Anna Mittal, a Gurgaon-based consultant, recently moved to India after two decades of working with technology companies like IBM and Cisco in Singapore and Australia. Over the years she has become used to buying clothes and furniture online. That virtual shopping list includes lingerie. In Singapore Mittal preferred shopping at Victoria's Secret webstore and in Australia she routinely picked up Strawberry innerwear online. "Buying from the comfort of your living room offers privacy and the 25% discount compared to buying from retail outlets makes it more attractive," says Mittal.

 

In India, however, Mittal has had to drive down to malls to buy lingerie at Marks & Spencer outlets. "I find the websites unable to manage expectations very well. Lingerie buying in India has a long way to go," says Mittal. Her expectations include a choice of brands, timely delivery, return policy and she wouldn't mind an occasional consultancy.

 

A Niche Play

In evolving online marketplaces, lingerie has been pretty much under wraps. There are more than 50 webstores in India but lingerie, according to Sanjeev Aggarwal, managing director of Helion Venture Partners, a venture fund, is "the fifth or sixth category for multi-product webstores. Besides, it's a small, unorganized market. The offline lingerie market is just above $2 billion and online is insignificant." For instance two-year-old fashion retailer Jabong.com started lingerie as a category only six months back. Another portal Yebhi.com, which started as a webstore for shoes and added lingerie later, says innerwear sales account for 2-3% of their business and "it's not a key category for us", says Nikhil Rungta, Yebhi's chief business officer.

 

Yet, a few sites are betting on lingerie. These include Zivame.com, Prettysecrets.com, Moodsofcloe.com and Laceandme.com. Last fortnight Zivame.com, which claims to be India's largest online retailer of lingerie, raised $6 million in a fresh round of funding from Unilazer Ventures, IDG Ventures and Kalaari Capital. Overall, much like the small size of lingerie market, venture money into the vertical has also been minusculeless than2%of the $500 million venture investment going into internet businesses in 2013. In all, Zivame.com has raised $9 million since it started two years back; and another lingerie-focused portal Prettysecrets.com got $1 million from three angel investors Indian Angel Network, Harvard Business School and Orios Venture Partners.

 

Ronnie Screwvala, the entertainment czar who's now wearing the investor hat as founder of Unilazer Ventures says, "Lingerie is an under-explored sector due to lack of organized retail. In this category there's a need for anonymity from the core consumer and e-commerce will open up a strong latent demand." Contours of that demand can be gauged from the daily orders that Zivame.com ships. Says Richa Kar, founder-CEO of Zivame.com: "We are averaging 1,200 orders daily. This has jumped 200% in one year." The category spans bra, panty, nightwear, fashion tapes, shape wear and more. "We are selling solutions for innerwear," Kar adds.

 

Virtual Drivers

Karan Behal, founder-CEO of Prettysecrets.com, and Kar believe the value proposition for online innerwear stores is fourfold. First, the choice online offers to buyers or, in trade parlance, the sheer number of stock keeping units (SKUs) of lingerie is far higher than for any other category. Says Behal: "The number of bra