Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Making E-commerce Work in India.

Posted on: April 13, 2008

There was this fabulous quote by the Executives of one of the major internet portals, must be either Rediff or Indiatimes, who mentioned that ‘E-commerce in India is nothing more than a payment gateway – as of now’. It’s a medium of payment, but the usage of the word “commerce” is a overkill for what really goes on.

All that said, there is most certainly a trend towards making more and more services available over the web – for sale and purchase by organizations and individuals, and we are yet to exploit that growing opportunity.

I have often heard this “imagination” being described when we talk about a next generation service. It goes as something like this – Imagine that you drive out and are in the middle of somewhere and do have sometime and feel like having a bite of pizza. You flip open your phone or tap the screen of your internet tablet, and search for “pizza” and the display shows you all the nearest pizza joints from where you are, along with some of the discounts that are happening, and also possibly the locations rated according to user reviews. You tap your selection and the device shows you the driving location to it, you mount it on the dashboard holder, and drive away till you reach the location.

That does sound quite magical doesn’t it? But it doesn’t work. Not yet and though there are quite a few ventures working on that space, someone is failing to see the ideation in its entirety and the system that has to be developed. I’m hoping this would help.

So lets start with what we have. There are plenty of services available today, which essentially provide lead generation tools. They are more focused on the businesses – since they are the ones who bring in the money, than the consumer who calls in and that partiality is so clearly visible. For example, lets say that I am stuck in the middle of a road with my car low on battery and I want to find a nearby store who can help charge my battery or maybe jumpstart the car engine, i flip up the mobile or internet tablet and go search for sites such as Sulekha or Justdial, or even perhaps Ask Laila, and enter the keywords battery recharge. Most of the time, the results that are given are pretty much the entire directory of every vendor out there who is a battery dealer. Should my query even mistakenly be forwarded to the vendors, I’d have a hell of a time holding on to my cellphone. My only option would be to give up the number and get another one cause thats how many calls I’d be getting from folks who are hoping that they got business. The scenario might not exactly roll out the same way, but I am sure you get the idea.

There are three key issues there.
1. Lack of Geotags which can identify where I am, and where the store is.
2. Lack of Specificity and the ability to get into further detail. It’s not just pizza, but I might be looking for pizza with a rare mix of mushroom and brinjal.
3. Lack of any information regarding availability.

What you need past this is essentially a system that can tie all of this together. Without these basic components, you still are nowhere close to having an entire system in place.

Geotags are crucial. Sridhar of Yulop is working on quite a bit of stuff related to this, and I am totally with his efforts. The ability to geotag cultural event locations, restaurants, temples, mosques, hotels, schools, colleges, hospitals and anyplace that could potentially be a “destination” is a very crucial aspect of this system. Avoiding the system from asking the question of “where are you now” is something that goes a long way. I am still amazed everytime I call the taxi company and they already know what my home and office location are, and they only ask me if the pick up is at home or at office. Now, that’s an experience that makes a difference.

Depth. And Availability. These two things are inherently connected. I want to know if something very specific that I am looking for is available. Not battery sales, but battery service would have brought down my queries significantly and that is crucial.

Whats even more important is to have availability of something possible. If I am feeling like going for a movie, I should be able to know what movie is playing at what time, and “if there are seats available”. If I am looking for a specific model of Nike shoes, I should not only be able to find the nearest Nike store, but also if that specific model is in stock and its pricing. Those things certainly make a difference.

So how will a company be able to avail the information regarding what all they carry, and if they even have what I am looking for with a query? Very simple. Figure out the guys who are selling Point-of-sale softwares and convince them that they need to standardize their applications to be able to interact with other applications which might want to query that information. That’s the only way this would work, since there is no way any organization is going to update the information on inventory and pricing twice!

We have been discussing the topic of Depth and Availability quite often lately, especially since Yahoo has launched the webservice for Small Businesses concept. The entire idea is to help get a business online. Google did it the classifieds way, and Yahoo is hoping to get one step further by giving them a webpage. You could almost say that its geocities for business. But I think that initiative is still falling short of both the depth and availability perspective.

There is a growing need for people to be able to buy and sell things online – in a natural way. There is a fair bit of folks who do work six days a week and on the seventh day, they’d rather be doing something that helps to unwind than to go do grocery shopping or flip through tiresome number of food pamphlets to pick something they like. Initiatives like HungryBangalore, are a start of that tide, but you’ll start to see more streamlined processes come into place. Offices will soon start to advertise services that employees can call and order from, just so that the companies can manage tabs in a single bill, rather than having to reimburse every employee everyday. And if restaurants need a way to monitor, track and respond to such online orders, there needs to be systems, and devices in place and in their kitchens which can communicate and process them. There is definitely scope for a company to play their part there.

The most interesting bit that I love about this vertical of service is that it doesn’t require rocket science technology. What it requires is beautiful execution.

Ecommerce will start with as it already has with food, flowers, and basic conveyances, and will soon diversify into so many things such as paying of bills, helping to service and maintain home appliances, pay the electricity and telephone bills, etc etc. They will very soon become a natural fabric of our lifestyle and one that is inevitable. The emergence of technologies such as OpenID, are only paving the way for this to happen, and the sheer volume of man power that we have – the greatest asset that we have – will come in handy to make this happen.

Related Post: Ideas to Toss: Online Street/Town

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