A majority of B2B concerns are using innovative technology to replace samples, says Mihir Shah.


The Indian consumer has always favoured the physical feel of a product over buying it only on visual experience. This is one of the primary reasons that even though Indian B2C textile e-commerce is flourishing (34 per cent CAGR, according to PwC report, 2015), Indian internet penetration (19 per cent) still lags behind the global internet penetration (around 60 per cent). A few years ago, when the online shopping concept was still making its place in the retail sector, not much activity could be seen due to absence of trust. Buyers needed to actually feel and see the product being offered.


However, this changed when the retail e-commerce firms started offering Cash on Delivery (COD) to customers and the power to reject helped consumers make informed buying decisions. COD helped in taking these online services to people without any access to online transaction or banking services. Indian B2B e-commerce is even more fraught with challenges as only three per cent of the sector is covered by organised firms. The rest is ruled by unorganised players throughout the diverse geographies of our country. In case of textile B2B deals, physical sampling is often a deal breaker if the customer is not happy with the desired product quality.


Due to the large volume and value of transactions in this field, physical sampling is more or less a proof of the promise by the manufacturer. However, with long relationships in place, the buyer and supplier can overcome the hurdle of decision making depending on sampling as this takes another seven to ten days and adds to the production cycle. With improving technology, physical sampling is being replaced with various other sensory methods in developed countries, some of which are mentioned below:


1. 3D Printing: Globally, 3D printing has been developing from the late 1980's and currently developed countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Canada have been making exponential headway, not only in the sampling department but also in manufacturing since it involves negligible wastage, can be used with bio-degradable raw materials and is eco-friendly.


2. Virtual Reality: Rather than having the swatch in hand, if the eyes perceive that they have a virtual piece in hand and the right sensors are triggered, the customer can actually experience the feel of the fabric. This will make the swatch unnecessary for a generation in tune with developing technology and will be more open about having the ease of getting the feel of the ordered material any time.


3. Image rendering: This technique is already used by certain fashion houses and e-retailers to showcase different raw materials in the form of finished products. This could include utilising a single shirt sample to showcase various shirting fabrics by simply pasting swatches of fabric design onto the shirt outline. This not decreases the cost of the photo shoot and can lead to thousands of different sampling images.


These are some methods which can reduce the need for physical sampling and help bring down the reliance of B2B e-commerce deals on the same. We do not need to take the Star Trek route right away. Rather, we should ease into the sampling process enhancement by understanding which technique out of the current options will work in a developing country like India.


Implemented with care, the textile industry can only benefit from these new techniques.


About the author:

Mihir Shah is co-founder of XSTOK.com, a B2B marketplace for ready and surplus stocks across fabrics, denims, home textiles, apparels and Yarns in textile. XSTOK in a year has on boarded over 750 Mills of national and international repute like Arvind Mills, Mafatalal, Nahar, Welspun, Trident D'Decor and so on.