"A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them." — Steve Jobs.
Sstorm aims to help Indians 'window shop' interesting products from around the world and then 'hit' buy without having to pay import fees and taxes.
While e-commerce players in India are going through tough times with ‘rightsizing’, the appeal of cross-border e-commerce is catching on and is currently estimated to account for more than 25 percent of total global e-commerce sales. In October 2016, Amazon launched Amazon Global Store in India. San Francisco-headquartered Wish is another player in this space but currently does not ship to India.
Meanwhile, Indian sellers have been leveraging platforms like Alibaba and international logistics players to ship their products globally. Shipping products globally comes at a price, though — customers generally have to foot the bill for customs duties, import charges and taxes.
A five-member cross-border team based out of India (Mumbai) and the US aims to change that, though. Their website, Sstorm, claims to reimagine international shopping. The company website states their USP thus:
$80 in the US, $80 at your doorstep.
Starting up — Zero to One vs One to N
Sstorm was founded by the team of Armaan Gandhi, Anup Gandhi, Sahej Sethi, Arzan Irani and Ryan LaValle. Armaan came up with the idea for Sstorm as a pivot for his earlier startup Xyra Technologies, which made and sold consumer electronic devices.
Based on his experience in the sector and the constant pace of global innovation, Armaan realised that constantly innovating in the hardware space was tough, as that needed one to have deep pockets to keep up with global giants. Innovating and creating a product from scratch, or going from Zero to One, the philosophy outlined in Peter Thiel’s book, is tough. Armaan further realised that going from One to N, or achieving growth, is also a big challenge. A lot of hardware startups and platforms find it difficult to expand in their local and foreign markets. So, Armaan thought,
Why don’t we try and find innovative retailers from across the world and bring them to India. The next step was to create a way for companies to ship products to India without hassles like the bureaucracy and the need to create a bank account.
The aim was to bring to India niche products that are not available on more mainstream platforms like Amazon’s Global Store and offer them to consumers at a fair price. Armaan and his team noted that most international shipping platforms charge custom duties, shipping fees and additional taxes on goods, which can sometimes add up to almost 60 percent of the product’s selling price.
So, Sstorm started out with the goal of eliminating this and aims to provide products to customers at MRP, sans the additional shipping and duty charges. They bring down the cost of products by tying up with suppliers and also shipping products in bulk at regular cycles of 10-20 days.
After being in private beta for a few months, Sstorm was officially launched in India in January this year.
So, how does Sstorm work?
Customers need to sign up on the platform to view products listed on Sstorm. Like other e-commerce platforms, each product is accompanied by pictures, a product description and the final price. One additional detail included is about when the sale of a product ends.
Product link: Sstorm
Once a sale cycle for a product ends, Sstorm processes all the orders together and ships them in bulk, which helps them bring down the final cost. Because of this and the fact that some products are hand-made or made-to-order, shipping time generally takes about two to three weeks.
Sstorm’s current portfolio of products mainly includes fashion accessories, accessories for smartphones and laptops, and other small-sized items like power banks, kettles and WiFi routers.
According to Armaan, an RFID-blocking wallet and a plasmatic lighter were among their best-selling products in January. While Sstorm declined to share their current order volumes, Armaan noted that they currently average around 3,000 visitors to their website every day. Considering the fact that most of their products come under the premium category, with an average price of around Rs 5,600, Sstorm is happy with the current traction.
Cash on delivery and product curation
Armaan notes that their beta testing phase helped them tweak and enhance their platform to suit the Indian audience. He says,
Indian consumers are generally not used to seeing these kinds of premium products, and we noticed that many, initially, dropped off before placing orders.
On further investigation, Sstorm realised that customers weren’t too keen on paying online on a new platform. So, taking a page out of Flipkart’s playbook, Sstorm introduced cash on delivery for its orders and claims to have seen an increase in conversions and sales.
Product link: Sstorm
Getting the right sellers onboard and curating products in regular cycles is important for a smooth flow. Armaan says that his team of five spends a few hours every day hunting down interesting products, reaching out to sellers, and responding to incoming requests to ensure a good churn rate. Sstorm also ensures that their sellers have international warranties for their products, to ensure that servicing in the destination country (India) is taken care of.
Based on a mutual understanding with the seller and the contract, a product is generally replaced or retained after one cycle, which usually lasts for about a month.
Sstorm is currently bootstrapped, and Armaan notes that they plan to work on their venture for about six months before stepping out in the market to raise external capital. The aim, for the moment, is to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and further streamline execution and gain more traction.
While many of Sstorm’s current products seem to be from the US, Armaan says that they have signed exclusive agreements with suppliers from Canada, Italy, France and many other countries, but aim to introduce their products on Sstorm slowly, in phases.
Armaan says that while their strategy of forcing even ‘window shoppers’ to sign up on their platform to just view products can be considered counterintuitive, it is a good strategy in the long run, as it helps them better understand the browsing patterns of potential and existing customers clearly and onboard the right suppliers.
Sstorm is also toying with the idea of creating an influencer platform and hosting product giveaways to increase their reach and customer base. Armaan shares that one of the ultimate goals, in the long run, is to bring down the monthly refresh cycle to a daily one, once they hit critical mass. He says,
Our goal is to bring a new retailer onboard every day and have more frequent flash sales.
While the current focus is on shipping global products to India and increasing their supplier base, while understanding what kind of products the Indian consumer wants, Armaan admits that in the long term, they might do the reverse too — ship Indian products to a global audience.