[Product Roadmap] DealShare started on WhatsApp, and evolved into a tech platform with multiple touchpoints
In September 2018, when Vineet Rao, Sankar Bora, Sourjyendu Medda, and Rajat Shikhar started DealShare in Jaipur, Rajasthan, they had decided to build a social commerce model that primarily targeted non-metro and middle-income Indian consumers with mass market products.
“DealShare focuses on building a complete ecommerce solution for Bharat, from the ground up and based on first principles,” Sourjyendu says.
Technology is at the core of social ecommerce startup DealShare’s business and ensures that the team works closely with consumers and businesses, learns about their needs, and builds solutions.
“Our unique target customer group and business model poses several technical challenges. The key problems we have been addressing revolve around solving problems for new internet users. efficient and cost-effective logistics, creating supply and distribution side platforms, digitising businesses, and growing the customer base with low acquisition cost social marketing,” Sourjyendu says.
The WhatsApp days
The co-founders started with WhatsApp as their main channel for sales; this soon evolved into the app. The first version of the app was simple – it had a list of products and buy buttons, a simple form for the address, and was available in Hindi and English.
“The app was built in-house in two weeks’ time and was a viral success amongst our customer base that was earlier buying on WhatsApp. Within 20 days of launch, we had more than 30,000 customers using the app with zero marketing spend! The key reason for the rapid success was the relevance and comfort it provided to Indian middle-income families,” Sourjyendu says.
Like with any ecommerce platform, tech needed to be approached from first principles to ensure scale and growth. Supply chain efficiency was one of the important goals.
Bringing in supply chain efficiency
The key goal around the supply chain was to create maximum positive impact on unit economics by reducing delivery costs, creating visibility in stocking and stock movement, and providing transparency in day-to-day operations.
Things begin with the order routing system, which works on geographic allocation of customers and warehouses. The warehouse system takes care of processes at the warehouse, ensuring visibility of stocks and following processes like inward, put-away, picking, dispatching, pilferage, etc.
The stock transfer system, meanwhile, takes care of the visibility of the movement of goods between warehouses and prevents in-transit damage and pilferage.
“With our innovative DealShare Dost (DSD) programmer, we are able to engage micro-entrepreneurs in logistics and reduce last-mile delivery costs significantly. Our tech platform comprising the delivery app, and DSD panel allows for efficient handover, accounting, and delivery to customers,” Sourjyendu explains.
Working around coronavirus
For an ops-centric business, the COVID-19 situation created obvious roadblocks. Adapting to the new normal meant building new systems that could help serve the end consumer. The first step was to build a tech system that could support contactless delivery with more digital payment options - on the app and even at the doorstep.
“We also made it easier to buy more items - the need of the hour - by improving our bag/cart functionality. We also collaborated with the Rajasthan government to build a procurement system for supporting 45,000 kiranas across the state. This B2B system would help to source for these kiranas and, along with that, has formed the basis for the initial B2B systems,” Sourjyendu says.
Continued customer feedback since the release of the first app has helped the team evolve the app experience. DealShare has upgraded the app over 25 times since it was first launched in 2018. The ecommerce startup began by providing more information on products, and soon added options for easier navigation, promotional communication, various incentive programmes, and gamification.
What customers need
Sourjyendu says they started with a blank slate and curiosity to better understand customers and what they actually wanted from DealShare.
“Our customers work with us to tell us what next; they need and we build. We have a lot of brainstorming sessions internally to personalise features of the application based on different customer needs. Our simple-to-use interface, the in-your-face discovery of products, Indian language communication, and highly relevant catalogue made us an instant hit among customers, leading to unprecedented conversion rates,” he says.
The co-founder adds that the team refrained from westernised notions of the online shopping experience, but built from first principles “as a discovery platform”. This is why DealShare did not have features like cart, online payment, etc when it started.
“We understood that there was high tolerance for communications and sharing for the Tier II and III audience. The reverse is also true as customers would spend a lot more time talking to us on phone/WhatsApp and other channels. This enabled us to build a stronger relationship with our customers,” he adds.
The team was able to create experiences that would make sharing simpler, which helped in customer acquisition with fewer incentives.
Sourjyendu says the team understood that their target audience had no preconceived understanding about how ecommerce should be. This helped them experiment with games and gamification, which resulted in high stickiness and engagement.
Expanding to multiple cities
“We rely heavily on sharing and referrals to acquire customers, which keeps overall cost of acquisition low. From the beginning, we ran several programmes and offers to engage customers and encourage them to share more for discounts on purchases. We also started a special offers section to push better deals and ride on product-based virality to reach more customers,” Sourjyendu says.
As DealShare started expanding from one location to multiple cities, they needed the technology to evolve and provide tools for configuring experiences for different customer groups and make operations more scalable.
“We faced several challenges while building the systems: from low tech savviness of customers to poor network connectivity in non-metro locations. This poses tech challenges for us and makes the focus on performance vital,” Sourjyendu says.
Another set of challenges came from scaling: handling different customer types, their life cycle, preferences, and geographies. Building a configurable system where they could target users based on locality, language, and promotions was a challenge. The team evolved the original system to a point where it was easy to manage, beyond which the team started refactoring and moving component by component to new systems.
Market and the future
With an average of 550 stock-keeping units (SKU) across all categories, DealShare delivers about 10,000 orders daily. At present, it has around 150 manufacturers and suppliers, of which 70 percent are regional or local.
The startup is presently operational in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Surat, Baroda, Kota, Jodhpur, Ajmer, Sikar, Sawai Madhopur, and Nagaur. In October 2019, the founders said they soon aimed to expand to 100 cities across more than 10 states.
Social commerce is fast picking up in India. The total market for ecommerce is likely to touch $84 billion by 2021, according to reports. In the daily products space, startups like Swiggy, Dunzo, BigBasket, and Grofers are operational, but they are metro-centric. Facebook-backed Meesho, meanwhile, is focusing on small and medium enterprises and Tier II and III cities.
“We started engineering efforts from Jaipur and built our engineering team there. We started growing at a pace where we needed more tech support, and decided to quickly build a team in Bengaluru so as to scale rapidly. We now have two teams that work together - one in Jaipur and the other in Bengaluru,” Sourjyendu says.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)
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