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What is driving Condom and Lingerie E-commerce in India?

Wednesday November 09, 2011 , 4 min Read


Rising amidst dusty roads and the green landscape of India’s hinterland is a new breed of consumers. And if you thought that people from small towns and villages are untouched by online consumerism, think again. In fact, they are, in many ways, driving e-commerce in India to greater heights. Take 22-year-old Shilpi Kaul for instance. She lives in the small town near Bhatinda; has just graduated from college and has never been to a mall. A bag of nerves before her wedding, she wanted to look her best on the D-Day and hide all her tummy flab while she donned a gorgeous lehenga. Walking into a local store manned by salesmen who try and sell her bras in lace, satin, albeit of a limited variety, was something she wasn’t comfortable with. “How can I ask him which bra is right for me? Also, sitting together, mulling over whether I should go for a push-up or strapless bra sounds like a nightmare!” So she logged on to the internet and bought shapewear and bridal lingerie from Zivame, an online lingerie store. “It is quick and easy. Sites like Zivame give me access to products which I can’t find locally,” she avers. Krishna K, on the other hand, travels 20 kms from Andipatti to Theni to pick up a pack of condoms shipped by the online store, Condom King. He is happy to lay his hands on his order, packaged discreetly.

There are many more Shilpis and Krishnas out there. E-commerce has empowered people from small towns and villages to make an informed choice, especially when they buy products like condoms or intimate apparel. Although in metros too men are not comfortable with buying condoms from a medical store; women are shy and intimidated by the prospect of discussing their bra size to a stranger across the counter, when it comes to tier II or III cities, the problem increases manifold. Richa Kar, Co-founder, of Zivame explains, “Many stores fall short when it comes to product variety. Zivame gets orders from every nook and corner of the country including towns like Barbil in Orrisa or Cunnor. Our clients from Punjab and Jammu complain that shops there do not store larger cup sizes. In fact, we once sold a minimizer bra to woman from Jammu, who never knew that such a bra type existed!”

Cultural implications too affect buying behaviour. Ramesh Srinivas, Founder of Condom King explains the predicament many lads from smaller towns and villages face. “First of all, they are not confident enough to go and buy a condom from a store. Even if they are, they aren’t informed about their choices. Many a time, men might want to buy flavoured condoms but are hesitant to ask the shop owner, and might end up buying a plain one or nothing at all.” Therefore, a majority of Condom King’s orders are from cities like Valsad in Gujarat, Rajganpur in Orissa, Andipatti in Tamil Nadu, Raiganj in West Bengal and Uttarakhand. “The site gives them the freedom to choose, understand the product and then take a decision. They can’t do the same, standing in a store, while a flock of other customers stand next to him,” adds Srinivas.

"Tier II and III town citizens, in several cases, are even more aspirational than their metro counterparts and attach a lot more importance to social standing in their community. For instance, brides-to-be from these cities invest much more in pre-marriage lingerie shopping than several metros. What this means for ventures in segments like lingerie and condoms is that it’s important they appreciate the rise of this non-metro consuming class, which they already do," says Venture Capitalist, Soumitra Sharma from IDG Ventures.

“There is no doubt that tier II and III towns are a large consumer market for e-commerce in India. With disposable incomes rising pan-India, consumers from smaller parts of India are exposed to the same lifestyle and consumer trends as their metro counterparts, courtesy of television and the internet. However, given limited offline penetration of several goods, these consumer aspirations have remained largely unmet. The advent of e-commerce has changed that. Consumers in these markets are in a way more nascent and would require more handholding by these ventures. It is important for lingerie and condom websites to educate this segment about importance of fit and sexual health respectively." adds Soumitra.

While Zivame has a blog that informs women about how to find the right fit and size, Condom King aims at creating a critical mass of informed users.With consumption being driven from every nook and corner of the country, E-commerce in India is here to stay!

- Anisha Mehta

Image Courtesy: netlogical