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Ahimsa In The Realm Of Business

The time has come for the entire e-commerce fraternity to introspect and understand not just the cost of doing business but more critically the sentiment of doing business in India.

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I have never understood why most brands in the e-commerce space believe they can never fail. Or that they have been specially blessed, to traverse the planet, without a care in the world.  Most of these brands are in any case cheating in the sense it is other people’s money that they squander into luring customers and ensuring they remain on the top. If you turn the pages of any newspaper you will se full-page ads from portals offering everything from cow’s milk to face creams and then you begin to wonder who does their media plans? Isn’t it ironic that all caution has been thrown to the winds and what we are seeing is the relentless fury mired in desperation for some of these brands?

More recently, we were all privy to the stand that the National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI) had to take against some of these e-commerce platforms: not because they resented the business they were getting but because of the inherent arrogance of some of these portals. The millennial kids who are sucking on their American lollipops at Zomato need to know that the owners of these restaurants have put in a lot of toil and hard-earned money into the brands they now own. This cannot be negated by some cowboys who have their money pipeline travelling from Saudi Arabia to Silicon Valley and then finding its way into India. I have all the empathy for these restaurant owners because any unfair discount is also a slap on the face of the inherent brand value that these folks have built up over the years. And the Zomatos of the world need to respect this. It is now about ensnaring customers but more about the decency with which you operate.

Which is why Ahimsa is both relevant and contextual. The folks at these e-commerce platforms need to redefine what they actually are: Zomato exists because of the restaurants and not the other way around. Customers come to Zomato not to eat an app but to savour the food from these restaurants so why would the folks at Zomato literally kill the goose that continues to lay golden eggs? And why has no one told Zomato and their peers in this unholy war, that co-opetition is always better than competition, which can be ugly and unsettling. Restaurants will also need to shore up their alliance-building attempts and the revolt against some of these platforms is both fair and perhaps timely. A few months ago, OYO was bearing the brunt when many hotel and inn-owners threatened to #LogOut. This is bound to happen in a market which is slowly maturing but where the level-paying field is absolutely skewed in favour of those who are sitting on cheap money. I am not a great believer in Government intervention but what the Zomatos and their ilk are doing is actually inviting the wrath and intervention of the Government by indulging in what are clearly unfair trade practices. And all Governments in India love to meddle in areas that don’t concern them so why would you want them to get involved when you can easily settle things out amongst yourselves?

The time has come for the entire e-commerce fraternity to introspect and understand not just the cost of doing business but more critically the sentiment of doing business in India. There’s a reason why brands that are clothed in arrogance don’t do well. A lesson in humility and the oath of Ahimsa will see much more happiness than the ensuing business bloodshed that we will see if things don’t change.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Suhel Seth

The author is Managing Partner of Counselage

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