Digital India can connect rural areas with high-speed Internet networks, allowing e-commerce to reach parts of India, which are currently served only by unorganised retail. Apart from reaching out to customers, entrepreneurs from the interiors can join the organised retail industry and scale up businesses to pan-India, feels Arun Sirdeshmukh.

It was not very long ago that people who shopped online in India were considered 'ahead of time'. But, times have changed, and in today's world the question isn't "Have you ever shopped online"; it's "How often you shop online." We can say with certainty that e-commerce has indeed arrived in India, bearing in mind that we still have a long way to go.

 

Notwithstanding the phenomenal growth during the last two years, online shopping still represents a minuscule 1-2 per cent of overall retail sales in India. By 2020, India's e-commerce market is expected to reach $100 billion, and there is no doubt this sector will greatly contribute to the Indian economy. The e-commerce industry in India is still in a nascent stage. To start with, in India there are 180 million Internet users and a small portion of them has the access to data connections. The e-commerce industry will grow further with rising disposable incomes, affordable access to data, and higher mobile penetration.

 

It is time to re-look at regulations for digital companies from a different lens. The policies and frameworks that were designed for brick-and-mortar businesses many years ago need a fresh evaluation for digital companies. For instance, online shopping sites face myriad tax regimes and, in some cases, double taxation too because they deliver goods to customers across different states in India. It is crucial to implement a standardised tax structure so that issues like double taxation can be avoided. Hopefully, the expected announcements related to the Goods & Services Tax (GST) will result in simplification and standardisation of the tax regime for digital companies.

Just like a new house needs a strong foundation, the e-commerce industry still needs a well-developed ecosystem in India. Last mile delivery is one of the weakest links that is limiting the reach to rural India. Therefore, any tax subsidies for logistics companies that would help develop this ecosystem would in turn help fuel the growth of e-commerce in India. In the area of fashion e-commerce, one specific opportunity is around standardisation of sizes of clothing products. This would make shoppers more comfortable buying online. However, this type of initiative requires investment from the government into an independent body that sets such standards across the industry.

 

There is also an opportunity to simplify regulations for international brands to do business in India. For instance, dozens of international brands have recently launched on Fashionara.com and there are many more that are very interested in entering the Indian market. However, there is a sense of cautious scepticism due to a lack of clarity in regulations to import goods and sell in India. Simplification of regulations and custom duty rules would go a long way in allowing hundreds of brands to enter this market via online channels, where the investment is much lower compared to setting up physical stores.

 

Next, the Digital India initiative, if executed well, will help connect rural areas with high-speed Internet networks, allowing e-commerce to reach parts of India, which are currently served only by unorganised retail. One cannot forget the fact that disposable incomes in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities are on the rise, and consumers there have higher aspirational levels than earlier. Apart from reaching out to the customers, many enthusiastic entrepreneurs from the interiors of India can join the organised retail industry and scale up their businesses to pan-India. Hence, it would be instrumental in bringing the best of different parts of India to the entire population of the country. The best of the collections and niche offerings will be available to everyone at their finger tips. This would make "everything accessible to everyone" and truly foster growth for the 'Make in India' campaign.

 

Apart from helping the e-commerce industry grow, this would also offer immense opportunity to small players to increase their scale who find challenges - to fund the infrastructure to place the products pan-India through different offline outlets, to offer logistics till the consumer's end, to have in-house expertise in consumer facing packaging of products and to have in-house expertise to market the products to relevant target groups through online medium. The e-commerce industry would also nurture many more allied industries with expertise in the e-commerce domain, such as logistics, warehousing, mobile marketing, etc, serving e-commerce companies. E-commerce is definitely going to encourage small and talented entrepreneurs to dream big and would vicariously facilitate 'Make in India'.

 

With the advent of e-commerce players, people used to confuse horizontal supermarkets with vertical players like departmental stores. With the industry evolving and everyone trying to differentiate, the time has come when a vertical player like Fashionara.com which deals with fashion clearly differentiates itself from any other online hypermarket. Way forward, even vertical players dealing with similar segment would try to differentiate themselves more in different and innovative ways.

 

 

Virtually, everything we need - be it a product or service - would have a potential to come online with a higher value proposition of "convenience". We, as the coolest fashion e-mall, have been instrumental in bringing many things to the table for the first time to differentiate ourselves and stand out from the crowd. At the end of the day it's all about stepping up your game. From video catalogues, to creatively-designed Look Books that talk about the latest of trends, a fashion magazine that captures the world of style, and our international fashion section that has been handpicked from various brands and sellers across the world; we have been innovative in our approach in creating an impact on our fashion-savvy customers, and we will continue to do so.

 

Last, with the high penetration of smartphones in India and due to the affinity of users to do many things on the go, there is an affinity for mobile apps. Currently, there are millions of mobile apps available on Google Play Store, Windows Store and the App Store. Apart from mobility, mobile is also the central device for a consumer which can do almost anything, including calling which a desktop or a laptop cannot do easily. This provokes digital companies to gain a share of space in a consumer's mobile through apps, which can generate higher engagement with consumers. Having the mobile app on consumer's mobile also increases the brand preference score of the company. The app can be a simplified medium to reach consumers, and to offer simplified after-sales service to them. Imagine, when a consumer wants to call the customer care of the company, and the app can offer a feature by which a consumer simply taps a particular section and gets connected to customer care over phone. This can be done through an app in a very simplified manner. There are many more things which could be done innovatively with an app.

 

On an average, each mobile user has 40-50 apps installed on his/her device, but only 4-5 apps are used by a customer on a regular basis. The challenge for every digital company is to be one of those 4-5 apps which include social apps, shopping apps, entertainment apps, etc. To be one of those 4-5 apps, the real key would be to engage the set of customers through their mobile app, and offer best value not only specific to the category that the app deals with but also across all the other categories.

 

There are many more innovations expected in the mobile engagement sector and this could be by making navigation easiest and fastest, offering customised recommended content depending on past behaviour of that particular customer till the point it becomes a one-stop personal assistant for that category. We at Fashionara.com have

tried to achieve that through our mobile app. It will not only be necessary to differentiate with a valuable proposition for the company, but will also be necessary to differentiate the app from other apps in a similar category. There are many other innovations expected too, such as experimentation with augmented reality which would offer realistic but virtual trial rooms to every user and could enrich the experience of the consumers buying online.

 

To sum it up: there is no question that e-commerce is here to stay and thrive in India. However, the upcoming policy announcements and innovations will play a crucial role in impacting this growth over the next few years.