Technology has taken us a long way, but it has also made the world a smaller place. We no longer need to leave the comfort of our homes to buy our daily necessities. Trendy new clothes, smart electronics, and even medicines are just a click away. All sorts of delicious foods from all around the world can reach your doorstep with the magic of the internet! There is no denying that the rise of e-commerce has helped the growth of online business immensely, and digital marketing plays a massive role in how we perceive online shopping in our day-to-day lives.
But let us first look at the history of E-commerce and how it has changed the face of trading and marketing in India…
Before Amazon or Flipkart, we had Indiaplaza. K Vaitheeswaran started India’s first e-commerce site in 1999; they offered products such as CD-ROMs, cameras, books, and later groceries. His start-up eventually shut down in 2013. K Vaitheeswaran is often credited as the “Father of Indian e-commerce.” He has chronicled his journey in his book called Failing to Succeed, in which he speaks candidly about the ups and downs of owning a start-up. Although Indiaplaza did not prove to be as successful as other major online shopping sites we see today, it most certainly pioneered the way for others in its field. Flipkart is another Indian online marketplace founded by Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal in 2007. Like Indiaplaza, they first started selling books online and later expanded to selling electronic goods and other commodities. Today, Flipkart offers 80 million products and has the capacity to deliver 80 million shipments per month. Amazon launched its online marketplace in India in 2013, offering movies and books for sale. It quickly became a crowd favorite; at that time, India had over 50 million active internet users, which has steadily increased over time. Amazon would eventually go on to launch Amazon Fresh, which provides fresh groceries straight to your doorstep.
Imagine, you never needed to leave your house to buy anything! Even fresh fruits and vegetables are delivered straight to you. It is equal parts fantastic and intriguing!
Although these online-stores dominate the e-commerce scene in the Indian market today, many small businesses or start-up stores are showing up on the stage. One such brand is Qtrove. It is a curated marketplace for organic and natural products. It was founded by Vinamra Pandiya in 2016 to provide a medium for small businesses to advertise and market their products. He wanted to promote the concept of “g-commerce” or good commerce, meaning he wanted to promote environmentally sustainable and natural products. Qtrove stands out from other commercial online market places precisely because of the types of products it sells. From hand-made soaps and candles to pickles and bags, Qtrove is a platform for local business to showcase their products. It markets natural and organic products made by small entrepreneurs instead of the mass-produced goods available commercially. Juicy Chemistry is another such skincare brand that promotes organic and natural skincare products—started by a husband-wife duo in 2014, to provide natural and sustainable skincare for everyone. They also support the sourcing of fair-trade ingredients from local and indigenous farmers and artisans. Today it is the most popular brand and even available for sale on other online websites. Other market places such as Kraftly, Engrave, and Tjori are also making a name for themselves by selling artisanal, handmade goods online.
Let us now understand how e-commerce has affected the Indian economy –
Over the past two decades, the face of marketing and trading has changed radically. E-commerce has completely altered the way business is done nowadays. One of the primary reasons for this is the rise in smartphones' availability and a fast internet connection. Smartphones are now readily available and cost a lot less than they used to previously. As of 2020, there are approximately 760 internet connections in India instead of the 50 million in 2015. This drastic digitization has lent the consumers immense power and propelled the county's e-commerce services to new heights. Another factor that needs to be considered when it comes to online marketing is the target audience. About 54% of internet users in India are between 20 to 39 years of age and are often most inclined to shop online. Statics also suggests that out of the total internet accessed, only 30% of it is by the female population as of 2016. This highlights the lack of digital accessibility by women in India.
The government of India has also launched various schemes and initiatives overtime to promote the e-commerce market in India, such as Skill India, Make in India, and Start-up India to name a few. However, Digital India initiatives have played a vital role in the growth of e-commerce in India. Under this initiative, the Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) and Umang were launched, which allowed cashless online payment. It proved to be a massive success as cashless payment allowed the consumer to readily buy the products available online without the hassle of going to a bank and physically acquire money for the payment. It also allowed a much quicker cash transfer from the consumer to the business which helped in boosting the revenue of the business. The e-commerce market in India is expected to reach 200 billion US dollars by 2026 and online retail sales are estimated to grow by 31%. These values, coupled with rapid urbanization, will indeed have a meaningful impact on India's economy.
How can small businesses reap the benefits of e-commerce?
