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Sale, sale, sale: India’s online shopping fests are all about “Bharat” this year

Sangeeta Tanwar
By Sangeeta Tanwar

I write about all things retail

Indian internet is all set to turn shoppers’ paradise for a week starting tomorrow (Sept. 28).

Amazon India will kickstart its annual Great Indian Festival sale at noon; a day later, Flipkart’s flagship Big Billion Days (BBD) sale will begin. Smaller e-commerce websites such as Snapdeal, Paytm Mall, Shopclues, Myntra, and Club Factory will also host their festive season sales during the week.

These events are crucial for retailers—both online and offline—in India because, as per some estimates, Indians make nearly 60% of all their electronics, consumer goods, and apparel purchases during the three-month festive season beginning in September.

No surprise then that e-commerce companies have been working overtime to pull it all off. Over the recent months, these companies have made heavy investments into making sure they have a wide assortment of products, offer unmatched discounts, one- or two-day deliveries, and hassle-free payments methods.

This year, there is also a big focus on “Bharat”—tier 2 and 3 cities in India where e-commerce penetration is still low. Here’s a look at what the e-commerce giants have up their sleeves:

Amazon

  • The Great Indian Festival sale will run between Sept. 28 and Oct. 04 for the first 12 hours, the sale will be exclusively for Prime members.
  • The company has promised discounts between 40% and 90% on popular product categories such as smartphones, home appliances, and fashion.
  • Items of daily needs and personal care are the big focus this year. Amazon has said it will offer lowest prices on over 30,000 items of daily needs, including from brands such as Aashirwaad, Huggies, Surf Excel, and Lakmé. The clincher, though, could be groceries at Re1.
  • To cater to the anticipated spike in orders during the sale, Amazon opened two large fulfillment centres in West Bengal and Maharashtra earlier this year. It now has over 20 million cubic feet of inventory storage space across the country.
  • The Jeff Bezos-led company has also expanded its logistics (freight) network by two-folds from last year. Now, some 10,000 Amazon trucks ply each day to connect over 1,000 cities, a company spokesperson told Quartz India.
  • It has also partnered with Indian Railways to set up pickup kiosks in four of Mumbai’s busiest local train stations.
  • The company has doubled its delivery service partner network with over 1,400 delivery stations across 750 cities and has created more than 90,000 temporary jobs this festive season.

Flipkart

  • The Walmart-owned company’s sale will go live in a phased manner. On Sept. 29, the first day of the BBD sale, Flipkart will launch offers in fashion, TVs and appliances, home, and furniture categories. On the next day, mobile phones, electronic devices, and accessories categories will go on sale.
  • It is offering over150 million products to shoppers during the sales.
  • Flipkart has also widened the product portfolio under its in-house large appliances brand MarQ and furniture brand Perfect Homes. MarQ has added new categories, including high-tech home and personal audio devices and an AndroidTV streaming box, while Perfect Homes has added new categories like bookshelves and kitchen cabinets.
  • Flipkart has expanded its pan-India team of service technicians to over 4,000 in a push for after-sales service, the company said in a press release on Sept. 23.
  • It has added over 50,000 jobs across its supply chain, logistics arm, and customer support ahead of the BBD sales, 30% more than it had hired around the same time last year.
  • Flipkart has expanded its reach to cover 700 cities in 2019, according to the company. Strengthening its last-mile delivery network, the company has on-boarded 27,000 kirana stores.
  • To put more money in the hands of shoppers, the company will extend credit to 50 million shoppers through its in-house loan options such as Flipkart PayLater.

Snapdeal

  • The New Delhibased e-tailer will launch an eight-day “Snap-Diwali” sale, between Sept. 29 and Oct. 06.
  • With more than 500,000 registered sellers, the marketplace is putting together special deals for shoppers focusing on categories such as home, fashion, and fitness.

Paytm Mall

  • The e-commerce arm of financial services firm, Paytm Mall, will host its “Maha Cashback Carnival” from Sept. 29 to Oct. 06. Paytm Mall is targeting more than 400 million internet users this festive season.
  • The firm has said it will offer deals on over 10,000 brands. For the festive sales, Paytm Mall has onboarded 30,000 offline stores to sell through its platform.
  • It plans to attract buyers with offers such as “Price drops” and “Flash sales” every day. Paytm Mall does not own warehouses. It will ship products directly from retailers or through merchant warehouses.

Embracing Bharat

This Diwali, Amazon and Flipkart are not selling to India but to Bharat, or small-town India.

“We have deployed up to 90% of our resources towards solving for Bharat,” Kalyan Krishnamurthy, CEO of Flipkart Group said in a statement. Manish Tiwary, vice-president for category management for Amazon India said, “the Great Indian Festival sale is important for us to bring the next 100 million customers online, many of them from tier-3 or even tier-4 towns.”

The urgency to tap India’s small town is so high that Amazon and Flipkart have spent a lot of money to ensure they suit the needs of potential shoppers in the areas. For instance, both Amazon and Flipkart have launched a Hindi interface for their websites and apps.

The hope of getting their next wave of new shoppers from small cities in India is backed by the increasing internet penetration, affordable data tariffs, and better access to smartphones in the areas. “The easy access to social media and online content has fuelled the desire among small-town consumer to access the same lifestyle and brands, which is accessible to their metro counterparts,” said Ashwini Sirsikar, country service line leader at Ipsos qualitative research, a UK-based market research firm.

Assuming that the trend continues, about 70% of e-tailing gross merchandise volume (GMV) will come from tier-2 and rural areas by 2023, up from 40% today, according to Redseer, a Bengaluru-based management consultancy firm.

Hit or miss?

While all the planning and groundwork seems to be in place, meeting customers’ expectation will be a crucial factor for e-commerce companies, according to experts. ”A holistic purchase journey right from discovery to repeat purchase becomes critical for retailers during the festive season,” said Amit Sharma, founder and CEO at Narvar, a customer experience platform that offers marketplaces retail solutions. “Shoppers’ expectations, which peak during festive sales period—timely delivery, easy returns, and a seamless experience become all the more important.”

Even small elements, such as glitches at the time of making payments or shoddy packaging at the time of delivery can be a deal-breaker. “For these business strategies to work effectively and efficiently, it’s very important that the payment gateway is well managed,” said Shankar Kotuli, founder of Paisa Wapas.com, an online cashback loyalty platform.

The success rate for payment-gateway transactions is around 80% on average; during festive sales it may fall to 65%, which could reduce the final conversion rate, said Paisa Wapas.com. “Hence, customers’ convenience during monetary exchanges is an essential feature that can help win credibility, get a player more customers and sales,” added Kotuli.

Offering a seamless experience becomes even more essential as e-commerce companies eye first-time users this year, who may not be very comfortable with digital payments.

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