Virtual Market: A Consumer Delight

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Another flash sale, another sell-out. This has become a recurring trend on Flipkart. Latest on the list is Xiomi’s Mi3. 20,000 Mi3s were swept from the virtual cabinet of the Flipkart shop within seconds, again!

Online stores, like Flipkart, Amazon, EBay, Snapdeal, etc, are on a mercurial rise, and are gaining immense popularity among shoppers. With the range of advantages they offer, they are challenging the organised retails in the country. According to a survey by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), India’s e-commerce market has grown at an overwhelming 88 percent in 2013 of $16 billion. Big shots of e-commerce, Amazon and Flipkart have poured billions in the Indian market recently. The investment comes in the wake of huge economic success of these e-shops.

Online marketing has picked up a lot of pace and is understandably sidelining the brick and mortar shops lately. The product range on e-shops varies from electronics to household and personal care products. A consumer can purchase a refrigerator and a bottle opener from the same space. The range is not only across categories, but also across products within a category. One can buy a Rs 100 screen guard and a Rs 50,000 mobile phone. Besides giving choices to consumers, online portals also bring out special discounts, offers and combos, every now and then. Not to mention, the prices in an online store are always discounted than the retail market. With simple, innovative User Interface (UI) of these e-commerce websites, order placements have become a piece of cake.

Who wouldn’t want to sit back, open the computer screen, click on a few products, select the one they wish to buy, and get the cheaper product delivered at their doorstep within just a few days? It appears less tedious than stepping out to the marketplace and digging through different shops until the desired product is found. Regardless of the entire ruckus associated with traditional shopping methods, it is still ahead than virtual shopping in the country. The penetration of internet, let alone e-commerce portals, is limited in India. There are 238 million internet subscribers in India, out of a population of 1.2 billion, according to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). According to Forrester’s Asia Pacific online retail forecast for the years 2013 to 2018, online buyers in India will number up to 39 million by the end of 2014 and 128 million by the end of 2018. These numbers are significantly lower when compared to the entire population of the country.

Online market may be a hit in general, but it still lacks trust among its consumers. People don’t universally rely on the quality of the product by observing their pictures. Also, delivery charges are sometimes not reasonable for lower priced products, like books. According to the ASSOCHAM study, people who are reluctant to shop online found delivery costs too high (20 percent), feared sharing personal financial information (25 percent), and lack of trust on the quality of product as well as with regard to its delivery (15 percent).

But online portals have been coming up with methods to overcome these challenges. Return policies, faster delivery mechanisms, free cash on delivery, cash-back offers, EMI options, exclusive alliances, quality in packaging, and 24×7 customer support, are some of the methods that have fared well in the e-commerce world.

The virtual market space hasn’t been occupied yet, and there is a lot of room for online portals to grow. They still have a very long way to go. Whether they can challenge the brick and mortar shops is a different story, but they do offer us consumer delight!

Vikas Arora

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