Advertisement

  • News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
  • Editorial Calendar 19-20
BW Businessworld

Wish, Shop, Brag

Photo Credit :

Radhika Verma is no mall rat. She is a Web mouse, who flits from one dotcom store to another. Doesn’t it get lonely shopping online? Not at all, says Radhika. She has a host of friends and relatives assisting her with shopping — if she likes something on a site, she drops the items into a wishlist basket, tags her friends to the basket and gets instant feedback about her choices, prices, where she could get better bargains — all in real time.

E-commerce is getting socially creative — integrating the social into online shopping activity. Most shopping portals today allow users to share their buying activity through Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google Talk. That’s pretty basic. But some web shopkeepers are coming up with ingenious tools that make online shopping akin to the offline world.

Take Yebhi Wallet, a tool created by apparel, shoes and accessories site Yebhi.com, through which you can borrow money from friends if you fall short while shopping. Says Manmohan Agarwal, CEO of Yebhi.com, “It often happens that you are shopping with your friend and suddenly he realises that he is a couple of hundred short. This could happen online, too. On Yebhi.com, all you need to do is transfer the money to his Yebhi Wallet online and he can continue with his transaction.”

The portal set up in 2009 has got a tool ‘Collections’, which allows shoppers to list their desirables, and share them by linking Facebook accounts. Then there is a ‘Wassup’ page which updates every 10 seconds and shows real-time transactions on the site. Having taken a cue from Twitter, it also provides users with a list of trending collections.

While Yebhi.com is a traditional e-commerce player that has transformed itself socially, a whole bunch of new Indian entrepreneurs has recently opened shop online, leapfrogging the first stage and starting life as pure social commerce sites.
 
Buynbrag.com, launched in October 2012, sells collectibles and hard-to-find products in home décor and accessories. The portal links users’ friends from Facebook and connects them to their BuynBrag activity. It offers tools such as ‘Fancy’, which allows users to create lists which can be viewed by their BuynBrag friends, and ‘Brag’, which allows them to flaunt their buys on Facebook and Twitter. There is also an option of taking a poll of friends to help solve a shopping crisis. Says Prithvi Raj Tejavath, CEO of Buynbrag.com, “A consumer’s offline shopping experience involves seeking opinions from friends or family and is significantly driven by recommendations. This is what we want to replicate online.” There is also an activity feed — similar to the Facebook feed — where you get a news feed of your friends’ online buying activity.

LimeRoad.com is another social commerce portal. It entered the market in November 2012, and provides users with the option of creating a personalised scrapbook. So while picking out a pair of trousers, you can match them with shoes on the scrapbook. Suchi Mukherjee, CEO and founder of LimeRoad.com, says, “The scrapbook not only allows a user to find interesting ways to bring a single product to life, but also to share it and, thus, for others to see it.” Significantly, LimeRoad has landed a $5-million series A funding from Matrix Partners India and Lightspeed Venture Partners with the investors gung-ho about social commerce as a concept. Says Avnish Bajaj, MD, Matrix Partners, “From an Indian e-commerce market perspective, social commerce provides an opportunity to get customers at low costs on word-of-mouth publicity, which is a more sustainable and profitable business model.”

Vivek Gupta, an early-stage investor in Kwaab.com, a social platform that allows users to explore content curated by designers, stylists, boutiques and brands, echoes this optimism. Gupta says, “The success stories of social commerce in China prove that it’s not just a US phenomenon. Investors have realised that this sector doesn’t carry the baggage of discounting, logistics, inventory management, etc. that e-commerce ventures do. On the contrary, the sector offers viable, attractive high-margin business.”

Kwaab has been ingeniously pulling in shoppers through its ‘inspiration graph’, through the cataloguing of ‘likes’, ‘wants’ and ‘haves’ of users. These features allow users to share the products they have already bought and get an opinion on them, besides the ones they ‘want’ or ‘like’. Furthermore, the platform connects users directly with brands they like. This, in turn, provides an opportunity for brands to engage deeply with potential consumers through her ‘inspiration graph’.

Social E-Way
The Indian investor’s interest in social commerce is not surprising. Since 2011, more than $200 million has been pledged to the e-commerce industry; but, investors are finally realising that returns are not keeping pace as e-commerce sales are a minuscule portion of overall sales (under 1 per cent, according to Euromonitor). This explains why many investors are looking for newer opportunities .
 
break-page-break

Global statistics on social commerce show that it is the next big thing: revenues by 2015 are pegged at over $30 billion. It is also a lot safer than pure play e-commerce. And with industry experts opining that 90 per cent of shopping that happens online is the product of social influences, it is not surprising that a host of things are happening in the social commerce domain.

