How the sale of essentials is enabling online sellers on Flipkart to survive the lockdown
“I used to receive 1500 to 1700 orders a day which has now reduced to 300 to 350 orders, since we can only sell essentials,” says Sanjib Prasad, an online seller on Flipkart, talking about the business impact of the restrictions imposed on e-commerce companies due to the nationwide lockdown. But, in spite of the evident dip in the revenue, Sanjib says that catering to the demand for hand sanitisers is helping him sustain the business.
“We have been able to sustain 30 to 40 percent of the business by selling sanitisers on Flipkart which are of utmost importance right now. Through this, I have been able to provide salaries for my 20-member team.”
Keeping the business up and running
Retailing under Kartbin Online Services Pvt Ltd, the business sold a variety of products across categories on Flipkart prior to the lockdown. These included products such as condoms, lubricants, shampoos, hair gel, conditioners, facewash, moisturisers, skin toners, fragrances – perfumes and deodorants, gift sets, hair treatment products, hair straighteners, aloe vera gels, screen cleaners, etc. The business also had their own line of t-shirts.
“While sanitisers have been part of my product catalogue ever since I started my business on Flipkart, it was just a really minuscule part of it.. I never thought there would be a day when sanitisers would be the most sold product amongst all my listed items.”
Even with the unusually high spike in demand, Sanjib has been able to source the sanitisers without much hassle. That he says has been possible because of the long-term association with skincare brands. However, he says, while there was an initial hitch in the transportation, that was addressed rather soon with Flipkart providing all the necessary documents to enable smooth transportation.
“In addition, Flipkart’s own logistics arm - Ekart - has further made logistics hassle-free for sellers like us. All we have to do is keep the shipment ready on time. Once the shipment is handed over, we are assured that the orders will be fulfilled as per the promised schedule.”
Like many sellers who are now managing the business on their own or with a minimum number of employees, Sanjib too is no different. He manages to run the business with the help of his five employees who come into work regularly while two others work from home. “Their roles and responsibilities have been optimally distributed to ensure smooth operations,” shares Sanjib. And, considering that they are working amidst the pandemic, Sanjib says they adhere to the standard safety protocols.
“The products are sanitised before dispatch. All the employees undergo thermal scanning before entering and leaving the office. They also sanitise their hands at regular intervals and use gloves and masks. Social distancing is maintained at all times. Even during lunch breaks, they are encouraged to follow the safety protocols.”
Why online selling is built for resilience
The entrepreneur says running his business on Flipkart has been economically viable as compared to other e-commerce platforms even during the pandemic and the restrictions that have come with the lockdown. “If I work for six hours a day, I am able to meet the numbers to sustain the business. This is in spite of the fact that the monthly revenue has come down significantly.” He adds, “Also, seeing how much offline businesses are struggling to cope with current economic order, I am able to clearly see the benefits of online selling.” Sanjib also points that online selling makes it easy for businesses to pivot without having to make huge investments.
“A seller can start selling with limited quantities, gain traction and increase the volumes. For instance, we recently started selling masks and that is now helping us increase our revenue. Also, you do not require marketing executives or additional personnel, thanks to the availability of the product catalogue. With online selling, businesses have the liberty to experiment, pivot and grow which is challenging otherwise.”
While the COVID-19 crisis has been a double-edged sword for e-commerce, it goes without saying that it has been one of the first industries to adapt quickly to the new normal. Interestingly, Sanjib started his online journey, intrigued by the rapid growth and popularity of e-commerce back in 2013. An engineer by education, Sanjib was working in an IT company in Noida when e-commerce was witnessing unparalleled growth in India.
“I spent some time understanding the dynamics of e-commerce business and opened my own online platform. But, I couldn’t sustain the business due to logistics issues. That, however, gave me deeper insights into the working of the industry. And soon enough, Sanjib along with his two partners, Vinita Prasad and Ajay Kumar, started Kartbin Online Services Pvt Ltd.”
Selling online saw Sanjib and the two other partners quickly learning from the hits and misses.
“One of the key learnings was that it was best to sell products that have high demand, but require less investment. It’s also a category that witnesses minimal returns. ”
While Kartbin began retailing in the skin and hair care category, the time to come saw the business expanding their product portfolio, thereby driving business growth. From earning Rs 1.3 crore in 2015, the first year of the business, Kartbin has grown consistently over the years. “By 2018, we were earning an annual revenue of Rs 10 crore. The next year saw us almost doubling the business. In 2019, we touched Rs 19 crore in revenue.”
While the current lockdown will see Kartbin restricting its business to sell only essential goods, they are planning on adding more brands and products in the essential category.
“We are also going to start our own manufacturing line for hand sanitisers. It is currently in the pipeline,” shares Sanjib.