What upcoming online shopping startups are doing different from the giants?


The e-commerce industry resembles a race track, with a bunch of talented players running towards the grand prize, all focused only on the finish line and their placement in the race. Everything else comes later.

While discount catcalls are getting louder, what is largely missing is the essence of the true shopping experience. Amidst the high cash-burn rates of advertising sales, offers and celebrity curated schemes, there is an increasing desire to shift the focus back from volumes and offers to efforts taken to discern people's tastes and provide personalised experiences.

1.     Race to the bottom: A mindless growth

There is a burning desire to outsmart each other at the discount race. Armed with celebrity endorsements and advertisements, sales gimmicks and offers overload, there is little differentiation between these platforms that seem to have emerged from the same cookie cutter. How long will these companies sustain, though? It almost feels like a déjà vu from the time leading up to the infamous 2000 dotcom crash. The same strategy did not work then and it looks like history is repeating itself. The only online platform that survived the crash then was Amazon. Can we remember any other player?

2.     It’s neither a race, nor a marathon. It’s a nice little stroll we take every day

It is time to rediscover the original shopping experience, which is all about chatting and sharing with your friends and family while passing through esoteric products that are purchased as per convenience and not as per sale.

New entrants in the e-commerce space today have realised the need to differentiate and innovate to provide a more personalised, engaged and lasting experience, that is backed by stable technology and easy, relevant consumer interface. Therefore, it is not about carpet-bombing, but more about targeted engagement.

3.     Shopping is primary; buying is optional

Shopping is all about the environment and its enjoyment. The current e-commerce scenario is focused on making consumers purchase things they may not even need, by bombarding them with flash sales and throw away discounts, so that they are convinced that they shouldn’t miss out on the sale.

However, the love in shopping is more about relaxation and discovery. Shopping is different from buying. Shopping holds an almost romantic notion of wandering around endlessly in nearby malls or fashion streets. Furthermore, the company of friends and family is the icing on the cake. Discussing a new fashion trend, a bag or dress on display, or simply finding something nice for someone, helps build relationships amongst peers and families. It isn't always about spending money when you go shopping.

4.     Relationship

India is a highly contextual country, where relationships are key. More importantly, we have a strong creative culture with artistry engrained in every corner. This makes it possible to create a unique ecosystem of esoteric products that are handcrafted and manufactured by boutique retailers and fine designers. Innovation lies in getting them to co-exist with big retailers, so that the focus of shopping is on taste and not sale.

There are many creators and appreciators, but it’s tough for them to find each other. Shopping platforms that house brands which are startups themselves and offer niche products would be appreciated.

However, to pursue this, there needs to be behavioral change, from consumption to appreciation, where value of a product should be the priority, not the price. This behavioral change will be implemented if it touches people’s hearts and makes their lives more fulfilling.

Decentralisation in e-shopping isn’t far-fetched; it is just a matter of time.

5.     Discovery in shopping

The promise of the internet is discovery. As long as one is connected, one is never alone. People can browse for hours together and there is still data left untouched. Each day, the home page of Wikipedia will have fresh information to be learnt.

The same thing will happen to shopping too; it will become more about discovering. It is bound to become more personalised for every shopper’s requirements. There will be a lot more innovation and we will witness the emergence of more interesting players. Online shopping is just starting to get more interesting.

Reports claim that the Indian e-commerce industry can grow up to USD 137 billion by the year 2020. This indicates that a fierce competition is under way among shopping platforms, whether they are age-old, experienced giants, or fresh and energetic startups.

About the Author: Rajesh Chokhani, Co-founder of Sweet Couch is a man with a clear vision for the e-commerce industry. In his quest to redefine the difference between ‘buying’ and ‘window shopping’, he along with his team conceptualized Sweet Couch, which values the experience of a shopper above making a sale for profits.