The new normal flea markets going online during COVID-19

While the lockdown forced many small stores to down their shutters, they were able to set up shop online and promote their ware on social media using Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to draw customers.
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Before COVID struck, city folks escaped to flea markets over the weekends. The bustling markets, haggling on prices or gorging on food from carts; citizens miss the vibrant flea markets that once made them look forward to weekends. All of that is now shifting online due to the pandemic.

Since the nationwide lockdown reduced outdoor activity, over 45% of small businesses have had to rethink their way of conducting business.

How flea markets are going online

Huge crowds in the alleys of Colaba, Sarojini Nagar, and their neighborhood bazaars have now reduced. Before COVID, a whole day could be spent well shopping or wandering among small stores on the street. Chandni Chowk, the largest flea market in Asia, is now open but is still seeing hesitant crowds.

It is not safe yet to reopen flea markets to the public – but artists and small businesses are open to exploring options.

Online ecommerce stores

Online flea markets are not an entirely new concept in India. Yappily, an online flea market app, onboarded over 1,200 sellers and buyers to sell their products online. This was four years ago.

As of 2020, ecommerce saw a 17% growth post-COVID, with over 65% of brands creating websites to sell their products. With logistics companies resuming shipping to over 95% of pin codes in the country, more sellers are switching to an online platform.

Srchie, an international flea market, one of the largest in the world, features over 80 million sellers in one place. Customers can browse for any kind of product and find different sellers in that category.

Increased social media presence

Instagram launched the ‘Support Small business’ tag on Instagram stories once shutters came down on a lot of offline stores. A recent study by Nielsen showed how social media consumption by customers spiked from 0.4 million in January to 20 million by March, when lockdown began.

There has also been increased support from loyal customers, fans and followers of flea markets. Social media is free and with over 376 million active users, it is also a great branding platform. Flea markets no longer need to shut shop at 11 p.m., or worry about large crowds. With social media and websites, flea markets are also improving user and customer experience.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter saw a huge spike in the number of hours spent by customers shopping online. With Instagram and Facebook, companies promoting flea markets are seeing constant buzz around the different sellers and brands featured.

Joining hands with other brands

Whether it is the Prime Minister’s #vocalforlocal movement, or the Government’s #AtmaNirbhar scheme to boost small businesses, online flea markets have identified the ideal way to stay relevant – networking.

Personally curated or anything new – customers are always open to experimenting with creative ideas, and that is what flea markets are all about. Social media community has seen a number of homegrown businesses emerge, especially during the lockdown – from gourmet foods, art and craft products, clothing, decors and what-not.

However, the extent of reach over media to customers and the right audience comes out as a limitation here; some of them have done exceptionally well by going viral, while others may still be struggling for visibility.

In such cases, flea markets act as a great enabler for uplifting home-businesses by featuring everyone equally under one roof, thus creating a win-win situation for all. While all businesses get a platform to come together and sell, this also gives plenty of room to meet, observe and discuss – an essential for small businesses. Brand collaborations not just work B2C, B2B too, and that could give room to multiple ideas and growth possibilities.

What the future holds for online flea markets in India

According to a survey by GoDaddy, over 60% of small businesses in India remain confident that businesses will recover and thrive post the pandemic, despite a shortfall in revenue.

How can this come true?

1. Increase branding from digital companies

Scope and find online store fronts and communities helping sellers find a platform to sell.

2. Logistics

Take care of shipping requirements, either via the website or by finding a reliable partner.

3. Upskilling

Learning new growth tactics to keep businesses afloat in a crisis. Take an online course on GST, setting up registration documents or even creating an online store.

4. Pivot your business model

Assess what is selling the most right now, and use that to generate demand and supply. For example, if you run an apparel business, it could help to sell face masks from residual cloth to your customers.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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