Introducing a new content category “Experts Interviews” to e-Business India Group. I will be featuring interviews and Q&A sessions of a few well-known personalities from Indian online industry, where experts will share their experiences, industry insights & views.
I am happy to introduce Mr. Shriram Sanjeevi, SBU Head – Lifestyle & Food at Indiaplaza.com over this online interview.
About Shriram: “A Retailer by Profession and Choice” as he loves to call himself, Shriram is a budding Retail Industry Leader. He is currently responsible for building the Lifestyle Vertical at Indiaplaza.com, the pioneers of Online Retailing since 1999. Previously, he was leading Business Development at Café Coffee Day, India’s largest café chain with over 1,200 outlets. Prior to this he has worked with Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL), United Colors of Benetton, The Future Group and The RPG Group in various roles.
Shriram holds an Executive Education from IIM – Bangalore, PG Diploma in Business Administration in Marketing from New Hampshire University, USA. He is a renowned speaker at various seminars and conferences, a visiting faculty at prominent B-Schools and writes articles on Retail at http://www.mymilestogo.com and various other publications, magazines, etc
Many thanks to Shriram for making his time for this online interview! Here are the excerpts of the interview.
Pawan: Indiaplaza has been one of the oldest & successful online stores in India with 10 million products. What is IndiaPlaza.com all about?
Shriram: Indiaplaza.com is the only e-commerce portal that offers a reasonable breadth, width and depth of products across several product categories at very low prices. There are various e-commerce portals today in India that are category specific, but Indiaplaza.com is the only horizontal portal that offers a choice and range to e-shoppers to choose from. So while someone has purchased a mobile phone for themselves, they could also consider buying a bottle of perfume for their loved ones or toys for their children. From household appliances to daily use cosmetics, it is all available at Indiaplaza.com under one roof. Within the next six months, the range is expected to double, while also improving our customer service to world-class levels. And most importantly, Indiaplaza.com is the only place where shoppers earn loyalty points for their purchases.
Pawan: What are the challenges in the SBU you are heading at Indiaplaza.com and how do you plan to deal with them?
Shriram: Our business model is unique while compared to that of others. We do not follow a warehouse model, thereby saving millions of dollars to the investors, while at the same time offering and serving our customers to the best of our abilities. Selling Lifestyle products to customers online is easier said than done. While for generic categories such as perfumes, cosmetics, baby wear and toys it is easier to sell without a trial – without a “touch and feel”, it is indeed challenging to sell footwear and formal wear shirts to men or gowns and dresses to women. However, we are building a portfolio of products which are reasonably standardized and therefore customers can buy without bothering about size and (mis)fits. Further, Indiaplaza.com allows a no questions asked return policy, thereby allowing shoppers to buy their preferred products without any concerns. Over the next six months, the Lifestyle selection at Indiaplaza.com would boast of a full range of products that fulfill the entire wardrobe requirements – from shampoo to deodorants, from customized collars and cuffs on shirts to awesome footwear!
Pawan: What is your view on e-Business growth in India?
Shriram: Indiaplaza.com (formerly fabmart.com) has been operating in this space since 1999, when there were only 3 million online users. According to various estimates, that number is now hovering around 100 million users, of which over 10% of them are active e-commerce patrons. The coming years are going to be rather interesting. With the internet moving away from traditional desktops to laptops, tablets, mobile phones and smart phones, there would be more opportunities for shoppers to consume online. Shopping on the internet is not just about saving a few bucks, but also about saving precious time and the effort associated with it. Imagine the time spent driving a few kilometers to reach the nearby Mall or Shopping Centre, parking your vehicle, reaching out to the store – only to find out that what you wanted wasn’t available and end up buying what was! Shopping online will serve this need. Even if the product is not available, the shopper can leave a “Notify Me” message to the e-tailer. Once the product is made available, the potential customer is informed. While this is possible in the real world as well, the shopper has to undertake two visits for the same purpose, spending precious time, money and fuel. While ordering online, the customer also gets the product delivered at their doorstep free of cost from Indiaplaza.com for most items – all with a few clicks while having some free time.
I also believe that e-shopping will become a family activity sooner than later. For example, if a family plans to buy an LCD Tv or a Washing Machine, the whole family can spend a few minutes at sites like Indiaplaza.com and choose their preferred model. For mundane day-today activities such as buying grocery and household items too, internet would become the preferred way to shop. I wish this interview is played back after 4-5 years!
Pawan: What are Interesting challenges you see in e-Business growth in India? And what do you foresee the key drivers for e-Business growth in India in years to come?
Shriram: The biggest challenge (read competition) to e-commerce players is, well, the offline retailers. The effort lies in moving the customers from physical shopping to online shopping. Even in Metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore, e-shopping is restricted only to a few categories. This will grow exponentially due to the obvious reasons of word-of-mouth and convenience (due to lack of time). Things would be more interesting in the Tier II and III cities. Organized Retail penetration is restricted with one or two shopping centres and not many retailers have their stores established there. Even if they do, they may not carry their entire range of products – across sizes and colours 24/7, 365. Many Retail Brands haven’t taken up the E-Commerce opportunity too seriously today. While they are happy to sell their products outright to e-commerce companies, they are not too keen to walk the path. One possible reason for this could be that such an act may threaten (seemingly) their franchisee stores or their own stores. But this would change sooner than later. Well, there wouldn’t be an option I guess.
Many years back, I was part of the team that set-up (Organized) Travel Retail in India at Bangalore International Airport (BIAL). At that time, most brands were reluctant to enter this segment. Today, between Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad – these four airports manage a Rs. 1,000 Crore Turnover! While some brands realized the potential early, many missed the bus. I see the same thing happening to online retail. It is in the interest of the brands that they jump this bus sooner than later!
Pawan: What is your advice to budding Indian Entrepreneurs for building successful online businesses?
Shriram: First and foremost, one needs a great idea in the online ecommerce space. To sell a category / a range of products is not an idea for Gods’ sake. In a competitive environment such as the one that we are going through, there needs to be a distinguishing plan – one that stands apart from the others. And many of them confuse it with providing superior service. Hey! Customer Service is a given, that cannot be a differentiator! Today’s customers – online or offline are particular about the way they are served. While they are reasonable enough to give us (The Retailer / etailer) a second or even a third chance, there has to be something that the portal offers which is far difficult to replicate. Most players believe in large scale advertising, gaining quick traction and grabbing eyeballs through a heavy ATL Marketing Program – but this exists only till the cash in the coffers dry up. Thereafter, one needs to have a strong play to perform and to outperform the others in the game. To be an entrepreneur is a dream that many people share but one shouldn’t confuse passion and business. They are two different things. While it is good to follow your dreams, it is equally important to build a robust business plan – one that talks about profitability and value creation for investors and stakeholders and not just popular advertising.