with its ‘yamdude’ campaign signifying how even the God of Death cannot resist its tempting deals, and followed that up with a big bash Diwali campaign with 50 commercials featuring 28 celebrities in 2014. Snapdeal currently has Aamir Khan as its brand endorser for its latest ‘Dil ki deal’ campaign.

How does the new campaign take forward Amazon’s strategy in India? One can’t stay away from pricing in a growth-phase industry like e-commerce, after all. The current marketing agenda has been set by horizontal platforms Flipkart, Snapdeal etc, over the last two years. "During that period, practically all the players have been in a market-acquisition mode, so an outsized amount of marketing spend is focused on driving traffic to their webstores quickly, where the dominant theme is deals/discounts," points out Devangshu Dutta, chief executive at management consulting firm Third Eyesight. "So, Amazon has little choice but to follow that strategy too, even as it establishes itself in the market in other ways."

This explains the ‘Whattey Deal’ ads (for Amazon’s summer sale) running alongside the thematic ‘Aur Dikhao’ campaign currently. "Lucrative pricing is very tactical; it is almost like category hygiene and cannot be a long-term differentiator," stresses Kalra. And therefore, Amazon has decided to pitch its offering on the ‘variety’ premise for the long-term, while it continues to propagate a mix of pricing and delivery in its tactical communication. As analysts put it, only players with deep pockets can afford to do short-term tactical advertising alongside thematic brand campaigns, and Amazon qualifies on that count. The ‘Aur Dikhao’ campaign scores on the Indian insight parameter and with other attempts like being the lead sponsor for the India Fashion Week 2015 and sponsoring the IPL, Amazon India sure seems to want to ‘show more’ to the masses.

(Published in Business Standard.)