Although e-commerce in a developing country like ours has to over-come several challenges and hurdles, the online market sector is booming because of the various policies offered by the government. The Start-up India initiative is an online entrepreneurship platform that allows start-ups to network and provides free research tools for data and market analysis. It is an all-inclusive scheme that aims to help young entrepreneurs navigate the murky waters of the legal system when trying to establish their start-ups. They provide financial guidance as well as mentoring to start-ups. Special compensations and subsidiaries are available for women entrepreneurs. It can be quite intimidating to consider opening an online store for your business. But the most amazing facet of e-commerce is its reach. Going online can make a simple local handicraft shop into a global store. The local products of a small village can reach a big city with the touch of a button! The internet not only reaches a large number of potential customers but increases the profitability of the business. For a budding business, cash flow is significant, and e-commerce helps with just that. Online cashless transactions significantly increase the inflow of capital into the business.
These e-commerce sites are beneficial for small businesses in rural areas. Employment is often a problem in such regions, and people mostly depend on traditional work practices like pottery, handicrafts, and farming. Some of these ventures are primarily owned by women, and they often work from their own homes. E-commerce sites can thus help women to expand their business from the comfort of their homes. The government of India provides various incentives and benefits to such women-owned enterprises to encourage their online presence. They also provide mentoring to women entrepreneurs who are not technologically savvy and require assistance. Mobile commerce is also quite helpful in such cases. Smartphones are now readily available and can be used by women easily to set up their stores online. Working on a computer can be daunting for some; mobile is simpler to handle and can be used as a gateway to teach entrepreneurs in rural areas to control and operate their own business. Thus connecting these local businesses to big cities virtually can significantly help in increasing their sales and profits. It helps in the upliftment of that community and helps them gain financial stability and independence.
Establishing an online presence doesn’t always have to be a difficult task, but there are a few key pointers that need to be considered before venturing into the online world.
Firstly, developing a strong marketing campaign is the key. Digital marketing has the ability to reach far and wide. A product manufactured in one part of India might have a high demand in another. So to cater to this customer base, it is crucial for the business to have a solid strategy when it comes to payment online. That is where applications like Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) and Umang come into play. Other international apps like Google pay and Amazon Pay are also widely used. It is also important to understand your consumer base. An online website allows you to collect data and learn about the interests of your potential customers. This allows a business to tailor its product to the customers’ needs. This approach is largely appealing to the customer and will help to develop a long-relation with the business. The business must also consider the demographic and socio-economic factors that determine the spending capacity of a consumer. Lastly, but most importantly, going online allows a business to scope out its competition. It lets you understand the marketing and pricing structure of a fellow business and helps a business better understand the niches present in the market. There are various tools online that help a start-up to identify their market potential.
Well, the future of Indian e-commerce indeed seems bright, but what about the consumer’s choice? Consumers are the driving force behind the exponential growth of online markets. So how are they shaping the face of online business?
Consumer behavior is probably one of the most researched fields in today’s online marketing age. This helps a business to fine-tune its strategy and successfully capture the attention of its target audience. We as consumers are constantly influenced by the marketing and advertising done through various social media platforms and thus are heavily influenced to buy certain products. Well, the online space today is still dominated by giants like Amazon and Flipkart; there are many things that only a small, independent business can offer. Hand-crafted, artisanal products hold a certain charm that a mass-produced, commercialized product simply does not. For the customer, the story behind how the product is made is as important as the product itself. Thus, these small businesses end up cultivating a far more personal and loyal relationship with their consumer than a commercial brand ever could. Another major factor that plays a crucial role in how an online product or service is perceived is how environmentally sustainable it is. Today’s generation is far more environmentally conscious, and research suggests that the consumer is likely to buy a particular product if it caters to their ideas of environmental sustainability. In other words, the consumer tends to actively choose a more eco-friendly alternative that caters to their notion of a healthier lifestyle. This is the reason why more and more business models are emerging that focus on providing eco-friendly and natural products. Thus these are a few small niches that businesses can exploit to attract a wider audience. The E-commerce industry has a direct impact on various aspects of society and has a cascading effect on different industrial sectors. As technology evolves, the e-commerce sector will develop better products and services through analytics-driven customer engagement and digital advertisements. This will also bring in more employment opportunities, not just for the urban population but also for the rural and indigenous population, which produce artisanal goods. So starting an online store is undoubtedly a lot of work, but the pay-off is just as rewarding. The internet has proven to be a blessing for entrepreneurs who wish to build their businesses. Having a store online is as good as having stores physically in multiple cities. It is truly amazing to see how a business can go from local to global with the internet’s magic touch!
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