NY-based DesiClik connects buyers and sellers, and has created a one-stop shop offering Indian handicrafts, apparel, food and spices, and other products.
For the last two generations, the number Indians aspiring to live the American Dream has been rising. Today, an estimated three million Indian-origin people are living in the US. Despite being in the thick of a different culture, most of them long to stick to Indian traditions. However, not all towns in the US offer Indian options and many residents must still drive an hour to find an Indian grocery store. Despite the many possibilities that e-commerce offered, there was no single shopping portal where people could find everything Indian. If they bought from Indian sites, delivery took longer and there was no easy way to return goods.
This looked like an obvious opportunity, and 12 years ago, an Indian couple settled in New York decided to tap it.
Deepak Agarwal, 45, and Sadhana Bothra, 46, are both commerce graduates from Kolkata with diplomas in computer science from NCC Education, UK.
Deepak, who has been in the US for 19 years now, belongs to a Marwari business family, and has done his master’s in business management from Tulane University in the US. Sadhana was an Assistant Vice-President with Whitehall Bank on Wall Street when their first child was born.
Deepak recollects, “After Sadhana gave up her career to be with our firstborn, we realised it was not easy to survive in the US on a single paycheque. We needed some extra income while letting Sadhana enjoy motherhood.”
They had found a huge demand for Indian apparel for kids. Exploring this opportunity, they started Desi Vastra for online retail in 2004. Deepak’s experience in building websites, SEO and marketing was complimented by Sadhna’s customer management and strategic thinking skills to help the business grow.
Having very few contacts in the business community in the US was a challenge initially. A lot more research was essential to find the right partners to work with. But Deepak says their biggest success is that they have been able to build a community of US-based NRIs around the business.
“In fact, we are organising a seminar for all our vendors in the next few months and we look forward to the occasion to individually connect with each of them,” he adds.
A decade and more
DesiVastra had no competition and the business did well till 2008 when the world economy was hit by recession. Deepak and Sadhna then decided to use the competition in the market to their advantage by bringing together their competitors through a marketplace.
In 2010, they started theindiabazaar.com, which was rebranded DesiClik.com in 2014. With no external funding, the founders have invested around $150,000 in it so far.
Today, DesiClik.com claims to be the largest US-based vertical e-commerce marketplace specialising in Indian products that span apparel, jewellery, handicraft, gifts, furniture, grocery, restaurant equipment, religious and puja items, festive goods and household items.
DesiClik’s customer base includes online shoppers from the US, Indian restaurants, corporate gifting segment and customers outside the US who want to send gifts to their friends and family in the US.
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Other than social media, DesiClik reaches out to its audience through advertisements on South Asian TV channels and other online platforms with significant South Asian visitors. DesiClik now has more than 50,000 registered users; they aim to reach all three million Indians in the US. With an average order size of around $50, DesiClik had an annual turnover of $300,000 in 2016.
Being based in New York has given easy access to a lot of wholesale distributors and retailers whom they brought to DesiClik. Since all their sellers are based in the US, DesiClik provides quicker delivery and easy returns.
With more than 10,000 products from close to 100 vendors, including more than 50 homemakers and work-from-home mums, DesiClik focuses on Indian products not available on other global platforms (they don’t have private label products).
All products are shipped from the US. This gives them the added advantage that big-ticket items don't get damaged in transit, unlike while shipping from India.
DesiClik does 10 percent fulfilment (mostly for high-demand items) and the rest by vendors. The company collects a flat service fee for each sale from the vendor.
Inspiration for success
DesiClik’s five-year plan is to cross $10 million in revenue, and they have elaborate plans to achieve it.
Since their customer base currently is 70 percent Indians, DesiClik wants to replicate the concept in Canada, UK and Australia where Indian diaspora is fairly large.
“We see an increasing trend of reverse gifting from India to the US, from the diaspora to their kin back in India. Festivals such as Rakhi, Navratri and Diwali contribute towards a large number of gifting-driven sales. With over 10 per cent of sales already coming from India, we plan to further build this market,” Deepak says.
DesiClik aims to enter India with a multi-pronged approach, including competitive pricing, an exclusive South Asian product range and other incentives. They are looking at clientele in metros such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad because a substantial section of this populace has friends and relatives living in the US already.
“The trust factor for the brand among Indian-Americans here has been passed on to their families back home, making it easier for us to penetrate the Indian market,” Deepak says.
DesiClik has already outsourced marketing tasks like SEO and graphic designing to companies in India. (They have only three part-time employees in the US to handle call volume and co-ordinate order fulfilment.)
Additionally, the business is tapping corporate wholesale customers across the US.
“We work with wholesale distributors in the US to fulfil these orders unless one of our vendors has the desired quantity. We also plan to provide a B2B marketplace for vendors in the US,” Deepak says.
The online gifting market in the US that focuses on Indians is worth more than $50 million. This gives DesiClik a great opportunity. In 2015, their total orders per month were around 2,000. The next year, they were close to 5,000. By the end of 2018, Deepak says they are gunning for over 9,000 orders going by current trends.
DesiClik has seen 20 percent monthly growth this year. Deepak is confident that the company will achieve $750,000 in revenue this year, growing by more than 200 per cent in 2017.