How ZEPP ‘imagineered’ its way into building a platform that connects brands directly with customers
The existing marketplaces have done a great job in bringing easy online shopping access to Indian customers, who are spoilt for choice. A huge catalogue and several payment options coupled with easy door delivery has made online shopping a cinch for Indian consumers.
But the existing systems have their challenges:
1) Brands do not control the consumer experience. There are many instances wherein a consumer is delivered the wrong product, or a defective product or even gets defrauded (ordered iPhone and received a bar of soap).
2) Pricing is highly volatile. With dozens of sellers offering the same product, each at a different price, the consumer is unable to choose what is the right or fair price for a product at a given time.
3) All consumers are painted with the same brush. For instance, if a government employee is eligible for a discount on a product, they cannot avail it from the existing platforms.
Enter Bengaluru-based ZEPP, a first-of-its-kind technology platform from e-tailer and ecommerce service provider Zeitgeist Retail Pvt Ltd (ZRPL). Foreseeing the growth of e-commerce, friends Akash Chander and Richa set up ZRPL as a dedicated Online seller in 2012 - a year before Amazon started its India operations. They were subsequently joined by Mahesh Bhalla and Nikunj Murukutla. Over the years, ZRPL has established itself as a pure play online retailer with deep expertise in e-commerce Go-to-Market (GTM). It is trusted by some of the largest brands as their exclusive GTM partner for the Indian market.
How ZEPP is different from other marketplace models
When you place an order on a typical online marketplace, there are a minimum of three intermediaries before the product reaches you. Manufacturers sell to distributors who add margins, who in turn sell to ‘online sellers’ who add additional margins, and finally, the marketplace also takes a share. All these add substantially to the final price paid by the consumer.
Unlike online marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart where multiple sellers can list and sell the same product, on ZEPP, only the brands themselves are permitted to list and sell. With the middlemen out of the picture, manufacturers can offer the lowest price directly to the customer. This ‘Zero-Tier’ distribution enables the most efficient route from the Manufacturer to Consumer.
To put things in perspective, Mahesh Bhalla, Director, ZRPL explains, “ZEPP enables brands to engage directly with Consumers. If I were to describe the platform to you, you could think of it like the UPI technology platform that enables instantaneous transactions directly between bank accounts of different consumers. You may use different apps like G-Pay or Paytm of Bharat Pe, but the core technology powering them all is UPI.”
Brands integrate with the ZEPP platform and avail of various features and options around payment methods, order fulfilment, etc. Apart from integrations with top brands for physical products like electronics and consumer goods, ZEPP can also be used to purchase digital products like gift cards and software, as well as services like insurance, warranties etc.
Understanding ZEPP’s business models
The platform hosts different Go-To-Market (GTM) models – the first is the Student Purchase Programme through which students and staff of India's premier educational institutions like IIT, IIM, and NIT, can access products from top brands at discounted prices.
Similarly, the Employee Purchase Programme allows employees of some of India’s largest corporates to purchase a whole host of products at specially discounted prices. Leading brands have signed up with ZEPP and are offering products like laptops, printers, audio products, gift cards, and many others that would appeal to the target audience.
ZEPP also powers the stores for corporate customers of a credit card issuer. Customer holding the corporate card can use the ZEPP store to buy products with huge cashbacks – which turn into savings for their company.
Lastly, the model with the most growth potential is ZEPP’s ‘Content Distribution API’. In this model, the front end is managed by ZEPP’s partner which could be entity with its own consumer base – be it a bank, an airline or an institution. By partnering with ZEPP, you can have access the entire product catalogue spanning hundreds of brands, and place orders directly with them. Currently, a major credit card issuer, an airline, and a service provider are integrating with ZEPP’s content distribution API.
ZEPP has already gained a lot of traction from students and corporate employees alike. “Roughly, we have 2 million users on our platform – spread across students, corporate employees and SMBs. The goal is to take this to 10 million within three years,” shares Mahesh.
ZEPP offers various features and functionalities of the e-commerce value chain to its partner brands, in a modular fashion. This gives the brands immense control on their desired customer experience. What’s more, it gives brands direct access to customer information, which is not available in the existing marketplace models.
Unlike other open e-commerce portals, ZEPP offers a closed ecosystem wherein brands can offer products in a very targeted manner to individual consumers. Since user access is controlled by individual email ID / mobile no, brands can offer the best prices directly to consumers in a confidential manner.
“The way our system is built, the brand has complete control of which customer should see what price, on what product, and at what time. This kind of control that we give to the brands is completely unique - nobody else has that kind of a service,” claims Nikunj.
At a time when the government has initiated the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) as an alternative to platform aggregators like Amazon and Flipkart, which have dominated India's e-commerce terrain, ZRPL has been way ahead of the curve as the team ‘imagineered’ this industry requirement and started building out the tech platform, well before ONDC was announced.
The company has recently partnered with Tyke Invest for a fund raise from the community it serves.