While most people jotted down business plans to start e-commerce portals, looking at e-commerce boom in India, the founders of Koolkart came up with a rather ‘kool’ idea.Nobody likes shopping alone. We’re always looking for opinions and advice on what brands to buy, from which places and at what prices. So, we grab someone we know (who pities him/herself in most cases!), and set off to a mall for the ensuing escapade. Koolkart has tried to recreate this experience online.
Seeing e-commerce finally taking off in India, Suneil Chawla and Anupam Agarwal, Co-founders of Koolkart, recognized that there would be over a thousand e-commerce companies opening up over the next couple of years. This, they realized, would bring two problems for consumers:
(1) What to buy: Consumers would be spoilt for choice with thousands of e-retailers who highlight products they want to sell, and with a lack of time to go through every site digging for good products
(2) Where to buy: Consumers want to know which retailers are trustworthy and who is selling at the best price or having the best deal.
Koolkart came up with the concept of social discovery + price comparison factoring in these two consumer needs, by creating an independent platform where consumers can discover products being purchased/recommended by their friends and fellow shoppers, and also compare prices and review retailers. Their beta version was launched at the end of January, 2012. Although its been only 2 months since then, they have seen a positive response with 3000 UVs a day and rising.
With Koolkart, consumers can gain access to products endorsed by their friends/fellow shoppers and discover over 14 million products from over 180 online retailers in India. To enable social product discovery, Koolkart is integrated with Facebook. Product recommendations from users are seamlessly shared on their Facebook timeline using the recently launched Facebook Opengraph. “We are the first application in India and one of the very few globally, who have a Facebook timeline integration for shopping. This allows consumers to easily discover products recommended by their friends and like-minded fellow shoppers. Once the consumer has decided what to buy, they can compare prices across retailers to ensure that the price paid is always the best,” says Suneil.
The Koolkart team consists of 5 people who got together in September, 2011. A commerce graduate from Loyola College, an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, and after over 4 years at Bain & Co, across their Delhi, Boston and Mumbai offices, Suneil decided to startup Koolkart along with Anupam. A computer science engineer from IIT Delhi, an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, a banker with Barclay's Capital, London, Anupam is a second-time entrepreneur, having co-founded Flightraja.com (now Via.com) prior to his MBA.
On how they market Koolkart, Anupam says, “We have built in social discovery, which is attracting users even when our userbase is still young. Further, consumers love the price comparison and Koolkart button (instant price comparison). We are getting consumers through search, who are getting converted into social shoppers. The Facebook timeline is helping us gain strong virality through word-of-mouth. It looks like the chicken-and-egg situation can be cracked, if one is very conscious of consumer needs (What to buy / Where to buy).”
Their basic revenue model is affiliate commission from retailers, though they believe that there is a lot of untapped potential once they become the starting point for shopping, which is their current focus, and incorporates social signals from consumers.
Koolkart’s journey hasn’t been easy. “E-commerce players in India do not have good systems and data feeds to integrate with our platform. So, we had to build a platform which gathers data from retailers without them having to do much. Now that we have one, integrating with new retailers is quite easy. Growing the userbase faster is our current focus area. Creating awareness for a new brand like Koolkart takes multiple initiatives, and we’re working on that,” says Anupam. “We have built the entire comparison engine inhouse from scratch - we have mainly used Java and Mysql.We have a robust and scaleable back-end, which will really help as we expand,” he adds.
Koolkart has noticed some interesting trends along the way. They have seen that although there is some loyalty towards large players, once consumers recognize that they can get similar products at 20% - 40% lower prices, they nearly always switch. Also, no e-commerce site is always the cheapest - even leading players price products at low prices occasionally, whereas some players have take to very aggressive (low) pricing tactics.
The biggest gainers from Koolkart’s platform have been ecommerce sites which sell fashion and home décor products (especially products not being sold elsewhere). Indian consumers are getting into shopping for softer categories online, and Koolkart is focusing on social discovery for such products, going forward. Many niche e-retailers in fashion and home décor, they claim, have got significant traffic to their websites from Koolkart.com.
“We continue to innovate on the social discovery experience on Koolkart.com. There's plenty of work and we are expanding the team" concludes Suneil.
Koolkar requires a SEO strategist, details about which can be found here. Happy shopping!
- Meghna Chhabria and Jubin Mehta