[Startup Bharat] How Varanasi-based Shoppingkart24 is helping artisans go online
When Prateek B Singh was working on agriproduct exports in 2016, he saw that farmers and artisans faced significant challenges when it came to Geographical Indication (GI) tagging. GI Tagging aims to protect the traditional products from extinction, and also wants to provide a more conducive landscape for businesses related to traditional and origin-based products by tagging them on the basis of geography.
Prateek realised there were significant pain-points, which were inhibiting the growth of the GI products. He also realised the mammoth potential that could be tapped if the right steps are taken.
He thus came up with the idea of creating an online marketplace and discussed it with the then Commerce and Industry minister, Suresh Prabhu, who liked the idea and gave his go ahead. This led to the birth of.
Launched in 2016, the platform aims to help Indian artisans, farmers, weavers, and small-time vendors showcase and sell their products to Indian as well as global buyers.
“As former Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu initiated the step towards exclusive GI retail outlets, the first exclusive GI outlet was inaugurated in 2019 at Goa International Airport through CEPCI (Cashew Export Council of India), and Shoppingkart24 is associated as supplier of Indian GI handicrafts and handloom products along with APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority), Spice board, Tea board, and Coffee Board,” explains Prateek.
Prateek discussed this idea with Vineet Kumar and Nishi Singh during a chance meeting with them in Bengaluru. Vineet, whose company Emvantage was acquired by Amazon, loved the idea of creating an online marketplace for the niche products and helping sellers by removing aggregators or middlemen.
Vineet is a serial entrepreneur and this idea excited him and his wife Nishi a lot and she became a co-founder. Vineet roped in another seasoned entrepreneur Ved Kashyap who has vast experience in logistics and banking services.
Later, Wing Commander R Prasad (Retd) and Pratiksha Misra, who have founded their own startups and have wide experience in sales and marketing, too joined the team. Currently, there are 16 team members.
The challenges plaguing the sector
Despite having several traditional art forms, most artisans in India come from villages and semi-urban areas, and are unaware of the advantages of the GI tag.
“These artisans are not getting their due recognition and monetary compensation, which is making them to abandon these age-old practices,” says Prateek.
Added to this, cheap replicas of these products are being sold in the market, having an adverse impact on the weavers and artisans. The producers and growers are also not aware of the right price for their products, and hence end up selling them at much cheaper rate. This has led them to lose interest in pursuing the business.
“In spite of a dramatic surge in internet usage in India, a large numbers of artisans, craftsmen, local vendors, and retailers are still unaware of online business models or are finding it difficult to conduct business through digital media. This has been a major inhibitor in taking the products to larger markets,” explains Prateek.
These issues brings out two major areas that require a deft tackling -- how to increase the legitimacy of the authentic and original products, and how awareness of these products can be taken to the larger audience so that they start patronising them.
How does Shoppingkart24 help?
The core business activity of Shoppingkart24 revolves around providing an online marketplace that deals with GI products. These include agricultural products, art, and other GI products.
“With limited marketing channels, the buyers were unable to purchase GI tagged products from remote locations. Shoppingkart24 offers more than 15,000 GI products at one place and has the support of more than 2,000 reliable vendors located at different parts of the country. Our team interacts with authentic producers and encourages them to sell their products online. The team handholds them to manage listing of their products, educate and train them to handle the dashboard of individual vendor’s products,” explains Prateek.
He adds that many deserving vendors and producers are not aware of GI tagging of products. The team handholds them to undertake the activities required to get the GI tag user certificates so that they can reap the benefits of this branding.
“Besides, we have collaborated with many ministries and are involved in their programs to empower the artisans/marginalised craftsmen. Shoppingkart24 has also been participating in national and international programs with its special theme-based videos and narratives on various GI products,” says Prateek.
However, when the pandemic hit, artisans and vendors were also significantly affected. But the flip side was that people were more open to digitisation.
“Our team’s persistent follow-up and the situation at large resulted in the onboarding of a large number of products, and the trend is continuing. Similarly, buyers too started frequenting the website and though they were initially cautious in their spending, the awareness of the GI products have gone up multi-fold, which is now being translated into more purchases,” says Prateek.
The number of products available on the website has gone up to more than 15,000 and over 2,000 vendors are associated with the website. With a focus on bringing more products under the ambit of GI by the government, there has been a spurt in the number of GI products and a lot of products have been added to the GI list.
Out of 417 GI product categories, Shoppingkart24 has 324 categories on the website, which makes it the largest GI specific website in India, says Prateek. The startup takes a small percentage from the sale made. The team refused the share the percentage amount.
The market and challenges
Majority of GI products are manufactured by the vendors who are located in remote areas. Their products are great, however, packaging and shipment are big impediments in delivering the products to buyers.
For this, Shoppingkart24 has tied up with many reliable shipping agencies and carefully chooses the relevant agency for the particular area at preferential rates. Besides, many times, items are procured at Shoppingkart24’s warehouse and is packed there before sending it to the buyer.
The team claims it educates the manufactures about the nuances of packaging. Shoppingkart24 is also in advanced stage of discussion with a large national shipping agency for an MoU, which will reduce the shipping charges further and will enhance the last mile connectivity.
Shoppingkart24 also has a team of content writers who work with the manufacturers/producers to help them bring out the relevant aspects and features of their products in order to generate a good appeal in front of the buyers.
Besides, the team also educates and guides the producers to take appropriate photographs to be able to showcase their intricate designs and the real artwork on the website and product catalogues.
“The producers of GI products are not very business savvy and hence there is general reluctance in offering their products to an unknown sales channel or to buyers on a digital platform. This also stems from their lack of exposure in handling the online business processes and activities. Our team handholds them to undertake these activities and in some cases manage their product portfolios on their behalf. Shoppingkart24 has managed to acquire a strong support of more than 2,000 vendors with its insistent and persevering efforts to gain their confidence,” says Prateek.
Competition and future
Since its inception, the team has been operating from Varanasi, which is a hub for GI products. However, some of the team members are also operating from different locations like, Delhi, Bengaluru, and Luxembourg.
There are startups like iTokri, Tjori, Kashmirbox, and several others operating in a similar space. With the D2C segment touching $100 billion in the next five years, according to multiple reports, the segment is going to further expand and grow.
"We have a traction of more than 1,000 users per day on our portal and we are creating a good customer base, which is increasing day by day from across the globe. We have clients from the USA, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, and other countries. Since inception, Shoppingkart24 has made a revenue of more than Rs 1 crore,” says Prateek.
The team has raised undisclosed amount of angel funding. Shoppingkart24 is also planning to re-brand itself as Authentic GI. Its ultimate vision is to be a global ecommerce platform focused only on GI products. It is also planning to set up brick and mortar experience centers at strategic locations in the near future.
“As there is a great demand for Indian artifacts and handicrafts, Shoppingkart24 is tying up with overseas vendors for bulk supply of GI products. We are also looking for partnering with government organisations, and are also looking for partnerships with private/corporate entities for more business through corporate gifting. We are focused to starting with addition and onboarding of International GI products registered in India and other countries in the future,” says Prateek.