First, existing e-commerce players are adding an element of social to their model by enabling tools like FBConnect that allows you to share your e-commerce activity on your Facebook network. Second, pure play social commerce sites are springing up. Third, a number of home-based entrepreneurs are putting their wares on social media. And, last, fresh models based on social networking are opening up — people connecting online to have items carried to and from other countries by travellers with spare luggage space.

Websites such as Canubring.com and Piggybee.com allow people who want to have wares shipped or carried to/from abroad to easily connect with travellers willing to do so for them at a predetermined fee. Canubring, launched in February 2012 with funding support from the Chilean government, recommends a fee depending on the weight and the distance, but at a bargain compared to regular courier prices. The final word, though, is between the two parties. With 97,527 active users and 3,028 transactions a year, the company is growing rapidly and, from April onwards, will charge a commission on its service which is currently free. Users such as Rajesh Desai, an Indian living in New York, describe how they have benefitted from the service. Desai ordered special scissors to cut fabrics from Bombay. “Finding those scissors outside India is impossible and through Canubring it was very easy to get them.”

The Facebook Market
And finally, there is Facebook commerce. With Facebook opening up as a market, buyers and sellers alike are flocking to the site to connect to a larger market to buy and sell products. With the ease of creating companies through a simple registration process, more and more youngsters with an entrepreneurial bent of mind are running stores straight out of their homes using the social network. Companies such as Caramel Collectives and Earthen Concepts do their marketing entirely on Facebook and have, consequently, gone on to create a network of customers for themselves through word-of-Facebook. While sellers put up their catalogue on their Facebook pages, customers can email the product code to the specified email address and the products are delivered at their doorstep.
 
WILL IT JUST PING AWAY?
The link between e-commerce and social media has been much like Laurel and Hardy — quite inseparable. But, social commerce sceptics abound. They cite the collapse of the early social commerce innovator, Apple’s Ping. Ping was the iTunes social network that focused on shared music interests. It never caught on and was shut down in 2012. However, others such as Shopclues.com  have fared better. This e-commerce portal started life as a closed beta, accessed only via Facebook. Today, even though it has a public profile, it sees 12-20 per cent of its website traffic coming in from Facebook. Although social commerce is creating waves globally, there are teething troubles in India. Sanjay Mehta, joint CEO and founder of Social Wavelength, a social media agency, says, “It is too early to see the impact of social commerce on sales in the country, but it is surely picking up.”

For many online shoppers, privacy is a concern. So, even as e-tailers add tools like FBConnect, only a small number of shoppers choose to log in via Facebook — and share their buying activity. Says Kwaab’s Gupta, “The term social commerce has been abused so far in India. People classify any linkage of commerce with social media (primarily Facebook) as social commerce. But, the basic element of networking with people, not friends, sharing similar interests is missing.”

Several big Indian e-tailers are using the FBcommerce route. Take Fashionara, an online merchandise store, and Araamshop, an online grocer. With their ‘shop on FB’ option, Fashionara.com allows a user to access its product catalogue wholly on Facebook and complete the transaction up to the point of payment, after which one is directed to the Fashionara site. Araamshop presents the customer with the grocery catalogue, but you are immediately directed to Araamshop.com when you click on a product.

Facebook has also come as a boon for gifting sites. Giveter.com, an e-commerce portal that offers gifting recommendations based on gender, age and relationship, provides users with the option of linking their Facebook accounts to access the profile of the person they want to buy a gift for. Once linked, Giveter suggests gifts based on Facebook activity. Mayank Bhangadia, co-founder of Giveter, explains, “If I want to gift my wife something for her birthday, I log on to Giveter with my Facebook account and type in the name. Giveter then scans her Facebook page. If she has ‘liked’ Harry Potter on Facebook, it may recommend a book in the same genre, such as Lord of the Rings, or any other fantasy literature.”

Badhai.com is another gifting platform which links Facebook to the user’s Badhai account and sends reminders concerning Facebook friends, encouraging users to buy gifts for them on Badhai.

Clearly, India has got on to the social commerce e-way — it remains to be seen where this new path leads online shopkeepers.

ankita(dot)ramgopal(at)abp(dot)in
ankitaramgopal(at)gmail(dot)com
(at)ankitaramgopal

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 08-04-2013)